Global Warming Blamed for Mounting Himalayan Climbing Disasters

Pem Doree, Icefall, Mount Everest
The Icefall, Mount Everest. By Pem Dorjee Sherpa (Pem Dorjee Sherpa) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Both global warming and overcrowding have been blamed for more treacherous conditions on The Icefall, a nasty glacier crossing near Base Camp on the route to the summit of Mount Everest.

Climate change, crowding imperil iconic route to top of Mount Everest

By Pradeep Bashyal and Annie Gowen May 16 at 9:13 PM

As climbers begin to reach the summit of Mount Everest, some veterans are avoiding the Nepali side of the world’s highest peak because melting ice and crowds have made its famed Khumbu Icefall too dangerous.

Not far from the safety of the Everest Base Camp, the icefall is a climber’s first real test: a treacherous 760-yard stretch of ice with shifting crevasses that has claimed the lives of about a quarter of those who have died on the Nepali side of the mountain, including 16 Nepali guides in 2014.

Several veteran climbers and well-respected Western climbing companies have moved their expeditions to the northern side of the mountain in Tibet in recent years, saying rising temperatures and inexperienced climbers have made the icefall more vulnerable. Research by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development shows that the Khumbu glacier is retreating at an average of 65 feet per year, raising the risk of avalanche.

“The icefall is obviously a dangerous place to be, especially later on in the season and with increased temperatures experienced in the Himalayas due to climate change,” Phil Crampton of the climbing company Altitude Junkies told the Everest blogger Alan Arnette earlier this year.

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Perhaps regional temperatures have warmed, but there are other possible contributing factors. all that overcrowding at Base Camp must be a source of substantial waste heat – according to Wikipedia, 40,000 people trekked from Lukla airport to Base Camp in 2015. Another factor might be the growth of black carbon pollution, both from the climbers themselves and from further afield like the factories of China.

The following shows how close Base Camp is to the Khumbu Icefall.

Mount Everest
Mount Everest. By From, Public Domain, Link
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charles nelson
May 17, 2018 4:08 pm

Could have absolutely nothing to do with the rising numbers of people on the mountain, right?

R. Shearer
Reply to  charles nelson
May 17, 2018 6:22 pm

No, that couldn’t be it, could it?

Richard of NZ
Reply to  charles nelson
May 18, 2018 4:44 am

I would not think so. However, prior to 1953 the mortality rate among climbers who attempted the summit approached 100%. I think that the rate has decreased markedly since then.

Reply to  Richard of NZ
May 18, 2018 6:33 am

Good point. Fatalities had decreased over time.

michael hart
Reply to  Richard of NZ
May 18, 2018 3:08 pm

My understanding was that prior to 1952 Nepal was closed and people mostly approached from the Tibetan side and therefore didn’t cross the Khumbu icefall. Earlier deaths happened elsewhere and for different reasons, before very high altitude climbing could be considered ‘normal’.
Be that as it may, it is another topic without reliable long term statistics. That means people with an agenda can claim whatever they want, safe in the knowledge that a lazy MSM journalist couldn’t prove them wrong even if they wanted to investigate the veracity of the claims.
I’ll go with Charles Nelson’s simple point about increased numbers of people at risk, while also noting that many sherpas died in the 1970 accident. It’s another “no-sale” for blaming deaths on global warming.

eddie willers
Reply to  Richard of NZ
May 19, 2018 2:14 pm

“Nepal was closed and people mostly approached from the Tibetan side”
During the 1921 reconnaissance, George Mallory peeked over from the Tibet side, saw the Khumbu Icefall and said, “We better keep looking, mates”.

Bill Powers
Reply to  charles nelson
May 18, 2018 9:23 am

Those evil citizens who are burning fossil fuel for survival need to stop killing those wonderful “more desirable citizens” who are climbing a mountain “because it is there”

Rick C PE
May 17, 2018 4:10 pm

Wonder how many deaths can be attributed to improperly using a light weight aluminum ladder as a scaffold plank (as shown in photo).

Reply to  Rick C PE
May 17, 2018 5:50 pm

It’s what is usually rigged in these locations. Not the best choice, but its done because they are light weight. Notice that the climber is “roped in” both front and back, so he is tethered to two anchoring climbers called a belayer.
I suspect that the issue come from over use of these jury-rigged bridges and failure to assure the ends are properly supported and secured. The other issue is hidden crevasses which may be only lightly buried by snow cover which cannot support a climber. Again that is why you are tethered to the climber ahead and behind. Therein lies another risk with impatient inexperienced climbers who don’t wish to be encumbered with the extra lines, or who cluster too close together.

Rick C PE
Reply to  rocketscientist
May 17, 2018 6:38 pm

Don’t know about you, but I’d be a bit nervous to be tethered to the guy on the ladder – especially if he out weighed me. 😉

Caligula Jones
Reply to  Rick C PE
May 18, 2018 11:40 am

People who climb mountains aren’t heroes.
People who rescue people who try to climb mountains are heroes.

