Himalaya Spring 2019: All Eyes on the Sky Heading into the Weekend

As we head into the weekend the big news from Mt. Everest and the other major Himalayan peaks is the potential for a major storm to drop large amounts of snow across the region. Cyclone Fani has made landfall in India where it has the potential to do some serious damage, but it could also have a significant impact on the climbers who are now waiting to see what will happen next.

The forecast for the next few days says that Everest and Makalu could get as much as a foot of snow (30 cm). That said, depending on how the storm tracks, it could be significantly less than that as well. It’s just very hard to tell at this point, but that uncertainty is keeping most of the climbing teams in place. The experienced team leaders have wisely decided to remain cautious and have either delayed their next acclimatization rotation or have pulled their teams back down the mountain. Base Camp may see some snow accumulation, but it is expected to be heaviest at Camp 2 and above, with high winds following along.

Fortunately, Cyclone Fani is expected to lose strength rapidly, which should mean that the teams will be back on the move very soon. The traditional summit window of around mid-May is approaching very quickly now and there is still plenty of work to be done before the teams are ready. Most have only been up to Camp 2 on the South Side so far and typically they’ll want to at least “touch” Camp 3 before they ever consider a summit push. Fortunately, there is still time to do just that, but the clock does continue to tick.

Of course, no one is going to the summit until the ropes are fixed on both sides of Everest. There has been good progress on that front with the news coming that the team in charge of installing the lines on the Nepali side of the mountain reaching Camp 4 at 7950 meters (26,082 ft) yesterday. Meanwhile, on the North Side the ropes are in place up to 8300 meters (27,230 ft), which puts them within striking distance of the summit. If the weather improves, I’d expect the final work to be done in terms of rope fixing by the end of the weekend or early next week, with the first summits following shortly thereafter.

Having the ropes in place means that the teams can begin shuttling gear –– and more importantly, bottled oxygen –– up to Camp 4. Right now, the plans are being made to do just that, with only the weather forecast preventing that process from getting under way. Once Fani clear from the radar, expect to see a flurry of activity in the days that follow. Nearly every team will be on the move almost immediately to the point that it will be challenging to keep track of where everyone is at. Then, things will quiet for a day or two with everyone heading down to BC. At that point, the waiting game will begin with all eyes turning to the sky once again. When the weather window finally opens (usually around May 12-13), things will get very interesting, very quickly.

For now though, it’s a waiting game with the storm.

Kraig Becker