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 Everest 2008: Eco Everest Expedition with a Lhotse summit bid also

Dawa Steven Sherpa : Finally, on the 8th of May, the Chinese Olympic expedition managed to summit Everest from the north side. Now, the government of Nepal has relaxed the rules to climb Everest and we are finally allowed to go higher than camp 2. What a great relief. Any longer and it could have been too late to safely climb to the summit.  

During our wait, especially on 1st and 2nd of May, when the mountain was off limits, I decided to visit Imja Lake next To Island Peak. Imja glacier is receding at about 74m a year and is the fastest receding glacier in the Himalayas. It could even be the fastest receding glacier in the whole world. The receding glacier, as it melts away, leaves behind huge glacial lakes that are held back only by a dam of ice and rock. Imja Lake is over a kilometer long and in some places over 90m deep. What makes the situation so critical is that Imja Lake lies directly upstream of most of the trekking trail to Mt. Everest base camp. This trail is one of the busiest in the country and is also the jewel in the crown of Nepal’s tourism industry.  

If Imja were to burst, not only would this mean a great human tragedy but also huge economic devastation.  

Since my last update, I went up Everest for my second acclimatization climb. I left at about 5 a.m. while it was still dark to avoid being cooked alive in the sun, magnified by our white icy reflective surroundings. This time I went as high as Camp 2, arriving at 10a.m., and I stayed at Camp 2 for a couple of nights. The whole business of acclimatizing is extremely tiresome and boring. Camp 2 is at 6500m and every action becomes exhausting and you frequently find yourself out of breath. To pass the time without exhausting ourselves, we took to playing cards for most of the day. The day I returned to Base Camp the Chinese Olympic expedition managed to summit Everest from the north side (we are on the south side).

Now, that the restrictions have been removed, the Sherpas have rushed ahead and already fixed the route up to Camp 3. It took them less than 2 days! We expect that the ropes to Camp 4 will be fixed in the next two or three days. Camp 4 on Everest is the last camp before going for the summit. Generally the Sherpas don’t stay overnight at Camp 2 until its time to make an assault on the higher camps, Camp 3 and Camp 4.  

Before the Sherpas headed up we had a small meeting and I briefed them about the use of the human waste disposal bags and the importance of bringing back these bags down so that they may be properly disposed of. Fortunately, I have enjoyed overwhelming support from my Climbing Sherpas. We have already collected 682 kilos of garbage from Camp 2 and Base camp - the Sherpas are equally excited about tackling the human waste problem on the mountain.

Mt. Lhotse (8501m) shares about 60 percent of the climbing route with Everest. We share Camps 1, 2 and 3 on the route to both Everest and Lhotse. The 4th and final camp on Lhotse and Everest are different. We have already collected enough rope and organized the necessary "Sherpa-power" to secure the route from the Camp 3 to Lhotse's Camp 4 and on to the summit.  

If all goes well, I hope to summit Mt. Lhotse and return to base camp. This should take me about 5 days in total from Base Camp. At Base Camp I will rest and recover while the ropes are being set to the summit of Everest. Once the route is secure I hope to make my second summit bid and hopefully, with good luck and blessings from the mountains, I will be able to able stand on the summit of Mt. Everest for the second time with the ICIMOD banner, drawing the world’s attention to the impact of Climate change on the Himalayas.

Earlier: Apa Sherpa, the 17th times world record holder of Everest is expected to join the Eco Everest Expedition for the 18th time to the summit. He was honoured as the Chief Guest at the Glacier Lake Outburst Flood Awareness Workshop which was held on 25 April in Namche. Organised as one of the events during the Eco Everest Research expedition, the workshop aimed to raise the awareness of the local community and organisations on the impacts of climate change in the Himalaya. Apa who first climbed the mountain in 1989, said at the workshop in his very simple and modest manner, "... global warming is melting the ice in our mountains and the ice is turning into big lakes... when Dig Tsho burst in 1985 my neighbors and I lost a lot. I am very happy to support in spreading awareness about this problem... " "It will be yet another historic feat and helping to raise the awareness of climate change to the top of the world…" added Basanta Shrestha, the leader of Research Expedition of Eco Everest Expedition 2008.

