The Everest Base Camp in Nepal will stay in its current location for now, despite safety fears as climate change melts the Khumbu glacier beneath it. The country’s tourism ministry announced plans last June to relocate the camp further down the mountain, but at a recent consultation with the mountaineering industry, the idea was rejected by 95 percent of attendees, reports Navin Singh Khadka for BBC News.
Locals say there’s no support for this proposal among the Sherpa guides, many of whom belong to the Sherpa ethnic group, who help climbers by carrying loads and setting up ladders and ropes each spring. “I have come across not even a single person in our community who supports the idea of moving the Everest base camp,” Mingma Sherpa, chair of Khumbu Pasanglhamu, a rural municipality that covers most of the Everest region, including the base camp, tells BBC News. “We see no reason for the base camp to be moved in the near future.”
Sherpa leaders who opposed the move tell the publication there is no viable alternative to the current location, which allows climbers to cross the dangerous Khumbu Icefall early in the morning. The icefall is a particularly deadly section that becomes even more perilous later in the day as the sun warms the mountain, leading to avalanches, rockfalls and collapsing ice towers.
From 1953 to 2016, 25 percent of deaths on the Nepal side of the peak were at the icefall, writes climber and Everest chronicler Alan Arnette. In April, three Sherpa mountaineers died after being buried under an ice mass in the area. The Khumbu Icefall is also responsible for the single deadliest incident on Everest, when 16 Nepali mountaineering guides were killed in an avalanche in 2014.
Rather than moving the base camp, some have advocated for the government to first take less drastic actions, such as limiting the amount of climbing permits issued and reducing helicopter landings on the ecologically fragile area, reported Bilal Hussain for Voice Of America (VOA) in 2022.
This year, Nepal issued a record 463 permits—at around $11,000 each, these make up an important source of revenue for the country. But the base camp, where Everest climbers spend weeks acclimating to the altitude, has become increasingly overcrowded, which contributes to the glacier’s destabilization.
“Just imagine the number of climbers per season, supported by almost double the number of Sherpas and porters, spending at least six months in a year in these glaciers,” Shafkat Masoodi, a veteran hiker from Kashmir, told VOA. “The garbage and human waste dumped by these is just turning the Khumbu glacier into a polluted river down the mountains.”
Additionally, a rise in wealthy, often novice clients hoping to summit the mountain has led to an increase in high-end services at the camp, contributing to its unregulated growth.
“You see deluxe type services like massage parlors or other entertainment services that need massive tents and other structures,” Dambar Parajuli, president of the Expedition Operators’ Association Nepal, tells BBC News. “This is not where you indulge in luxury, and we have strongly suggested the government make strict guidelines on what is allowed and what is not at the base camp.”
Like other glaciers in the Himalayas, Khumbu glacier is thinning as climate change drives up temperatures. Climbers have reported cracks appearing in the ice overnight, per Rosie Frost of Euronews, and avalanches and icefalls are expected to become more common. In 2017, researchers from England’s University of Leeds drilled into Khumbu glacier and found a minimum ice temperature of 26 degrees Fahrenheit—warmer than the average annual air temperature. They estimated the glacier is losing around 9.5 million cubic meters of water every year, per Euronews.
“‘Warm’ ice is particularly vulnerable to climate change, because even small increases in temperature can trigger melting,” Duncan Quincey, a glaciologist at the University of Leeds who was part of the research, said in a statement at the time.
Conditions overall on Everest have been deteriorating, with melting ice revealing bodies of climbers who died on the journey. Researchers have estimated that the mountain’s highest glacier has lost half its mass since the 1990s because of higher temperatures.
While crowd control measures at Everest’s base camp would help protect the Khumbu glacier, it may be only a few years before the camp needs to move, Euronews reported in 2022.