On May 22, 2019, a year ago this Friday, 234 people reached the top of Everest. Never before in the history of this mountain has such a number been recorded … not so absurd a jam to sneak into the highest point on Earth (8,848m). 230 climbers reached their goal from the southern slope in Nepal, and only four (two height guides from the Sherpa ethnic group and their two western clients) made it from the north, or Tibetan, face. Eleven of these mountaineers never returned: they died while queuing on the descent due to multi-organ failures resulting from prolonged exposure to extreme altitude and exhaustion.
That day, 130 of the people who reached the summit were Nepalese workers guiding their clients. That day should have marked a before and an after in the history of the most coveted mountain that exists, but this spring the coronavirus has cleared the scene of mountaineers and has prevented from really checking whether the measures announced by the Government of Nepal to shake the Shame unleashed after the famous photo of the jam made by mountaineer Nirmal Purja will be effective or not. The large number of Sherpas on the top of Everest on May 22 explains the business of this mountain. The vast majority of those who aspire to climb it from its two most accessible routes require the help and company of a Sherpa (it is the widespread way of qualifying the tall porter, since Sherpas are an ethnic group from Tibet that populated the Khumbu Valley, the same one that gives access to Everest from Nepal) and some of up to several porters at the same time.
Currently, the Khumbu valley, as well as the rest of the valleys that appear in the route of mountaineers and hikers, lives off the tourist rush, a tap closed by the pandemic. A tall Sherpa porter earns about $ 5,000 per expedition, while the average annual salary in that country is just $ 850. A western high mountain guide pocketes $ 50,000 for working on the roof of the planet. Now everyone is unemployed.
Weeks after the disaster a year ago, the government of Nepal announced a battery of initiatives aimed at improving the safety of Everest applicants: health certificate, certificate of technical aptitude, promotion curriculum, obligation to previously ascend a mountain of 6,000 meters in Nepal… all these simple measures to obey and, by the way, allowed to continue raising money with the local authorities. To this day, no one knows for sure what these intentions were, or if they will avoid the queues under the top, but while tourist activity is at a standstill, an excessive influx is expected (and feared) in the spring of 2021 The possibility of limiting access to the mountain, as is already done for example on Mont Blanc, has never really been considered by the local authorities.
This season, Everest will be deserted, unless the only expedition that moves through the mountains remedies it. It is a powerful Chinese team with scientific ambitions and with the idea of measuring, once again, the height of the mountain from the north slope. In the west, the roof of the planet is named after the British surveyor and geologist George Everest, responsible for the topography of India between 1830 and 1843. The first published altitude of the then called Peak XV did not arrive until 1856, and granted the mountain 8,840 meters. Although George Everest defended the idea of giving each mountain the local name (Sagarmatha in Nepal and Qomolungma in Tibetan), his successor in office, Andrew Scott Waugh, decided to baptize him with the surname of his mentor. The official altitude, today, is 8,848 meters at the request of a 1955 Indian study that was later confirmed after the placement of a Chinese tripod in 1975.
The Chinese government-sponsored expedition is currently gathering 53 people in the northern slope base camp, including mountaineers, scientists and surveyors who rely on the Beidou satellite network (Chinese equivalent of the North American GPS) to determine the exact altitude of the top and check the effects of climate change in the area. Bad weather has so far frustrated the two attacks on the summit by the Chinese team. The truth is that the altitude of Everest varies depending on the amount of snow that accumulates above the point where the rock ends. The difference can be up to four meters: China defends that the height has to be certified down to the rock, while Nepal defends that it has to be measured up to where the snow ends.
On May 14, the 40th anniversary of the first Spanish ascent to Everest was celebrated, the result of the efforts of a Basque expedition that placed Martín Zabaleta and Pasang Temba on top. Nepal had ceased to be a forbidden kingdom for Westerners, the planet’s roof had been conquered in 1953 by accessing from the south, but in 1980 there was still only one expedition permit issued per year worldwide: the team that obtained it had of the entire mountain exclusively, a huge contrast with the mass that the mountain knows today.