Earlier: Focusing on climate change in the Himalayas and celebrating ICIMOD’s 25 years for mountains and people 

Eco Everest Expedition 2008 will climb Mount Everest in the spring of 2008 to raise awareness on the impact of climate change in the Himalayas. Dawa Steven Sherpa of Asian Trekking will lead the expedition, which will be in partnership with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Accompanying the expedition is Ken Noguchi, a Japanese alpinist and conservationist who acts as senior advisor to Eco Everest. The expedition is also supported and endorsed by the pioneering US mountaineer Conrad Anker. Dawa Steven, an Everest summiteer, has his roots and close cultural ties in the Khumbu region. In recent years he has become acutely aware of the threat of climate change on this vulnerable habitat that is both a major world water resource and climate regulator.

Says Dawa Steven: ‘I fulfilled my dream and stood on the summit of Mount Everest in May 2007. The world was at my feet. But I also noticed strange things happening. The solid ice of the Khumbu icefall had melted into slush and, on the way down, was crackling and crumbling beneath my feet. Fellow Sherpas on the mountain were running for their lives and asking me to get down as quickly as possible. I did, and on that same day the entire ice field simply collapsed. I was shocked, and wanted to understand why this had happened. After returning to Kathmandu I began my quest for answers. Most of my findings pointed towards the effects of global warming.’

Eco Everest Expedition 2008 will be a platform to draw maximum global attention to the issues of climate change and melting glaciers in the Himalayas. It will specifically highlight the threats glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) pose to the local communities and environment in the region. It will also raise awareness on early warning systems and on conserving the fragile mountain ecosystem.

As the main partner for the Eco Everest Expedition 2008, ICIMOD will provide technical support and carry out scientific research in the Khumbu region, focusing on the Imja and Dig Tsho glacial lakes. For ICIMOD, the year 2008 also marks its 25th anniversary of working for mountains and people in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya (HKH). ICIMOD is celebrating this occasion with a year-long series of events aiming at raising awareness, mitigating the impacts of climate change, and enhancing the adaptation and resilience of the mountain people. Eco Everest Expedition 2008 is one of the major events for this Silver Jubilee.

Mountains cover one-fifth of the globe, and almost half of humanity depends on the mountain ecosystems in one way or the other. The HKH region is an integral part of the global ecosystem. This mountain region is rich in biological and environmental resources and serves as a water tower for the region, and the world. Nine Himalayan river systems flow along these ranges and provide direct basis for livelihoods for over 150 million people. In total they sustain the lives of over 1.3 billion people – a fifth of the world’s population. However, this environment is now under constant threat as a result of environmental degradation and climate change. These have exacerbated environmental hazards such as landslides, floods, and GLOFs, and on the other extreme, severe droughts.

As part of the expedition, a Trust Fund will be set up exclusively for community development in the Khumbu region and to finance further research and monitoring of particularly dangerous glacial lakes. The Fund will also finance clean-up campaigns, awareness raising workshops amongst local communities, a photo exhibition, and an Information Centre at Everest Base Camp to inform visitors on the risks of GLOFs. Plans are underway to develop a ten-point recommendation for an "Eco Code of Conduct" (ECC) which will be field-tested during the Eco Everest Expedition 2008. This Code has been developed co-operation with renowned mountaineers and various alpine associations around the world. 


·        Climate change is having a strong affect on the Himalayan glaciers; most are retreating at a fast rate.

·        As the glaciers retreat, lakes can form between the piles of rocks and stones (moraine ridge) that mark the earlier end of the glacier, and the new end of the glacier which is now higher up the valley. The debris acts like a dam ridge, but the wall is often loose and can break suddenly, leading to an outburst of water (glacial lake outburst flood or GLOF). ICIMOD identified nearly 15,000 glaciers and 9,000 glacial lakes, more than 200 of them potentially dangerous, in a survey of glaciers and lakes in Bhutan and Nepal, and selected (HKH) basins in China, India, and Pakistan.

