Posted on: 23 December 2016
Mount Everest is the highest peak in the world, sitting at 29,029 feet, roughly 5.5 miles above sea level. Though the south side of Everest is located in Nepal, about 100 miles from Kathmandu, the north side of Everest lies within the Tibet Autonomous Region and is governed by China. Earlier this year, China finished construction on a paved road up to Everest’s north side base camp, bordering on a 14,000 foot elevation gain. This was the first step in a larger commercialization goal for the Chinese in Tibet. China has proposed plans to commercialize the north side of Everest by 2019 in order to make the mountain more accessible, according to China Daily, China’s state-run news site. With this move, China may further divide the Everest region, already struggling from political tensions and rapid urbanization. China’s success in this venture will rely on the incorporation of environmental, cultural and approved mountaineering practice.
Traditionally, Nepal has been the preferred route to Mt. Everest because of its political stability, slightly warmer climate, less severe elements and helicopter rescue capabilities, as well as government policies that offer access to the site However, recent issues with overcrowding and growing litter on Everest’s south side has provided China new opportunities to become more competitive in the mountaineering market, as pointed out by Tsechu Dolma, a Nepali and frequent contributor to GlacierHub. With this recent development, China hopes to bolster the local tourism and mountaineering industry in Tibet, which China claims would have positive impacts on local economies and accessibility. This includes plans for a 84,320 square meter mountaineering center in Gangkar worth $14.7 million (100 million yuan) that would contain hotels, restaurants, a mountaineering museum, a search-and-rescue base and other services.
“These jobs should and would go to locals,” Jamie McGuinness, owner of Project Himalaya, points out to GlacierHub. “With the approximate 5,000 meter altitude, other ethnic groups cannot handle living there. Initially, it could be that some of the locals would lose some business briefly; however, over time more income would be generated for everyone.”
Increasing search-and-rescue capabilities will also help to reduce risks notorious to the mountain. Summiting attempts cater to a very small portion of the population capable of extreme athleticism. Despite climbers’ skill, Everest attempts still pose a huge risk to all involved, especially the local Sherpas who face higher risks due to increased exposure. Having an established mountaineering center may prove beneficial if the north side of Everest becomes the more preferred route for summiting attempts. Climbing risks can be reduced by having well-funded search-and-rescue teams. This might help avoid tragedies like the one in 2014 when an ice avalanche from the Khumbu glacier in Nepal claimed the lives of 16 Sherpas.
Having spent the last 25 years trekking through the Himalayas, McGuinness says, “Nepal is lucky that so many expeditions still climb from the obviously more dangerous icefall route, the price of which is roll-of-the-dice deaths. Climbing Everest from the north is significantly less dangerous, and the day or reckoning is coming within the next few years.” The switch needs to happen, McGuinness added, but whether Sherpas and guides climb from the north or from the south, they will still get paid.
As climates continue to change, increased temperatures experienced in Nepal could expand dangers posed to climbers and Sherpas. The Khumbu Glacier, for example, regularly calves, causing large and deadly ice chunks to fall along climbing routes. The 2014 ice avalanche that killed the 16 Sherpas was the size of a ten-story building. The Khumbu glacier greatly increases the risks from summiting in Nepal and these risks may only increase as climates continue to shift. Continue reading