Nepal is preparing to move its Everest base camp because global warming and human activity are making it dangerous.
The camp, used by up to 1,500 people during the spring climbing season, is located on the rapidly thinning Khumbu Glacier.
A new site is at a lower altitude, where there is no ice all year round, an official told the BBC.
Researchers say meltwater is destabilizing the glacier, and climbers say more and more crevasses are appearing at base camp as they sleep.
“We are now preparing for the relocation and we will soon start consultations with all stakeholders,” Taranath Adhikari, director general of Nepal’s tourism department, told the BBC.
“It’s basically about adapting to the changes we’re seeing at base camp and it’s become essential for the sustainability of the mountaineering activity itself.”
The camp is currently at an altitude of 5364m. The new one will be 200 to 400m lower, Adhikari said.
The plans follow the recommendations of a committee formed by the Nepalese government to facilitate and monitor mountaineering in the Everest region.
The Khumbu Glacier, like many other glaciers in the Himalayas, is rapidly melting and thinning as a result of global warming, scientists have found.
A study by researchers at the University of Leeds in 2018 showed the glacier was losing 9.5 million cubic meters of water per year and the segment near base camp was thinning at a rate of 1m per year. year.
“We found that the rate of ice thinning in the base camp area was higher than in other parts of the glacier because it has a thin layer of rocks and boulder debris,” Scott Watson said. , one of the researchers, at the BBC.
Most of the glacier is covered in this rocky debris, but there are also exposed areas of ice called ice cliffs, and it is the melting of ice cliffs that most destabilizes the glacier, Watson said.
“When the ice cliffs melt like this, the debris of rocks and boulders that sit on top of the ice cliffs move and fall, and then the melting also creates masses of water.
“So we are seeing an increase in rockfall and meltwater movement on the surface of glaciers which can be dangerous.”
Mountaineers and Nepalese authorities say a stream in the middle of base camp is getting bigger every year.
They also say that crevices and cracks in the surface of the glacier are appearing more frequently than before.
“We surprisingly see crevices appearing at night in places where we sleep,” said Col. Kishor Adhikari of the Nepal Army, who was staying at the base camp while leading a clean-up campaign during the spring climbing season, which lasts from March to the end of May.
“In the morning, many of us have this scary experience that we could have fallen into at night. Ground cracks develop so often that it’s quite risky.”
Tshering Tenzing Sherpa, Everest Base Camp Manager with the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), echoed this message.
Loud noises could also be heard frequently, he said, caused by moving ice or falling rocks. He added that before setting up a tent at base camp, it was necessary to smooth out the rocky surface covering the ice, and to repeat this from time to time as the glacier moved.
“In the past, the flattened space only bulged after two to three weeks. But now it happens almost every week,” he said.
A leading member of the committee that recommended the base camp relocation, Khimlal Gautam, said the presence of so many people at the base camp contributed to the problem.
“For example, we found that people urinate around 4,000 liters at base camp every day,” he said.
“And the massive amount of fuels like kerosene and gas that we burn there to cook and keep warm will certainly have impacts on the glacier ice.”
Adrian Ballinger, founder of mountain guide company Alpenglow Expeditions, agreed the move made sense, predicting there will be more avalanches, icefall and rockfall in the area of the current base camp in the future.
“This should be unacceptable to expedition leaders because it can be avoided,” he said.
The main drawback was that a camp further down the mountain would add to the length of the climb from base camp to camp one, the next staging post for those climbing the mountain.
Most climbers still climb Everest from the Nepalese side, but the number of those starting from China is increasing.
SPCC’s Sherpa said that despite the problems, the current base camp site was still essentially stable and could continue to serve its purpose for another three to four years.
But Nepali officials say the move could take place by 2024.
“We have assessed the technical and environmental aspects of the base camp, but before moving it, we will have to discuss it with the local communities, taking into account other aspects like their culture,” Adhikari said.
“We will only do this after discussing with all quarters.”