·        If the glaciers continue to shrink, this could have a profound impact on the water flowing through the nine major river basins originating in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region. The total amount of water in the rivers might increase as the glaciers melt, but when the total amount of ice in the glaciers drops below a critical level, the flow is likely to decline. The seasonal changes in the flow will also be affected. Some changes in the patterns of water flow have already been observed in some rivers in Nepal.

·        The permanent snowline has already moved higher, but as yet there are no scientific observations available that can be used to calculate the real reduction in snow and ice cover in the region.

·        Floods and droughts are likely to increase both because of the loss of glacier area, and because of increases in extreme rain and snowfall events. 


ICIMOD is a centre where information and knowledge are exchanged and where innovation, technology transfer, and effective communications are used to empower stakeholders in the member countries. Within this mission, ICIMOD wants to be an open-house of knowledge sharing for initiatives both from the region and from the world; it is a regional platform, where policymakers, experts, planners, and practitioners can meet and exchange ideas and perspectives. ICIMOD wants to facilitate knowledge transfer across the region and from providers to users. ICIMOD sees knowledge-sharing initiatives as a source of inspiration, innovation, and questioning, and as an opportunity to customise international knowledge to tailor it to the needs of the region and to help in the design of future strategies.  

ICIMOD focuses particularly on the adaptation of the HKH region and its mountain population to the changes brought about by globalisation – in the form of growth, migration and accelerated communication – and climate change, for example changing biodiversity, changing precipitation patterns and higher frequency and intensity of natural hazards. The holistic approach favours interdisciplinary problem analysis, design, implementation, and monitoring of social as well as technical aspects; which includes the crosscutting criteria of policy, governance, equity, and gender and mainstreaming information and knowledge management principles.

The ICIMOD Strategic Framework has identified three Strategic Programmes  - Integrated Water and Hazards Management (IWHM),  Environmental Change and Ecosystems Services (ECES), Sustainable Livelihoods and Poverty Reduction (SLPR) which are interdependent and interlinked. These three thrusts are supported by information and knowledge management facilitating knowledge transfer across the region and from providers to users.

Everest from the South Side in Nepal

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Full size picture

Base Camp - 17,500 feet (5350 meters)

This is a picture of the popular South Col Route up Mt. Everest.  Base camp is located at 17,500 feet.   This is where climbers begin their true trip up the mountain.  This is also where support staff often remain to monitor the expeditions and provide medical assistance when necessary.  Many organizations offer hiking trips which just go to base camp as the trip is not technically challenging (though you must be very fit). 

From base camp, climbers typically train and acclimate (permitting the body to adjust to the decreased oxygen in the air) by traveling and bringing supplies back and forth through the often treacherous Khumbu Icefall.    This training and recuperation continues throughout the climb, with the final summit push often being the only time to climbers do not go back and forth between camps to train, bring supplies, and recuperate for the next push. 

The Icefall is in constant motion.  It contains enormous ice seracs, often larger than houses, which dangle precariously over the climbers heads, threatening to fall at any moment without warning, as the climbers cross endless crevasses and listen to continuous ice creaking below.  This often acts as a testing ground to judge if less experienced climbers will be capable of continuing.   The Icefall is located between 17,500 and 19,500 feet.

Camp I - 5900 meters

After the Icefall, the climbers arrive at Camp I, which is located at 19,500 feet.  Depending on the type of expedition, Camp I will either be stocked by the climbers as they ascend and descend the Icefall, or by Sherpas in advance.

The area between Camp I and Camp II is known as the Western Cwm.  As the climbers reach Camp II at 21,000 feet, they may be temporarily out of sight of their support at Base camp.  Nonetheless, modern communication devises permit the parties to stay in contact.

Camp II - 6500 meters

As the climbers leave Camp II, they travel towards the Lhotse face (Lhotse is a 27,920 foot mountain bordering Everest).  The Lhotse face is a steep, shiny icy wall.  Though not technically extremely difficult, one misstep or slip could mean a climber's life.  Indeed, many climbers have lost their lives through such mishaps. 

