It’s been almost two years since climbers have stood on the summit of Mount Everest, but at 5 p.m. local time on May 11, a team of nine Sherpas reached the top of the world.
Shea Gyaljen Sherpa, working for Asian Trekking’s Eco Everest Expedition, had the great honor of leading the rope-fixing team to the summit, according to Ang Tshering Sherpa, the president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.
“Congratulations to all the rope-fixing team for the summit and safe return back to Base Camp,” Ang Tshering wrote in a press release.
The eight other Nepalis were all working for different international guiding outfits in a collaboration to fix ropes to the summit. Their names are: Gyazen Dorjee Sherpa, Ang Pemba Sherpa, Nima Tshering Sherpa, Pasang Tenzing Sherpa, Mingma Sherpa, Mingma Chhiri, Ang Gyalzen, and Lhakpa Tshering Sherpa.
Now that the prodigious infrastructure of safety ropes has been installed all the way up the mountain, literally from bottom to top at 29,029 feet, the more than 200 climbers who are estimated to be trying to climb Everest from the south side (Nepal) will begin lining up during the first good weather window for their shot at glory.
There are two good summit windows in the forecast: May 14 to 16 and May 19 to 20. According to various blog posts from climbers in Base Camp, around a hundred people will be gunning for the summit during the first weather window, and the remainder will try during the second window.
Garrett Madison, of Madison Mountaineering, is one of the groups poised to strike.
“Today we made a successful ascent to Everest Camp 2,” Madison wrote in a Facebook post. “Currently, our 7 climbers and 4 guides, along with most of our 18 climbing Sherpas will be in position to go for the summit should conditions allow, as well as our high altitude cameraman. … We hope Mount Everest (Chomolungma / Sagarmatha) will allow us to visit her summit and return safely.”
First Summit in Almost Two Years
Following a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake that ravaged Nepal and resulted in more than 8,000 deaths, Everest was closed to climbers last year. The earthquake triggered an avalanche that sent a blast of debris through Base Camp, killing 18 people. In fact, 2015 was the first time that no one stood on Everest’s summit since 1974.
The summit log was nearly nil for the spring of 2014, too, after an avalanche wiped out a team of 16 Nepali mountain workers who were fixing ropes in the notorious Khumbu Icefall. After that devastating accident, many remaining Nepalis refused to work out of respect for their deceased brothers. Others were too afraid to go back into the Khumbu Icefall, while others used the incident as an opportunity to air their dissatisfaction with their inadequate pay and life-insurance protection for their families should they die on the job.
As a result, the 2014 spring climbing season was called off. However, five weeks after the incident, a Chinese woman, Wang Jing, would not be deterred by the circumstances. She chartered a helicopter into Camp 2, and, with a small group of Sherpas, climbed to the summit without any fixed ropes. And while her ascent remains a big controversy in mountaineering circles, hers was the only ascent of Everest in 2014.
A Missed Opportunity?
While climbers celebrate the news that the ropes are now fixed to the summit, for some climbers and guides, the news is a week too late.
Writing on May 4 in a blog post, Tim Mosedale, a climber and guide from the U.K., complained that the rope-fixing efforts were taking too long.
“Everything is on hold above Camp 3 for the moment,” he wrote. “But over the last few days there have been some missed opportunities to complete fixing to the [South] Col. … Which means that the first decent weather window won’t be a summit window. Which means that those teams who could be ready aren’t. … Which means there’s much more likelihood of queues and the intrinsic risks and difficulties when the first summits do happen.”
In 2012, for example, an estimated 547 people summited—the busiest season to date. It was also a deadly season, with 11 climbers dying under clear, blue skies as they waited for hours to bypass traffic jams high on the mountain.
There are summit rope-fixing teams on both the north (China/Tibet) side of the mountain and the south (Nepal) side.
On the north, the Chinese Tibetan Mountaineering Association collects dues from expeditions and organizes their own team to fix ropes to the summit. On the Nepal side, the rope-fixing efforts are left up to the leaders of each expedition to put forth their strongest Sherpa climbers to do the grueling, dangerous work.
“Another glaring issue with the current model is that some teams never ever contribute whilst the burden is mainly taken up by a few of the regular contributors,” continues Mosedale. “The model … hasn’t quite proved to be as successful this year as it ought to.”
Still, the south side rope fixers reached the summit first, before the north, which is good for teams on the south because time is more limited. As the end of May approaches and conditions rapidly begin to warm, the Khumbu Icefall ultimately becomes just too dangerous to enter.
But on the north, there is no icefall, theoretically extending the season a bit, opening up more weather windows, and thinning out the crowds.