KATHMANDU - The Everest expeditions for this year have been cancelled too, following the avalanches triggered by the Great Earthquake, which killed 19 climbers, including high-altitude guides and helpers at Base Camp and the Khumbu Icefall, on April 25. A number of climbers were also injured by the deadly avalanches.
The Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), which has been entrusted with the job of preparing the climbing route up Everest, officially confirmed that setting the route this season would be exceedingly risky, given the short window of time available to prepare the routes, and because the monsoon season is fast approaching.
On Tuesday, the Icefall Doctors' team and SPCC Chairperson Ang Dorjee Sherpa, after conducting a survey of the situation at Everest Base Camp and the Khumbu Icefall, have advised the Tourism Ministry and concerned stakeholders not to take further risks by continuing work on the mountain. The SPCC has also recommended that the government extend climbing permits for the 2015 Everest aspirants until 2016, or further into the future. The climbing season was cancelled last year after an avalanche on April 18 killed 16 high-altitude guides. The disaster forced the guides to boycott expeditions and launch strikes. Subsequently, the government had extended the validity of the permits to five years for foreigners.
"We have been informed that the SPCC will not be able to prepare the route this season, and it says that the climbing is not going to happen," said Tulsi Prasad Gautam, director general of the Department of Tourism.
"However, we have asked the SPCC to furnish a clarification, as it has unilaterally decided to issue a statement announcing that this season's climbing would be impossible."
When asked if the royalty amount paid by the climbers would be refunded, Gautam said, "The government will study whether it would be better to refund their money or extend the climbing permit validity." According to him, it would take a further two months at least to come up with a decision.
"Due to the financial crisis that emerged due to the earthquake, the government is not in a position to refund the royalty fee to the climbers," said Gautam.
The government earned Rs 375 million from Everest royalties this year. Gautam said that the department had issued permits for 340 foreigners and 18 Nepalis this year, including 118 permits to those who were forced to abandon last year's expeditions.
After a thorough assessment of the damage caused by the avalanche at Base Camp and the Khumbu Icefall, the SPCC said that any possible efforts to create routes through the Icefall would take a minimum of two weeks, even to create the route up to Camp II.
"Given the short window of time before the temperatures begin to rise, and the onset of early monsoon conditions, which make Everest ascents impossible, it seems unlikely that the route can be set in time," the SPCC said in a statement on Tuesday.
It added that all medical teams, including the Himalayan Rescue Association, have already left Base Camp for the season, and that it is inadvisable to carry on with route-work-without medical support for emergencies-given the increased risk of aftershocks and an exceptionally unstable Icefall. Currently, there is a lack of adequate equipment and supplies needed to begin resetting the Icefall route immediately.
The SPCC Icefall Doctors are only responsible for setting the route until Camp II. The teams responsible for setting the routes above Camp II say that they also do not have sufficient equipment and resources to do the job.
The SPCC further said that a majority of the climbers have already called off their expeditions and many of the Icefall Doctors, as well as the local support staff in the remaining expedition teams, have suffered deaths in the family or injuries as well as earthquake-related damage to property, and that they need to be with their communities at this time.