For the first time in four decades, nobody made it to the top of Mount Everest last year

January 13, 2016 9:00 am

For the first time since 1974, nobody reached the top of Mt Everest last year. Photo / iStock

For the first time since 1974, nobody reached the top of the world’s
tallest mountain last year – a period during which tragedy, government
actions and plain old bad luck made Mount Everest virtually
unconquerable.

The was confirmed for The Washington Post by
climbers, longtime Everest observers and the Himalayan Database, which
compiles records for expeditions into the Nepalese Himalaya.
Although
climbers say multiple obstacles hampered their ascent in 2015, none was
bigger than an earthquake-spawned avalanche that killed 24 people on
Everest in April, turning an otherwise ordinary morning into the the
deadliest day in the mountain’s grim history.

The 7.8-magnitude quake – which struck near Nepal’s most
densely populated area – killed more than 8,000 people and injured
21,000 others as it leveled much of Kathmandu and poorly developed rural
regions outside the capitol.

“While the Nepal government never
officially closed Everest to climbing, it was practically shut off as
the primary climbing route goes through the Khumbu Icefall and the
Sherpas who managed the route stopped maintaining, it given the danger,”
Alan Arnette, a mountaineering journalist who was on Everest when the
earthquake struck, told The Post. “Also, almost every team made the
independent decision to halt climbing due to the excessive risks.”

“On
the Tibet side,” Arnette added, “the Chinese government, through the
China Tibet Mountaineering Association (CTMA), made the decision to
close all climbing throughout Tibet, including Everest, the day after
the earthquake and through the remainder of 2015 due to potential
aftershocks and excessive risks.”

In October, a one-fingered
Japanese climber attempting to reach the top of Mount Everest was forced
to turn back when conditions became too dangerous, according to Yahoo
News. Nobukazu Kuriki, who lost nine fingers on the mountain in 2012,
was trying to become the first person to summit the 29,029-foot peak
since the April avalanche.

“Did my best, but figured will not be
able to return alive if I go further due to strong wind and heavy snow,”
the 33-year-old wrote on Twitter that month, according to Yahoo.

Last
year was the second in a row in which major tragedies struck the
mountain. In 2014, 16 Sherpas were killed in an avalanche that was
triggered when a massive ice serac was released just above base camp in
the Khumbu Icefall, according to Arnette. The avalanche struck a group
of about 50 people at more than 20,000 feet, Tilak Ram Pandey of the
ministry’s mountaineering department, told CNN.

As recently as
2013, hundreds of climbers were making their way to the summit each
year, according to the Himalayan Database. That year alone, according to
database figures, 658 climbers reached the top of Everest. Eight people
were killed on the mountain in 2013.

As reported earlier, some researchers believe that climate change could shrink the mountain’s glaciers by as much as 70 percent.

“The
research also suggests that this melting process could, on occasion,
lead to sudden large discharges of water from gigantic melt lakes atop
the glaciers – not good news for a region that just suffered from a
devastating earthquake,” Mooney wrote.

Phil Powers, the CEO of
the American Alpine Club, told The Post that if the mountain becomes
more unstable, the danger for climbers will only intensify. Everest has
no shortage of dangerous areas, Powers said, but one of the most
precarious is the Khumbu Icefall, a slow-moving river of massive,
cracking ice chunks and crevasses that climbers must negotiate after
they leave base camp and climb to Camp 1.

“If the icefall
continues to get worse and more dangerous and harder to pass through,
you can imagine a future where the number of people climbing Everest is
much reduced,” Powers said.

The deadly avalanches in 2014 and
2015 have convinced Powers that mountaineering on Everest is entering a
new era. After eight people were killed in a notorious storm in 1996 –
an incident chronicled in John Krakauer’s bestseller “Into Thin Air” and
the 2015 film “Everest” – climbers resolved to change how the increase
in commercial activity was managed on the mountain.

Two decades later, Powers said, the challenges facing climbers are beyond human control.

“If
the average temperature of the world is warming, then the fluctuations
from that average are going to be higher, and those changes are being
seen on the mountain,” he said. “Simply put, it’s just going to get
harder and harder to cross that glacier.”

Over time, the number
of climbers might be reduced. But if the response to the deadly 2014
climbing season is any indication, last year’s avalanche may not
necessarily slow the stream of climbers willing to try their luck on
Everest. Arnette noted on his blog last year that concern that the 2014
avalanche might deter would-be climbers proved unfounded.

“However,
history shows us once again that it is a fine predictor of the future,”
Arnette wrote. “After record deaths in 1996, 2006 and 2012, the
following year delivered record climbers on Everest; 2015 was no
different. Even on Everest from Tibet for 2015, records permits were
issued, over 200 foreigners .”

“In my opinion,” Arnette said this
week, “the recent tragedies will not stop the desire to climb Everest
or other high mountains, as most people who climb accept the risks.
There are some in the Sherpa community that have decided to stop guiding
on Everest due to the increasing danger and pressure from their
families, but the economic benefit of guiding Everest often outweighs
the risks.”

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