billi bierling female mountaineer and journalist from Germany

Rainy spring season

It is 18th of April. Exactly one year ago today, I walked into Everest Base Camp already knowing that a huge avalanche had come down the West Shoulder of Everest killing more than a dozen Sherpas. I remember seeing the heli flying up and down the Khumbu Icefall retrieving the lifeless bodies of the Sherpas on a long line. I remember thinking: “This season can’t possibly go on.” A day later, I flew to Makalu Base Camp still unsure whether I actually wanted to climb another big mountain after what I had just seen; however, a week on we were back in business getting on with our climb.

One year on, many Sherpas are back on Everest as “Climbing is what Sherpas do”,  Madison Mountaineering’s Sirdar Phurba Sherpa told Alan Arnette, who is currently on his quest to scale Lhotse, the 4th highest peak in the world. Several Pujas (Buddhist ceremonies) were held at Everest Base Camp on the sad anniversary of the tragedy and the temporary village was reported to be somber and quiet. According to the Himalayan Times, some of the promises made by the Nepal Ministry of Tourism after the avalanche hit have yet to be fulfilled. “Most of the agreed plans, including setting-up a memorial park in Kathmandu and establishing a welfare fund to support families of support staff and guides, have not yet materialised,” Ang Tshering, the President of the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) told the daily paper.

The view from Nuptse proves it: Everest is a big pile of rock

The view from Nuptse proves it: Everest is a big pile of rock

How this Everest season will pan out remains to be seen, however, a strange weather system coming from India has disrupted the usual stable weather bringing lots of snow to the Himalaya, and huge amounts of rain to Kathmandu, which is rather strange at this time of year. “The snow has delayed us quite a bit and other than the Icefall doctors, who have prepared the route, nobody has been all the way through the icefall yet,” Russell Brice of Himalayan Experience told me over the phone. He also said that Sherpas as well as expedition operators were very disappointed by the Nepal government’s decision not to allow helicopters carry the rope needed for fixing to Camp 1. “The Sherpas are naturally worried about crossing the icefall,” he continued. “If we could fly the many kilometres of rope to Camp 1, it would cut about 70 trips through the treacherous icefall and would make the Sherpas’ lives easier and safer.”

The snow has also thwarted other expeditions’ plans and some teams are having a hard time reaching their base camps. The Cho Oyu team of the German outfitter Amical reported that their yaks were unable to get to Advanced Base Camp due to the snow.

Kathmandu calming down

As far as finding and interviewing expeditions in Kathmandu is concerned, Saturday, 18 April, was the first day when I didn’t have to run around on my bicycle finding dozens of teams, who had been coming in non-stop for the last three weeks. “I guess I am no longer as good at my job as I used to be. I never used to miss expeditions,” Miss Hawley responded when I told her that I had accidentally bumped into an expedition she had been supposed to interview. “No, Miss Hawley,” I replied. “I think it is due to the fact that it is no longer physically possible for us to catch every single team. There are just too many.” I remember being very upset when I missed a team at the very beginning of my work for the Himalayan Database in 2004. However, 11 years on the number of expeditions has significantly increased and with only Miss Hawley, Jeevan Shrestra and myself with the occasional but great help of Michelle Bostwick it has become almost impossible to cover every single team.

One of the teams going to Everest South

One of the teams going to Everest South

Just as in the previous years, most teams are heading to the South side of Everest and the Nepal Ministry of Tourism says it has issued 347 permits for Everest, with 125 of them from the previously shortened season. It’s a slight increase from the 334, who were given permission last year. The North side is seeing more climbers than last year with numbers of foreign climbers up to 200 from about 100 in 2014.

As far as other mountains are concerned, there have been very early summits on Annapurna 1, the 10th highest mountain in the world. Thirteen climbers were reported to have reached the top on 24 April, however, two very good and technical climbers had to pay their feat with their lives: Finnish climber Samuli Mansikka and Pemba Sherpa sadly fell to their deaths during the descent. A few expeditions remain on Annapurna 1 waiting for the snow to stop and the weather window to open. With about 40 to 50 climbers, Makalu is quite busy again this year whereas I have not yet met one single expedition who is attempting Kangchenjunga (however, there could be one that I missed). Dhaulagiri, Cho Oyu and Manaslu seem to have the usual amount of climbers for the spring season.

As most teams have left Kathmandu and my busy life has calmed down a bit, I am going back to Europe to spend some time with my mum. For those who are wondering how she was getting on after that nasty flesh-eating bug had attacked her, I am very happy to tell you that she is doing incredibly well. My good friend Dr Helen Clements from South Africa, who used to work at CIWEC clinic here in Kathmandu and who was a real gem during the time when I was trying to get my mum repatriated to Germany thought she was incredible. “Your mother is a medical miracle. I still can’t believe how well she is doing,” she said when I told her that my mum was doing the bookkeeping, surfing the internet, baking cakes and walking around the flat without the walker. She has certainly not lost her joy for life and I am very proud of her!

Running on the rim of the Kathmandu Valley

Running on the rim of the Kathmandu Valley

During my stay in Europe, I will also go to the UK for a few days and run a classic 10-mile run in Bern, the Grand Prix. Well, after having done 52 kilometres here in the Kathmandu Valley a couple of weeks ago, this will only be a warm-up ;-).

As we are expecting most expeditions to start coming back to Kathmandu around 20 May, I will return on 16 May in order to interview them about their expeditions. I really hope that the 2015 climbing season will be a good and successful one with everyone coming back safe and sound.

2 Responses

  1. markus said on April 20, 2015 at 4:59 pm

    hey Billi,
    wünsche dir jetzt schon viel spass auf der hochzeit und dem lauf in bern 🙂
    markus

    Reply
  2. Ashley said on April 19, 2015 at 6:01 am

    LOVE all of your posts as always, dear Billi. Why oh why has the Nepal government decided not to allow helicopters carry the rope needed for fixing to Camp 1?” So upsetting also that they have not followed through with other promises to Sherpas 🙁 xo

    Reply

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