May 25, 2010

Hiker Says Climate Is Changing Everest

A Nepalese Sherpa said on Tuesday, after breaking his own record by making a 20th ascent of Mount Everest, that the world's highest peak is getting more dangerous to climb because of climate change.

Apa Sherpa said he was disturbed by the visible changes on the mountain caused by rising temperature.

"The snow along the slopes had melted, exposing the bare rocks underneath, which made it very difficult for us to walk up the slope as there was no snow to dig our crampons into," he told AFP on Tuesday.

"This has made the trail very dangerous for all climbers."

Apa, who has dedicated his latest climb to the impact of global warming on the Himalayas, has been nicknamed the "super Sherpa" for the apparent ease with which he climbs Everest.  However, he was visibly exhausted as he spoke to journalists in the Nepalese capital three days after reaching the summit.

Apa, 50, led an expedition aimed at raising awareness of the impact of climate change in the Himalayas and clearing up the tons of rubbish left on the mountain by previous expeditions.

The team brought down 4.8 tons of rubbish from the mountain, some of which will be displayed at a festival to be held in the Everest region next month to highlight the problems with global warming.

Nepal's mountaineering department said Tuesday that about 250 people climbed the giant peak from the south side this year.  Heavy snow brought the brief climbing season to an early close.

The department said the weather on Everest had deteriorated since snow started to fall on Sunday, ending a climbing season that has set a record for the youngest person to ever reach the top as well as the highest number of summits.

"We have come to the end of the Everest season," mountaineering department official Tilak Pandey told AFP by telephone from Everest Base Camp on the south side of the mountain, which straddles Nepal and China.

"The spring season can often go on until the end of May, but the weather has got worse since Sunday. As far as we know, there are no more teams left to climb this season."

A rush for the summit was reported over the weekend by mountaineering blogs as expedition leaders tried to ensure as many climbers as possible made it to the top before the weather closed in.

About 200 people reached the summit on Saturday, the busiest day, when 13-year-old American Jordan Romero became the youngest person to ever climb Everest.

An estimated 2,900 people have scaled Mount Everest since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to conquer the 29,028-foot peak in 1953.

Most climbers make their attempt in late April and May, when a small window between spring and the summer monsoon offers the best conditions for the ascent. 

Pandey said that this year has been a successful season on Everest, with not serious casualties, although two people had to be airlifted off the mountain on Tuesday, one with altitude sickness and another with a minor injury.

"The summit rate this year was very encouraging. Most of those who applied for a permit, or around 250 climbers, were able to make it to the top," he told AFP.