Accessibility links

Breaking News

Nepal Improving Everest Climbing Conditions

FILE - Clouds rise behind Mount Everest.

Nepal is improving climbing safety conditions for Mount Everest, officials said Monday.

The new safety measures include the issuance of regular weather forecasts and a full-time office at the base camp staffed with officials, allowing for a swifter response to emergencies, said Puspa Raj Katuwal, Nepal's Mountaineering Department chief.

The changes were prompted by the catastrophic avalanche last year that killed 16 Sherpa guides as they were trying to fix ropes and crack snow and ice to carve out a route for foreign climbers.

"All possible measures will be taken to make climbing safe and to minimize the danger of natural disaster like last year's avalanche," Katuwal said.

Nepal has been criticized for not maintaining a presence at the base camp despite collecting millions of dollars in permit fees.

The three-month climbing season begins in March.

After the avalanche last year, the government said it would pay the families of each Sherpa who died about $415. The Sherpas said they deserve far more, demanding more insurance money, more financial aid for the victims' families and new regulations that would ensure climbers' rights.

In response, the government has boosted insurance cover for sherpas to $15,000 from $10,000, with premiums to be paid by climbers. It also increased medical coverage and other benefits.

Thousands of Nepalese guides and porters make their livelihoods during the climbing season when climbers rely on them for everything from carrying gear and cooking food to high-altitude guiding. Without them, reaching the 8,850-meter peak would be almost impossible.

More than 4,000 climbers have scaled Mount Everest since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay completed the first ascent in 1953. Nearly 250 people have died trying.

The new measures apply to Everest, but not to a popular trekking route on nearby Annapurna, where an early winter blizzard and avalanches killed at least 29 people last October.

The South East Ridge route on Everest passes through the treacherous Khumbu icefall and the South Col, pioneered by Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in their historic 1953 ascent.

Ang Dorjee Sherpa, of the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee that is in charge of opening the climbing route, said the Icefall Doctors, a group of seasoned sherpa climbers, would start cracking the route from March.

To avoid the spot where the avalanche struck last year, the route will detour about 40 meters (131 feet) right of the trail, Sherpa told Reuters. While less prone to avalanches, the new route lengthens the trip to Camp One by two hours, he added.

Nepal is home to eight of the world's 14 highest mountains, and income from tourism contributes 4 percent of gross domestic product.

Some material for this report came from Reuters.