BY SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Apr 8, 2016- Two back-to-back tragedies on Everest don’t seem to have deterred adventure enthusiasts. The world’s highest peak is set for yet another rush of hopeful climbers. The Department of Tourism, which issues Everest climbing permits, expects another busy season starting this May as climber numbers are expected to surpass 300.

According to the Tourism Department, 277 climbers have received climbing permits as of April 7.

“Among them, 223 climbers have already left towards the Everest region to acclimatize themselves before pushing for the summit,” said Gyanendra Shrestha, an official of the department. “We are processing the remaining applications and expect more to come.”

Shrestha said that the figure could reach 300 or even more
this year.  Normally, Everest aspirants apply for climbing permits between mid-March and April-end.

Actual climbing starts in mid-May. The government charges $11,000 per foreign climber and earns nearly $3.5 million in revenues from Everest annually.

“Though the government delayed announcing that the climbing permits of mountaineers who were forced to abandon their expeditions last year due to avalanches would be extended, the number this year is so far good,” said Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA).
“The rush of mountaineers after two back-to-back disasters also indicates that Everest will always attract adventurous climbers and records will continue to be broken on its slopes,” he said.

This season, two Sherpas will be competing to set a new world record for the most Everest ascents. According to Shrestha, Mingma Chhiri Sherpa and Pasang Tenzi Sherpa have applied to climb Everest thrice during the same season. Mingma has already climbed Everest 19 times and seeks to secure the world record for the most Everest ascents. Appa Sherpa and Phurba Tashi Sherpa together hold the record for the most summits of the world’s highest peak of 21 times.

Phurba Tashi climbed Everest for the 21st time in 2013. Phurba, who climbed Everest three times during the 2007 season alone, will also be climbing Everest this spring in his bid to set a record, said Shrestha. “Many of the records achieved on Everest are broken regularly,” said NMA President Sherpa. “Everest has been climbed thrice in a single season many times, and if the weather behaves well, it will not be difficult for Mingma to pursue his goal.”

Another contender 45-year-old Phurba has many years of climbing left in him. Min Bahadur Sherchan, 85, has also announced that he will be making another attempt to scale Everest to try to reclaim the title of the oldest man to climb the world’s tallest peak.

Sherchan stepped atop the summit of Everest at the age of 78 to put himself in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2010. However, 80-year-old Japanese mountaineer Yuchiro Miura broke his record. Sherchan had made an attempt last year but abandoned the bid due to the earthquake. However, he has not yet re-applied to climb Everest, department officials said.

Meanwhile, 50 army personnel from India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will be attempting to scale Everest this season, according to the department.
There are also two all-girl teams from the Indian Army National Cadet Corps (NCC) comprising 19 individuals. Another Indian Army Everest Massif Expedition led by Lieutenant Colonel Ranveer Singh Jamwal consists of 14 individuals. Likewise, Armed Force Everest Expedition UAE contains 15 individuals and UAE Desert Troop: Operation Everest contains two members.

In April 2014, there was an avalanche near Everest Base Camp which killed 16 Nepali guides. Rescuers pulled out 13 bodies and the remaining three were never recovered as search and rescue operations were called off due to “too much risk”. Subsequently, the mission was called off.

The first post-avalanche ascent took place on May 23, 2014 when Chinese climber Wang Jing reached the summit of Everest. However, her ascent sparked controversy as she had bypassed the Khumbu Icefall on a helicopter.

The government had extended the Everest climbing permits until 2019 of those climbers who were forced to abandon the mission in 2014. That year, 326 mountaineers had received climbing permits.

Then in 2015, avalanches set off by the devastating April 25 quake killed 19 climbers, including high-altitude guides and helpers at the base camp and the Khumbu Icefall.  There were no Everest bids in the spring of 2015. This time the government extended the permits to climb Everest for two years until 2017. Last year, 356 mountaineers received climbing permits.

SOURCE: KHATMANDU POST