Nepal reassures Everest climbers on safety a year after deadly avalanche

Reuters , Monday 23 Feb 2015

Mount Everest
In this Oct. 27, 2011 file photo, the last light of the day sets on Mount Everest as it rises behind Mount Nuptse as seen from Tengboche, in the Himalaya's Khumbu region, Nepal (Photo: AP)

Nepal will arrange regular weather forecasts and tighten safety measures on Mount Everest to reassure climbers, an official said on Monday, after an avalanche killed 16 sherpas last year in the worst disaster in the history of the world's highest mountain.

The country's climbing season starts in March and runs through May, attracting hundreds of climbers who are expected to ascend the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) mountain by the normal South East Ridge route.

Nepal is developing a system with meteorological officials to provide regular weather forecasts, and is discussing adoption of a GPS tracking system for climbers, tourism official Pushpa Raj Katuwal told reporters.

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

The disaster forced at least 334 climbers from around the world to abandon the climb last year.

The 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 New Zealander Sir Edmund 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. Last year's disaster highlighted the risks taken by sherpas who set the route, fixing ropes and placing ladders on the icy slopes and guiding foreign clients. 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 and other benefits after criticism that it was doing little for their welfare, despite collecting hefty permit fees from climbers.

Government officials, army and police will staff a liaison office at Base Camp through the climbing season to aid climbers in distress and resolve disputes.

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

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