Ang Tshering Sherpa is the president of Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA). Sherpa, who is associated with Asian Trekking, is one of the few persons in the country with in-depth knowledge about climatic condition and topography of Nepali mountain peaks as well as other peaks in the Himalayan Range. Sherpa, who is also an honorary member of International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA), is affiliated with number of social organizations. Sherpa recently talked to eTravelPress on several issues related to Nepali mountaineering sector. Excerpts:
Almost all the expeditions to Mt Everest this season have been cancelled. What message will it relay in the international market?
A tragic incident occurred in Everest this year. An avalanche struck mountaineering workers at an altitude of 5,800 meters between Everest Base Camp and Camp I. Sixteen climbers were swept away. Thirteen bodies have been recovered, while three are still missing. It is one of the biggest losses of human lives in Everest.
Such a big accident at the beginning of the season affects mindset of climbing parties. Also expedition parties are connected to each other. Members of same families are working with different expeditions. Therefore, almost all the climbing expeditions were affected. Initially, Nepali mountain guides and workers decided to halt work for a few days in memory of those who lost their lives in the avalanche. Later on they decided to cancel all expeditions. Following which, a high level delegation led by Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Bhim Acharya reached the Everest Base Camp. The delegation told the mountaineering workers that the government would respect their decision and that it won’t press them to continue working with the expedition.
On the demands placed by mountaineering workers, the government has decided to raise insurance cover to Rs 2 million. Later we came to know that insurance companies can issue policies of a maximum of Rs 1.5 million. If insurance companies raised their ceiling, the government will revise insurance cover for mountaineering workers accordingly.
Foreign expedition operators have respected the decision of mountaineering workers. Also, the government extended permit period to five years. With this year’s permit, climbing parties can come and summit the Mt Everest in the next five years.
What do you think triggered the avalanche?
I am not a scientist. But my experience says it is because of climate change and global warming. The area is not prone to such disasters. It was not an avalanche. A huge block of ice got detached from the rock at around 6,000 meters and fell 200 meters down, sweeping away everything on its way. It happened because temperature in high altitudes is increasing gradually because of the impacts of climate change and global warming.
This means such disasters might happen again?
No one can predict disasters. If disasters could be predicted, we could have saved live of 16 mountaineering workers. In the past years, expedition members used to study ice, wind and temperature before starting summit. They used to predict weather and climbing conditions by studying ice formation, cloud, wind movement, and other factors. These days, rely heavily dependent on technology and gadgets and climbers don’t use their sense and experience.
Global warming is becoming a serious problem in the Himalayas. Temperature in the Himalayas is rising at a higher rate compared to the global average. The number of glacial lakes is increasing in the Himalayas. There weren’t any glacial lakes in the Everest Region in the 1960s. I can say this because I am from the Khumbu region and I grew up there. Imja Lake for example was spotted only in 1962 and it was very small then. A report prepared in 2007 by a group of Japanese scientist state Imja Lake is 2.3 km long, 900 meters wide and 92 meters deep. According to an ICIMOD report, there are around 2,315 big glacial lakes in Nepal which didn’t exist at all 50 years ago.
You are also the coordinator of a government committee formed to prepare profile of mountain peaks in Nepal. What is the committee doing at present?
The tourism ministry has formed a 19-member committee under my leadership. Representatives from tourism ministry, Department of Survey, Nepal Army, Nepal Police, Armed Police Force as well as other experts are in the committee. I have been asked to prepare profile of altogether 496 peaks. It takes time because it is difficult to gather information of all the peaks. We need details like their geographical positioning, local names and climbing routes. I think it will take at least two years to complete our work.
Nepal has identified 16 8,000-meter peaks and the government already issues climbing permits to 13 of them. But most of Nepalis and foreign climbers say Nepal has only eight 8,000 meter peaks. Unless International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) verifies it, these peaks won’t get international recognition. Nepal has formally proposed the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) to give recognition to the peaks.
We need to take international recognition Kanchanjunga South, Kanchanjunga Central, Lhotse Shar and Lhotse Middle. As these peaks share borders with India and China, consent of both the countries is necessary. China has already given its consent, but India is hesitating to take the decision. But India is also positive.
We were preparing to hold a meeting with representatives of Himalayan host countries – Nepal, India, China, Pakistan, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Bhutan — regarding our push to give international recognition to these peaks. Unfortunately, the meeting had to be postponed because of the tragic Everest avalanche. The meeting was expected to forge coordination among Himalayan host countries regarding the need to give international recognition to the new peaks.
Where is the protest launched by Joint Tourism Coordination Committee (JTCC) against irregularities in Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) heading?
The protest was launched because the private sector felt it was not being represented in a true sense in the executive board of NTB. In the name of private sector, people close to the ministers and being appointed in the executive board. Also, NTB is formulating plans and activities without consulting with the private sector. It rejected the demand of the private sector to organize Himalayan Travel Mart which aimed to bring international buyers and was hell bent on organizing National Tourism Fair instead. The fair, however, was postponed because of the protest of the private sector. Also, we have realized the need to restructure the NTB to ensure more say of the private sector in NTB. There is also a need to probe into irregularities in NTB. The protest will not conclude unless the genuine demands of the private sector are addressed.