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Months After Deadly Quake, Climbers Again May Go Up Mt. Everest


Mount Everest is back open to climbers. The world's tallest peak had been off-limits since an earthquake struck in April and killed nearly 9,000 people, including 19 people on the mountain. This week, the Nepal Tourism Ministry issued a permit for the Japanese climber Nobukazu Kuriki, who hopes to reach the summit by mid-September. We're joined now from Santa Fe by Grayson Schaffer, Outside Magazine senior editor, who often joins us to talk about the world of adventure. Grayson, thanks for being back with us.

GRAYSON SCHAFFER: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: So this is the season, isn't it?

SCHAFFER: Well, this is the fall season. And you know, normally when we think of climbing Mount Everest, that is the spring season, which culminates in May, when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed it. The fall season is shorter, post-monsoon. It's colder. It's snowier. It's more difficult. So it's much more rare that teams actually attempt the mountain in the autumn. So I think what's actually going on here is that the Nepalese government is interested in showing the world that Mount Everest is open for business.

SIMON: Is it important for Nepal to get that kind of trade back?

SCHAFFER: Well, you know, I think that, especially in this region, I think a lot of people are wondering about whether they should go back and whether they'll just be in the way if they go and try and visit Nepal. And, you know, the answer is that Nepal absolutely needs people to visit. And so even if - you know, if you're thinking about going and traveling to Nepal, even if you're not a climber, you know, the Khumbu region is very much open for business. You know, the lower towns and the bridges and the lodges are all in good shape now after the earthquake.

SIMON: Has the Khumbu Icefall region, though, been shut off? Are they rerouting climbers?

SCHAFFER: Well, that's an interesting piece there. You know, the - normally in the fall, when these rare fall exhibitions do take place, usually they will be smaller, lightly - more lightly equipped. But in this case, the Nepalese government has actually dispatched the legendary Icefall doctors to go and fix the route as though it were the spring. And I think that's really the signal they're trying to send, you know, that the mountain is open. And for commercial companies that are planning to go back and climb the mountain in the spring, it's an important step because it would be the first time that anybody has actually been into the Icefall since before the earthquake. So they'll be able to hopefully assess the route and figure out whether there - you know, whether the earthquake has shifted things around so much as to make them unrecognizable and whether they will be able to push a route through it.

SIMON: What about the Chinese side of the mountain?

SCHAFFER: You know, the Chinese closed the Tibetan side of the mountain after the earthquake, as well, and Tibetan mountaineering remains closed.

SIMON: There's been a lot of death on this mountain over the past couple of years. 2012, six climbers died one day on the summit. In 2013, there was that brawl between some Sherpas and some European climbers. Sixteen people died last year on Everest, and there was the April earthquake. Why would someone want to climb Everest now?

SCHAFFER: You know, it baffles me, but, you know, this mountain has an inescapable pull for a lot of people. It's been more than four years now since there's been, you know, what would pass for a quiet season on Mount Everest. And each year that I thought that there might be a normal season, it got unimaginably worse, which is just difficult to fathom.

You know, I think that some teams are thinking about going to the North side. Some people are actually, you know, canceling their trips, and people are thinking about other mountains. But for a lot of people, you know, Everest is - it's a mythical kind of place. And for a lot of people, I think it's a lifelong dream that nothing is going to stand between them and the summit.

SIMON: Grayson Schaffer, Outside Magazine senior editor, speaking with us from Santa Fe. Thanks so much for being with us.

SCHAFFER: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.