May 17, 2018 4:14 pm

During the first big American Everest expedition (Jim Whittaker reaching the summit) one of the expedition members, Jake Breitenbach was killed by a giant ice block crushing and burying him in the Khumbu Icefall. If my memory serves me correctly, years late as the glacier advanced, Jake’s remains were found at the toe of the glacier

May 17, 2018 4:32 pm

So the rich want me to stop driving to work so they can continue to climb Mount Everest……….

Mark from the Midwest
Reply to  Davis
May 17, 2018 5:10 pm

It’s actually “the rich” that are the cause of the rise in mountaineering accidents. The money has just gotten way to big for many guides to turn it down. It really started with Dick Bass, who decided he wanted to climb the highest peak on each continent, so he hired Rick Ridgeway as a personal guide. However, the difference between Dick Bass and other rich people was that Bass was an avid outdoorsman, who spent a lot of time at elevation, (he owned Snowbird Resort), and he had a massive amount of respect for what he was getting into. Now you get vegans trying to climb 8000 meter peaks just to prove they can, (and they can’t, they routinely develop serious problems including death). So you get a lot of schmucks who think they can throw 50-80 grand at it, and can ad Mt Everest to their resume, or die trying.

Reply to  Mark from the Midwest
May 17, 2018 5:51 pm

“(and they can’t, they routinely develop serious problems including death)” – that’s funny, but it’s NOT…

Reply to  Mark from the Midwest
May 18, 2018 6:58 am

Reminds me of something I came across recently:
“Every corpse on Everest was once an extremely motivated person.”

Caligula Jones
Reply to  Mark from the Midwest
May 18, 2018 12:02 pm

Indeed. I’m not a fan of the “sport”, as my brother is a fire fighter and risks his life helping people who, many times, are complete idiots.
I mean, how many have to die to prove to aging baby boomers that Mt. Everest probably shouldn’t be the first mountain you climb:

May 17, 2018 4:37 pm

On simple maths alone, 40,000 people p.a. equates to 110 people per day. Plus they presumably descend . So 220 crossings per day on aluminium ladders placed on ice on a moving glacier. Can’t see a problem. Must be global warming.

Reply to  London247
May 17, 2018 8:44 pm

Only the people climbing Everest cross the ice fall. Most of the 40,000 only trek to base camp then return. Base camp could have a heat island effect and source black carbon deposits.

Reply to  nc
May 18, 2018 10:50 pm

I haven’t seen soot but I’ve seen a plethora of human waste. It’s a great money spinner for the locals who truly earn every penny.

May 17, 2018 5:31 pm

Everest has already been climbed, by Edmund Percival Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing on 29 May 1953. I remember it well. So why climb it again? It’s been done so many times and is just too dangerous.

NW sage
Reply to  J Philip Peterson
May 17, 2018 6:39 pm

Ahhh! But ut is THERE!!

NW sage
Reply to  NW sage
May 17, 2018 6:39 pm

ut = it

Reply to  NW sage
May 18, 2018 12:14 am


Richard of NZ
Reply to  NW sage
May 18, 2018 4:48 am

Trevor or should I say Trev? Not this Kiwi so ignore the Aussie who does not speak any recognisable form of English.
p.s. how are your brothers Trev Trev and Trev? Even an Aussie should get the reference.

May 17, 2018 5:33 pm

More people climbings the highest and deadliness mountain in the world …. more deaths. DOH!

Steve Zell
May 17, 2018 5:34 pm

Why would the retreat of a glacier make avalanches more likely? Avalanches are the result of too much snow over a short period of time, unable to stick to the top or flank of a mountain. The retreat of a glacier would mean LESS snow is falling on the glacier than the amount melted.
According to the book “Into Thin Air” about the 1996 expedition to Everest, most attempts are made in the spring, between April and early May, when the lower trails below base camp are mostly snow-free, but the monsoons have not yet arrived (which causes major blizzards near the summit). So if those 40,000 people per year are packed into a 45 to 60-day window, there could be 600 or more people per day during peak climbing season.

May 17, 2018 5:36 pm

“saying rising temperatures”…..don’t even question it….just let it slide right on by

Tom Halla
Reply to  Latitude
May 17, 2018 6:28 pm

Something happened to the lower trace in that graph about 1975. Different measurement technique? it looks like two data sets grafted together.

Reply to  Tom Halla
May 18, 2018 1:06 am

That’s the arrow on the trend line, is it not?

Reply to  Tom Halla
May 18, 2018 1:07 am

I do see what you mean though.

Reply to  Tom Halla
May 18, 2018 5:49 am

Li et al. actually uses that increased variability as a face-saving device. Since they can’t find a trace of warming they suggest that “global warming” manifests as increased inter-annual variation instead. Anything to save “the narrative”.

