Will Politics and Climate Change Cause More Climbers to Head to the North Side of Everest?

veteran climbing outfits fed up with what they regard as a lax attitude to safety on nepal s southern flank of the 8848 metre 29029 foot peak are starting to shift operations to everest s north side i 1517454853512 4

The next few years could be a tipping point on Mt. Everest, with potentially more climbers heading to the North Side in Tibet rather than tackling the traditional route up the South Col in Nepal. That’s the  assertion of a new article posted online yesterday, which points to politics, overcrowding, and climate change as reasons why mountaineers could abandon the South Side over the next few years.

The article notes that several high profile expedition operators – including Alpenglow and Altitude Junkies – have already made the transition to the North Side, and more are expected to follow. Part of that exodus is a result of increased competition on the Nepali side of the mountain, where low-cost operators are bringing larger and larger groups to Base Camp. That has resulted in overcrowding and more inexperienced climbers on the mountain. That trend doesn’t look to end soon either, with interest in climbing the world’s highest peak on the rise.

On top of that, the political situation in Nepal has made it more challenging for some climbers to attempt Everest. Recent changes to the rules have forbidden disabled or “medically unfit” alpinists from even attempting the climb, with new regulations also banning solo attempts as well. While those may seem like good rules to have in place, it has brought a level of instability and uncertainty to the mountaineering scene there, while also arbitrarily banning climbers who may are perfectly prepared to take on the challenges. This has left some of those climbers to switch to the North Side already, with more expected to follow.

Beyond that however, there is the issue with crossing through the Khumbu Icefall. This section of the climb from the Nepali side has always been challenging and dangerous, but climate change is increasing the hazards dramatically. As temperatures warm, the icefall becomes more unstable, making it not only harder to maintain a safe route through the seracs and crevasses, but also far more likely to collapse, claiming lives in the process. And while the North Side offers its share of technical challenges, it doesn’t have anything quite like the icefall to contend with.

The article does note that Tibet took a hit to its credibility back in 2008 when the Chinese government closed the North Side to take the Olympic torch to the summit. That move came swiftly and without much warning, ending several expeditions abruptly. The closure was widely seen as a way to prevent embarrassing protests from being captured by the media or foreign visitors in a time when China was preparing for its modern coming out party.

Since then however, things have been much more stable and open. The country even hires a professional team of climbers to install the ropes to the summit each year, allowing expeditions to worry about other logistical concerns instead. That doesn’t happen on the South Side, where a loose association of operators band together to split the workload of installing the lines.

It is for all of these reasons that we could start to see a movement by guide services to the North Side in the years to come. The article does point out however that a growing number of Indian and Chinese climbers are flocking to Everest, with many still going to Nepal to climb. Indians prefer to South Side because of the cultural similarities and close proximity to home, while some Chinese climbers go to Nepal because the government there doesn’t require they climb another 8000-meter peak first. In other words, it doesn’t look like Nepal’s hegemony on Everest will necessarily come to a complete end, but more and more operators are seeing a viable alternative that is safer and more approachable.

Check out the entire story here.

Kraig Becker