Mount Everest.jpg
Photograph: Photo by Gunther Hagleitner, used under CC BY

The Everest region is busy with tourists again after a gap of two years that saw no expeditions in Nepal due to separate disasters that struck the Himalayan nation.

“#Everest 2016 is swamped with climbers on both sides now,” US climber Alan Arnette said on Twitter.

The Sherpa guides and icefall doctors, who fix the ropes on the mountain, were Tuesday preparing for the last leg to the summit.

“Everything seems fine so far. We’re preparing to summit this week,” said Nima Sherpa, one of the climbers who had his expeditions called off in 2015 due to earthquakes that rocked the country.

“If the weather favours us, summits will happen in mid-May," he told dpa from the Everest Base Camp by phone.

All Everest expeditions were cancelled in 2014 after 16 Nepali climbers were killed during an avalanche on the Khumbu icefall.

In 2015, 19 climbers died in an avalanche at the Everest Base Camp brought on by the earthquakes that killed more than 8,800 people across the country.

“The most fragile section of the summit, known as the Khumbu icefall, is a glacier that keeps changing gently throughout the year,” said Asha L Singh, a Seven Summits women team climber who just returned from a trip to the Base Camp.

“There’s no set route there as the body of ice keeps changing its form, so we always follow a new path," she told dpa.

"Other than that, the rest seems good,” said the climber, adding that much would depend on this year's conditions.

The accidents have also drawn attention to the conditions of the Nepali guides, who provide essential assistance as climbing the mountain has become more popular.

A Nepali climber makes his way up and down the mountain between six to sixteen times for each expedition, laying out the infrastructure and hauling up the goods required.

“Many small companies without experience are also operating expeditions now,” Ang Tshering Sherpa, the president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association told dpa.

“It is risky for climbers as well, if the guide is not experienced.”

Sherpa said the association has launched a training campaign for guides, to improve safety on the mountain.

“Expedition operators here need to understand that there should not be competition in price, but in terms of service. It is important to make sure climbers are safe. We can’t put everyone’s lives at risk.”

Each foreign climber pays 11,000 dollars for the licence to climb the mountain, but the guide's fees are unregulated, Sherpa said.

"The authorities need to focus on paying the guides well and preventing them from risking their lives. Training is essential and so is investment in the staff."

An improvement in working conditions would also lessen the incentive to skimp on gear to save money.

“If one doesn’t have good shoes or equipment, they could get frostbites and even lose their limbs or things could be worse," he said.

After the 2014 avalanche, the government upped the insurance payout for Nepali climbers to 15,000 dollars from 5,000. But the climbers say their working conditions are still precarious, as the season is so short.

One porter told dpa he has had very little work during the two years of no climbing, when most guides fall back on the little farming that is possible in the mountains. “It’s good that these expeditions are happening again,” said Gyalzen Sherpa, whose job, without climbing training, consists mostly of cooking and carrying supplies.

The two-year gap dealt a major blow to Nepal’s Everest industry, which had witnessed record 335 climbers in 2013, causing something of a traffic jam on the slopes.

This year, 289 foreign climbers were heading to the mountain, accompanied by around 400 Nepalis supporting their expeditions. Out of them, 160 had applied fresh, while the rest were those who had come back after their 2014 or 2015 permits were extended.

“The biggest challenge is always the weather,” Asha Singh said. “If the nature is kind, everything should go well.”

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