May 17, 2018 6:01 pm

Given that the Khumbu Icefall is located at the foot of the Western Cwm, where temperatures may reach 95F (!!!) under the right conditions (amplified solar heating), I’m not sure that I’d be in any hurry to point the finger of blame at global warming here.

Wallaby Geoff
May 17, 2018 6:05 pm

Phil Crampton of Altitude Junkies says “The icefall is obviously a dangerous place to be, especially later on in the season and with increased temperatures experienced in the Himalayas due to climate change,”. Funny, I don’t find Phil on any register of “Climate Scientists”.

May 17, 2018 6:44 pm

Global warming causes stupidity. Stupidity causes death.

May 17, 2018 7:29 pm

I don’t know about Everest, but the glaciers in Pakistan’s Karakorum mountains (home to K2, the second highest peak in the world) are growing.

May 17, 2018 8:08 pm

I used to go out in all weather (including winter) to hike and climb with a friend in the Canadian Rockies.
It was OK for a while, but after a while became rather boring. I came to realize that you start at one place, you work hard all day, and at the end of the day you end up in the very same place, having accomplished exactly NOTHING!
The beer and camaraderie afterwards was great, and it was good exercise, but you actually went nowhere!
The other problem was if did you slip and fall, they would find your body in the Spring – or what was left of it.
So I started doing “urban hikes” – so much more civilized, especially in winter – you can dress warmly, stay out all day if you want, cover a lot of ground, and you are never far from a hot coffee, a warm cognac, and a heated washroom.
And at the closing of the day, if you are far from home, you can grab a taxi – try that in the mountains!
Aaahh! Civilization!

May 17, 2018 9:01 pm

I was just at Athabasca glacier in the Canadian Rockies and Parks Canada states man’s influence, climate change, is the source of it’s retreat.
Now it started it’s retreat in late 19th century and spits out wood from an ancient Forrest. Parks Canada admit that but state it’s retreat has increased because of “climate change”. Mans climate change they state is speeding up the retreat.
Parks Canada must be right, right.

Stewart Pid
Reply to  nc
May 17, 2018 9:31 pm

Was the ancient Forrest you mention named Gump??

Reply to  nc
May 18, 2018 6:38 am

You’re thinking too much. Parks Canada would not approve. Just drink the koolaid and be happy.

May 17, 2018 11:02 pm

The Indian Monsoon is the relevant metric for what happens in the Himalyans.
Study: Indian monsoons have strengthened over past 15 years
A 50-year dry spell has reversed, with more rain to come.
Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office
July 24, 2017
“The researchers note that starting in 2002, nearly the entire Indian subcontinent has experienced very strong warming, reaching between 0.1 and 1 degree Celsius per year. Meanwhile, a rise in temperatures over the Indian Ocean has slowed significantly.”
The wet phase of Indian monsoon has returned since 2002. Will stay wet for another 30-40 years if the pattern holds, ~2035. That will coincide with the NH cooling phase we are entering.
The alarmist’s fake climate change hysteria won’t return until ~2035. And a wet Indian monsoon will end then.

May 18, 2018 12:59 am

The tibetan side offers some ‘advantages ‘ to the climbing firms , and that is what they are :
You can start with no union issues, and cheaper costs. While China takes a more ‘libreal ‘ approach with issuing climbing permits .
This may well have somethign to do with them moving sides, no need for any AGW.

May 18, 2018 8:20 am

Could the increasing number of accident possibly have something to do with this (written by a very experienced climber):
“people with frighteningly little ability are finding themselves far, far to high on the mountain”
(Graham Hoyland “Last Hours on Everest”)

May 18, 2018 9:02 am

Be careful buddy …….or you’ll trigger a carbon tax landslide.

May 18, 2018 10:29 am

There last time I saw a picture of the climbers path up Everest , it showed many empty oxygen cylinders. Have they gone?

The other Phil
Reply to  Roger
May 18, 2018 11:26 am

There has been a concerted effort to remove some of the garbage left by earlier expeditions. In more recent years, expeditions are expected to carry out everything they bring in. Some groups of openness expeditions for the sole purpose of removing garbage.
While not Everest, I can say I’ve done my small part. I carried off an oxygen tank left by an earlier expedition at 7500 meters on Shishapangma. While that may not seem like much, if you haven’t climbed at 8000 meters, you have no idea how much work it is move much less carry substantial weight.

Reply to  Roger
May 18, 2018 12:29 pm

I’ve never been that high, but I agree, unless you have high-altitude experience you don’t realize just how little strength you have left up there. For example carrying a disabled person is physically impossible unless you have a large number of helpers, and often isn’t possible at all.
And if you are exhausted, hypoxic, dehydrated and frostbitten and uncertain whether you will make it back down, carrying your empty oxygen cylinder isn’t your first priority.

May 18, 2018 12:07 pm

…some veterans are avoiding the Nepali side of the world’s highest peak because melting ice…
So now they’re telling us that global warming causes climb-it change?
[Ouch. But is this the place for such climbate punishment? .mod]

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