Camp III - 23,700 feet (7200 meters)

To reach Camp III, climbers must negotiate the Lhotse Face. Climbing a sheer wall of ice demands skill, strength and stamina. It is so steep and treacherous that many  Sherpas move directly from Camp II to Camp IV on the South Col, refusing to stay on the Lhotse Face.

Camp IV - 26,300 feet (8000 meters)

As you’re leaving C4…it’s a little bit of a down slope, with the uphill side to the left. There are typically snow on the ledges to walk down on, interspersed with rock, along with some fixed rope. The problem with the rope is that the anchors are bad, and there’s not much holding the rope and a fall could be serious. Fortunately it’s not too steep, but there is a ton of exposure and people are usually tired when walking down from camp. The rock is a little down sloping to the right as well, and with crampons on, it can be bit tricky with any kind of wind. There’s a little short slope on reliable snow which leads to the top of the Geneva Spur, and the wind pressure gradient across the spur can increase there as you’re getting set up for the rappel. Wearing an oxygen mask here can create some footing issues during the rappel, because it’s impossible to see over the mask and down to the feet. For that reason, some people choose to leave Camp 4 without gas, as it’s easier to keep moving down the Spur when it’s important to see all the small rock steps and where the old feet are going. Navigating down through all of the spaghetti of fixed ropes is a bit of a challenge, especially with mush for brains at that point. One lands on some lower ledges which aren’t so steep, where fixed ropes through here are solid. At this point, it’s just a matter of staying upright, and usually, the wind has died significantly after dropping off the Spur. The route turns hard to the left onto the snowfield that leads to the top of the Yellow Bands.

Camp IV, which is at 26,300 on the Lhotse face, is typically the climbers' first overnight stay in the Death Zone.  The Death Zone is above 26,000 feet.  Though there is nothing magical about that altitude, it is at this altitude that most human bodies lose all ability to acclimate. Accordingly, the body slowly begins to deteriorate and die - thus, the name "Death Zone."  The longer a climber stays at this altitude, the more likely illness (HACE - high altitude cerebral edema - or HAPE - high altitude pulmonary edema) or death will occur.  Most climbers will use oxygen to climb and sleep at this altitude and above.  Generally, Sherpas refuse to sleep on the Lhotse face and will travel to either Camp II or Camp IV.

Camp IV is located at 26,300 feet. This is the final major camp for the summit push.  It is at this point that the climbers make their final preparations.  It is also a haven for worn-out climbers on their exhausting descent from summit attempts (both successful and not).  Sherpas or other climbers will often wait here with supplies and hot tea for returning climbers.

From Camp IV, climbers will push through the Balcony, at 27,500 feet, to the Hillary Step at 28,800 feet.  The Hillary Step, an over 70 foot rock step, is named after Sir. Edmond Hillary, who in 1953, along with Tenzing Norgay, became the first people to summit Everest.  The Hillary Step, which is climbed with fixed ropes, often becomes a bottleneck as only one climber can climb at a time.  Though the Hillary Step would not be difficult at sea level for experienced climbers, at Everest's altitude, it is considered the most technically challenging aspect of the climb.

Summit - 29,028 feet (8848 meters)

Once the climbers ascend the Hillary Step, they slowly and laboriously proceed to the summit at 29,028 feet.  The summit sits at the top of the world.  Though not the closest place to the sun due to the earth's curve, it is the highest peak on earth.  Due to the decreased air pressure, the summit contains less than one third the oxygen as at sea level.  If dropped off on the summit directly from sea level (impossible in reality), a person would die within minutes.  Typically, climbers achieving the great summit will take pictures, gain their composure, briefly enjoy the view, then return to Camp IV as quickly as possible.   The risk of staying at the summit and the exhaustion from achieving the summit is too great to permit climbers to fully enjoy the great accomplishment at that moment.  

As most readers of this page know, the return trip can be even more dangerous than the climb to the summit.

Pictures from Enrique Guallart-Furio web site http://ww2.encis.es/avent/

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