Will Cancellations End Everest Climbing Season?
Buddhabir RAI/AFP/Getty Images
Nepalese rescue team members rescue a survivor of an avalanche on Mount Everest on April 18, 2014.
The world's 14 "eight-thousanders" -- mountains taller than 8,000 meters (26,247 feet) -- are all located in Asia. On one hand, they really beautify a horizon, but on the other they present a fierce, at times fatal, challenge to mountain climbers. Beauty can, indeed, be deadly. Here's the "baby" of the bunch, Shishapangma in Tibet, peaking at 8,027 meters (26,335 feet).
This is Gasherbrum II (we'll have another Gasherbrum coming up shortly), on the border of Pakistan and China. It's 8,035 meters up in the sky (26,361 feet) and is sometimes known as K4. These mountaineers are near the summit.
Ed Darack/Science Faction/Corbis
On the left side of this picture we see the sheer mass of Broad Peak, the 12th highest mountain on the planet at 8,047 meters or 26,394 feet above sea level.
As promised, here's another Gasherbrum: Gasherbrum I. (Gasherbrum, translated from the Tibetan language Balti, means "beautiful mountain.") It also goes by the name of K5, lives along the China-Pakistan border and is 8,080 meters (26,444 ft) high.
The Himalayan mountain range Annapurna, in Nepal, is seen here from Pkhara, about 124 miles (200 kilometers) west of Kathmandu. Annapurna is considered one of the most dangerous for climbers; first crested in 1950, it has since been climbed by more than 100 people but taken 53 lives along the way.
This somewhat unsettling photo was taken in 1931 by mountaineers at a base camp on Pakistan's Nanga Parbat, the ninth-tallest eight-thousander at 8,126 meters (26,660 feet). The area captured in the picture is known as the Nanga Wall.
Association Chantal Mauduit Namaste/Corbis/Sygma
Eighth-tallest of the eight-thousanders is Nepal's Manaslu, at 8,163 meters (26,781 feet).
The Dhaulagiri mountain range in the Himalayas sports a rather volcanic look in this picture, with the sun brushing its top. But Nepal's 8,167-meter (26,795-foot) monster is of course quite chilly on top. Dhaulagiri's south face is considered by mountaineers to be a next-to-impossible climb, and no one has ever topped the mountain from that side.
Clouds hover over snow-covered Cho Oyu mountain in Tibet. The sixth-tallest mountain stands 8,201 meters tall (26,906 feet), and the "Mountain Goddess" (in Tibetan translation) is considered one of less-challenging climbs among the eight-thousanders (if you don't consider climbing ANY mountain a challenge, that is!).
Next in the eight-thousander club is Makalu, the fifth-highest mountain in the world, looming on the border between Nepal and China. It's 8,463 meters (27,766 feet) tall and is another tough climb, with 22 deaths tallied against its 206 successful climbs.
Pal Teravagimov Photography
Standing 8,516 meters tall (27,940 feet), Lhotse, fourth-tallest, rests on the border of Nepal and Tibet. It was first climbed in 1956.
Kangchenjunga, in Nepal, is the world's third-tallest mountain, edging Lhotse by just 71 meters, standing 8,587 meters tall (28,169 feet). It's a prominent mark on the horizon in Darjeeling, the tea-growing region.
K2, the second-tallest mountain on the planet, is 8,611 meters up in the clouds (28,251 feet) along the China-Pakistan border. Climbers know it for its incredibly difficult ascent routes; in 2008, an ice fall on the treacherous slopes took the lives of 11 climbers.
And now we reach the Big Daddy in the worldwide mountains club. That, of course, would be Mount Everest. Its name alone is synonymous with challenging feats, as climbing it continues to this day to be a dicey endeavor, though it draws people year after year to attempt the ascent. And what a climb: Mount Everest stands 8,848 meters tall (29,029 feet). It was famously crested for the first time in 1953 by New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay.
Nepal's government strove Wednesday to save the Everest climbing season from an unprecedented walkout by sherpa guides as another major mountaineering company abandoned its expedition following a deadly avalanche last week.
New Zealand-based Adventure Consultants lost three people in Friday's avalanche, which struck a party of sherpas preparing routes for commercial climbers up the world's highest peak and killed 16.
The company said in a statement that "after much discussion and consideration of all aspects, the tough decision has been made to cancel the 2014 expedition this season."
U.S.-based Alpine Ascents International and the Discovery Channel, which intended to broadcast the first winged jumpsuit flight off the summit, have also scrapped their plans on the 8,848-meter (29,029-foot) peak.
Guides and Western mountaineers told AFP Tuesday that the sherpas had held a meeting in the afternoon after an emotional remembrance ceremony at which they had agreed not to climb the peak this season to honor their colleagues.
Nepalese mountaineering officials, eager to avoid a shutdown that could lead to messy compensation claims and a huge loss of revenue for the impoverished country, denied any such move on Wednesday.
The Nepal Mountaineering Association, a national body representing tourism promoters, released a statement saying "we have not received any confirmation regarding the abandon(ment) of the expeditions on Everest."
A government delegation is set to fly to Everest base camp on Thursday to negotiate with the sherpas following talks with leading expedition organizers in Kathmandu.
The situation at base camp, described as tense by climbers there amid fears this year's season could be wrecked, remains fluid and unpredictable with accounts filtering out from climbers and guides.
The location is more than a week's hike from the nearest airport.
Local guide Pasang Sherpa, part of the International Mountain Guides expedition at base camp, insisted that sherpas wanted to sit out this season.
"We don't know what is happening in Kathmandu, but ... we don't want to go up the mountain this year," he said.
Nepalese rescue team members rescue a survivor of an avalanche on Mount Everest on April 18, 2014. Buddhabir RAI/AFP/Getty Images
British mountaineer Phil Crampton, owner of climbing company Altitude Junkies, told AFP that climbing company owners had met government officials in Kathmandu and "asked for immediate action."
Before Tuesday's call to abandon the season, the guides had issued a string of demands to the government, including higher compensation for the dead and injured, a rise in insurance payments and a welfare fund.
The government has offered to set up a relief fund for injured guides using up to five percent of fees paid by climbers, while increasing life insurance payments by 50 percent.
The sherpas want 30 percent of climbers' fees to be earmarked for the fund and life insurance payments, set at $10,000, to be doubled.
The government, expected to earn at least $3 million this year from Everest climbing fees alone, has issued permits to 734 people, including 400 guides, for 32 expeditions this season.
Hundreds of anxious climbers remain at base camp, uncertain whether to leave or stay following the sherpas' announcement, with tensions running high.
New Zealand mountaineer Russell Brice, owner of top expedition company Himex, said he hoped the government delegation's visit on Thursday would persuade sherpas to start climbing again.
"I hope the visit will calm tempers and the sherpas will understand the reasons for continuing the season," Brice told AFP in Kathmandu.
"They can continue their negotiations once the climbing season ends."
Relations between local guides and Western mountaineers hit a low last year when a brawl broke out between three European climbers and a group of sherpas.
The New Zealand firm that pulled out of Everest on Wednesday was also a victim of what was previously the worst disaster on the mountain in 1996, which was immortalised in the best-selling book "Into Thin Air."
Adventure Consultants lost four people in that tragedy, which saw a storm envelop climbers at high altitude, killing eight in total.
More than 300 people, most of them local guides, have died on the peak since the first ascent by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.