Record-Breaking Climbing Season Expected in the Himalayas
March 7, 2023
Categories: Destinations, In Action, Safety, Travel Tips,
Mountaineers and trekkers are heading to the Himalayas for the 2023 spring Mount Everest climbing season, a two-month window from April to May when conditions are generally as good as possible to climb the tallest mountain in the world, and many others in the region. Last year, there were a record number of climbing permits issued and Global Rescue conducted a record number of rescue operations.
Will 2023 be another record-breaker? In all likelihood, yes.
“I expect a similar year again, where a number of records are broken,” said Dan Stretch, a Global Rescue Operations Manager who is based in Nepal during the climbing season and has coordinated hundreds of evacuations and crisis response operations.
Other experts agree.
“I expect a busy season on Everest’s south side with no permit limit,” said Lukas Furtenbach, owner of Furtenbach Adventures based in Innsbruck, Austria, and a Global Rescue Safe Travel Partner.
Climbing expert Alan Arnette points to some of the busyness coming from high-altitude peak baggers. “The current fad seems to be collecting 8000-meter peaks, so look for people to try and summit multiple mountains in the same season,” he said.
A big difference this year is the easing of official COVID restrictions. Legendary mountaineer and a member of the Global Rescue Mountain Advisory Council Ed Viesturs, said things are getting back to normal.
“It seems that it’s almost business as usual. There are some individuals still taking certain precautions regarding masking. General sanitation has taken a step up, in a good way,” he said.
Still, travelers entering Nepal from abroad must submit a certificate of full vaccination against COVID-19, according to officials. “Most countries lifted their COVID restrictions, and there are only a few COVID measures still in place in Nepal,” Furtenbach said, adding that his expedition company will maintain their standard safety and hygiene measures for the upcoming climbing season.
Gordon Janow, the director of programs for Alpine Ascents, leads expeditions worldwide and requires his clients to be vaccinated and more. “We ask climbers to bring test kits, too.”
Stretch points out that there are no official rules regarding how individual expedition companies operate, test or handle COVID cases. “Climbers should ask their expedition organizers what measures would be taken to limit COVID exposure risks,” he said.
Rising Costs? Not A Problem.
Travelers are shrugging off inflation, according to the results of a Global Rescue survey. Despite price increases and the rising cost to travel, the majority of travelers (70%) have not canceled or postponed an international or domestic trip. Inflation is not curbing most traveler spending behavior either. Even though energy prices are up 17% and food prices have increased by 10%, nearly half (47%) of travelers are not making any spending changes while on travel.
Similar behavior is taking place in the climbing areas in Nepal. Wages are up, insurance costs are climbing and permit fees are higher. These increases are not deterring the robust demand from climbers and trekkers. “There is an insatiable demand to climb the world’s highest mountain,” Arnette said.
Furtenbach said expedition costs have jumped up, too, between 5% and 15%, depending on the guide company. Janow agrees. “Costs have gone up in Nepal and our Everest Base Camp trek cost has gone up.”
Despite expeditions’ rising costs, a record number of climbers expect to climb. “Most people pay between $40,000 and $50,000, and some will pay as much as $160,000. But the prices are rising, and I don’t know where it will stop,” he said.
Will China Open?
One of the biggest questions is whether China will open routes to Mount Everest, Cho Oyu and Shishapangma. The prevailing belief is yes, partially.
Stretch reported that the approach to summit Mount Everest from the Tibet side (China) will be open in 2023 but that Cho Oyu and Shishapangma are effectively closed. “Individuals can try the permitting process but it’s recently become very difficult and requires significant effort. I don’t think we will see any commercial climbs on Cho Oyu or Shishapangma from the Tibet side in the near future unless something significant changes with the Chinese authorities,” he said.
Furtenbach concurred. “My guess is that if they open, then it will be for Mount Everest only.” Janow is less confident. “We are hoping they open by the fall season, it’s unlikely for spring.”
Excitement, Anticipation and Changes
As pandemic fears and restrictions fade, mountaineer and trekker excitement grows. Viesturs said optimism is high. “Things will be very close to normal,” he said.
Furtenbach agreed. “In 2022, everything was almost back to normal and most people were able to climb, train and travel. I expect fit, well-prepared and highly motivated climbers this year. Everyone is excited.”
Rising superstar mountaineer, Kristin Harila, said excitement is growing based on rumors that Mount Everest will open from the north (Tibet) side. “It’s uncertain if this is confirmed, but the rumors get everyone excited,” said Harila, a member of the Global Rescue Mountain Advisory Council.
But with the excitement comes a shift, especially among the more experienced climbers. Stretch believes that serious mountaineers are increasingly shying away from Mount Everest. “It’s become the playground of the less experienced, people who are looking more at the achievement of climbing the world’s tallest mountain rather than the pure mountaineering feat,” he said.
Arnette agreed more people are shifting to other climbing regions, like Ecuador and Argentina. But he added that the climbing skills are much lower, which elevates risks and the need for more medical and rescue resources. “Aconcagua was silly crowded with many injuries, frostbite and AMS cases. It seems that the expected experience level has been lowered and the guiding community can’t keep up,” he said.
Global Rescue Deployment
Providing nonstop, 24/7 medical emergency support for a massive number of people taking part in extreme, high-altitude activities is not for the faint of heart. The Global Rescue deployment team remains on-site for the duration of the two-month climbing season. The days are long, often lasting up to 16 hours.
“We are active from sunrise to sundown. If there are no ongoing rescues, that’s when we follow up with rescued members, check on their care, complete administrative requirements and rest up. Each deployed team member has at least one day a week to chill out, get a massage, go sightseeing, do anything to rest, recuperate and prepare for the next few days,” said David Koo, associate director of operations at Global Rescue.
Global Rescue is the leading worldwide rescue resource for mountaineers, climbers and those who love the mountains. The Global Rescue Mountain Advisory Council provides guidance and resources from some of the world’s preeminent mountaineers and crisis response personnel. Global Rescue’s Mountain Advisory Council is led by: mountaineering legend Ed Viesturs; world-famous high-altitude climber Nirmal “Nims” Purja; rising superstar mountaineer, Kristin Harila; outdoor adventure safety expert and longtime mountaineering author Jed Williamson. Other members of the Mountain Advisory Council are: Wilderness and altitude sickness expert Dr. Eric Johnson; Global Rescue Vice President of Operations Scott Hume; Global Rescue Senior Manager of Operations David Koo; Global Rescue Operations Manager Dan Stretch; and Global Rescue Security Operations Senior Manager Harding Bush.
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