Mt Everest needs a breather, and Nepal wants to aid that by pushing climbers towards K2
Writing in his recently published book, The Ghost of K2, Mick Conefrey — an expert on mountaineering — raised a very pertinent point: Is K2, the world’s second highest peak that is called “a savage mountain” by many, the new Everest?
The social media went abuzz and thousands — mostly climbers — agreed, ostensibly because the world’s tallest, Mount Everest was getting increasingly crowded with mountaineers, including rank newcomers ready to shell out $55,000 to commercial guiding companies to help them reach the top.
An expedition member climbs a ridge on the north slope of K2 from China. In comparison to Mount Everest, K2 is seen as the world’s toughest and most dangerous mountain, with one death for every four successful ascents. Pic/Getty Images
Such has been the rush, the Nepalese government — earlier this month — said it would ban all those attempting to scale the Everest without sufficient experience. Though discussions are at a primary stage, it has been proposed that permits to climb Everest will only be given to those who can prove that they have already scaled mountains that are higher than 6,500 metres, officials said. The disabled, those younger than 16 years of age and those older than 60 also face bans.
A crowded tent site at Everest's Base Camp. In 2014, a little over 700 climbers made the summit. Pic/Getty Images
Until 1985, Nepal allowed only one expedition on each route to the summit at a time. No such strictures exist now; a little over 700 climbers made the summit in 2014.
The world’s highest peak, the Everest is located in the Mahalangur section of the Himalayas and the mountain’s summit straddles the border separating China and Nepal.
The Nepal government’s decision was prompted by a horrifying image of Ralf Dujmovits, a mountaineer who clicked an image of scores of climbers heading for the summit as if ants were in the pursuit of a honey pot left unguarded. “My deep hope was that the number of climbers on Everest would reduce. But, I fear I made Everest more popular with this picture,” Dujmovits told the London-based The Telegraph.
Many in Nepal agree. For them, Mount Everest needs to be preserved and offered a breather, and K2 — which is on the Karakoram range of mountains and lies on Pakistan’s border with China — opened up for only those who are serious about mountaineering. “Let mountaineering be a strenuous exercise, not a joke, and for those who are looking for something beyond taking photographs,” says Mingma Sherpa of Kathmandu-based Seven Summit Treks that organises trips to both, Mount Everest
If that happens, K2 will come more into focus, but remain the preserve of the elite. “Mountaineering is not like watching Formula One with a beer can in hand. Of late, many with deep pockets have started getting helicopter drops at the last camp, before they are carried to the top at exorbitant costs. This needs to stop,” says Sherpa.
In comparison to Mount Everest, K2 is seen as the world’s toughest and most dangerous mountain, with one death for every four successful ascents. But Ang Tsering Sherpa, a seasoned climber based in Kathmandu, fears the Everest rush could even mess K2 because a few companies have already started guided ascents, for $75,000 per person fee. Himalayan Experience and Madison Mountaineering, two of the biggest names in the climbing business, offer such packages and many Europeans have already queued up.
K2, first measured by British surveyor TG Montgomerie in 1856, is 237 metres shorter than Everest. It drew the name from its temporary designation Karakoram2 because Montgomerie could not find a local name for the peak.
The focus on K2 increased because the 2014 season came to an abrupt halt when an avalanche killed 16 Sherpas. This year, Nepal — devastated by an earthquake that killed over 9,000 — found no ascents of Everest from the Nepalese side. Many in Kathmandu expect fewer expeditions on Everest in 2016, and a growing focus on K2.
But, Kunda Dixit of Nepal Times feels since K2 is a much harder climb, the crowds would be lower despite the initial, mad rush. The peak, first ascended in 1954 by Italian mountain guides, Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli, had Walter Bonatti for company. Bonatti eventually went on to be hailed as the greatest mountaineer of the 20th century.
“I want to see mountaineering spaced out between these two peaks, the crowd at Everest is becoming too much, just too much to handle. Everyone with cash wants a photograph on the summit. Some seem desperate, very desperate,” says Dixit.
Dixit finds support from Wing Commander SK Kutty, honorary secretary of the Delhi-based Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) who feels it is time “Everest gets its air back”.
Wing Commander Kutty feels K2, which can be ascended through Pakistan or China, has been out of bound for “masses of mountaineers” because of permission complications. But now that Nepal is putting restrictions on Everest because of last year’s earthquake and avalanche, the move towards K2 is a welcome respite.”
“The only problem of K2 is its biggest advantage, it is not known to the picnickers,” says Wg Cmdr Kutty, adding he has heard of clients offering up to £150,000 for a lift to the top of that treacherous mountain.
But, he is convinced that the initial rush to K2 will eventually subside because unlike Everest, K2 is in a different league because of multiple, troublesome factors — unpredictable weather, extreme high altitude, routine rock fall, and constant threat of avalanche.
Worse, getting permits and visas to trek to the base camp is twice as long as it is for Everest. Again, Nepal has a well-developed climbing and trekking industry, with equipment, helicopters and support staff readily available. In comparison, K2 has little.
Hence, the business would surely not move wholesale from Everest to K2. No wonder then, in four of the past seven years there have been no ascents to K2.
Tashi Sherpa, who has climbed Everest thrice, calls it a boon. Like many in Nepal, he does not like the “forever picnic” on the world’s tallest peak.