As the mountaineering world prepares to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the conquest of Mount Everest, concerns are growing about rising temperatures, melting glaciers and snowpack and harsh and unpredictable weather on the world’s tallest mountain.
Since New Zealander Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay first scaled the 8,849-meter (29,032-foot) peak on May 29, 1953 , thousands of climbers have reached the summit, and hundreds of people have died as a result.
The deteriorating condition of Mount Everest has worried the mountaineering community and those whose livelihoods depend on the tourist flow.
The Sherpa community in Nepal, who grew up in the foothills of the snow-capped mountains and whom they worship as the mother of the world, was most shocked.
“The effects of climate change are not only affecting fish, whales or penguins in Antarctica, but they are directly affecting the Himalayas and the people there,” said Ang Tshering, a prominent Sherpa who has campaigned for years. Save Himalayan peaks and surrounding areas from global warming.
Almost every year, he and his Asian Trekking agency organize a clean-up expedition, where clients and guides clean up the trash left by previous Everest expeditions.
Ang Tshering said the effects of climate change and global warming are severe in the high Himalayas. “Temperatures in the Himalayas are rising faster than the global average, snow and ice are melting faster, mountains are turning black, glaciers are melting, and lakes are drying up.”
Ang Tshering, who grew up in the foothills, said he remembers gliding on glaciers near his village. But not anymore.
Ice from 2000 lost in 30 years
Other Sherpas also said they had seen changes in the Khumbu Glacier at the foot of Mount Everest near base camp.
“We don’t really need to wait for the future; we’ve already seen the impact,” said Phurba Tenjing, a Sherpa guide who recently led a foreign client to the summit for the 16th time.
Phurba Tenjing has been climbing Mount Everest since he was 17 years old. He said that the ice and snow have melted, and it used to take five or six hours to trek on the icy road, but now it only takes half an hour, because the glaciers have melted and the rocks are exposed.
“Previously, the building-like ice mass of the Khumbu Glacier used to extend all the way to the base camp. But now we don’t see it near the base camp,” Phurba Tenjing said.
Recent research has found that Everest’s glaciers have lost 2,000 years of ice in the past 30 years.
The South Col Glacier, the mountain’s tallest glacier, has lost more than 54 meters (177 feet) of thickness over the past 25 years, the researchers found.
The glaciers, which lie about 7,900 meters (26,000 feet) above sea level, are thinning 80 times faster than when the original ice formed on the surface.
Glaciers are losing ice at an unprecedented rate, said Duncan Quincy, a glaciologist at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.
The change is happening “extremely rapidly”, he said. “This creates challenges for everyone in the region, and of course for the millions of people who live downstream,” as much of South Asia relies on rivers that originate in the Himalayas for both agriculture and drinking water.
Floods and droughts are likely to become more extreme, he said.
“There’s a huge amount of unpredictability in these systems now, which makes it very difficult for people who need water at a particular time of year to know they’re going to get what’s available,” he said.
The Nepalese government and the mountaineering community plan to celebrate Everest Day on May 29 with a parade around Kathmandu and a ceremony to honor climbers and veteran Sherpa guides.