Himalaya Spring 2019: High Winds Block Everest Summit for Now

Late last week Cyclone Fani made landfall in India, bringing untold destruction along with it. While that country begins the rebuilding process, the remnants of the storm are still causing issues in the Himalaya, most notably on Everest. With the clock already ticking on the season, Fani has shifted the jet stream on top of the world’s highest mountain, temporarily blocking access to the summit when it is needed most.

Over the weekend, Fani dropped more than 10 inches (25 cm) of snow across various parts of Everest, including both the North and South Sides. But by Sunday, the sun had returned and much of that snow was already retreating, allowing the climbing teams to get back on the move. Unfortunately, the strong winds brought on by the cyclone remained higher up the slopes, with the jet stream firmly in place over the summit. Those winds managed to rip up some of the campsites, destroying tents and tossing gear about. That means some of the teams will have to send Sherpas back up the hill to rebuild the camps and set up tents again. Shuttling gear is difficult, taxing work, but it will have to be completed before the teams can head to the summit.

Speaking of which, the rope fixing teams on both side of the mountain have been unable to finish their work and were forced to wait out the storm as well. It may be some time before they can install the lines up to Camp 4 and beyond however, as the weather predictions now say the jet stream will remain over the mountain until at least May 10, with winds dying down shortly there after. If that holds true, the rope fixing duties may not be completed until next weekend at the earliest, which would be later in the season than we’ve seen in recent years.

At the moment, most of those commercial teams are concentrating on their second round of acclimatization rotations. Typically by now they would be starting to wrap up that process, but most have not gone as high as Camp 3 on either side of Everest yet. Yesterday, the climbers with Madison Mountaineering attempted to go up to that point, but were turned back due to the strong winds. Instead, they spent the night in C2 and will go down to Base Camp today. Similarly, on the North Side the 7 Summits Club team went up to ABC but not much higher. Once the strong winds set it, it was back down the mountain for them as well.

It now looks like the coming week will be spent going up to Camp 2 and watching the winds closely. If possible, some of the teams will likely try to reach C3, at least to touch that point, before going back down the hill. At this point, they need all of the time at altitude that they can get, as it seems the schedule is lagging a bit behind in general. Still, there is plenty of time to summit and it is not unheard of for the season to go into late May. It has only been in recent years that things have tended to wrap up by mid-May or so, which means even though things seem like they’re taking longer this year, the schedule still allows for delays and extensions.

We’ll continue to keep an eye on the proceedings on Everest and watch the weather reports. Once things clear up, there is likely to be a flurry of activity before a rush to the summit. But for now, that looks like it will be at least a week away.

Kraig Becker