Nepali Times
A Himalayan spring

UPTHRILL TRAFFIC: A stream of climbers on the Khumbu Icefall last week.
After a lot of uncertainty and delay due to China's quest to take the Olympic Torch to the summit of Chomolungma, it was a grand season on the world's highest mountain.

The flame reached the top on 8 May and normal life resumed on the south side of the mountain after that. By 22 May a record-breaking 86 mountaineers were on the 8,848m-high summit in one day and several other records were set.

On 25 May, 77-year-old Min Bahadur Sherchan topped in perfect climbing conditions and became the oldest man on Chomolungma beating the previous record of 71-year-old Japanese teacher Katsusuke Yanagisawa, who was able to hold onto his laurels only for one year. Sherchan said he wanted to inspire fellow Nepali senior citizens.

Next up in the line of climbing oldies was Yuichiro Miura from Japan, who at age 75 became the second oldest man a day later. Apa Sherpa once again broke his own record by summiting for the 18th time. Chuwang Nima also climbed for the 15th time, Mingma Tshering for 13th time, and Chuldim Ang Dorje for 12th time.

This season also saw the first Saudi Arabian man reach the top of the world, with Farouq Saad Hamad Al-Zuman summiting on 21 May. The Nepali media also had reason to celebrate as Shailee Basnet of Himal Khabarpatrika became the first Nepali female journalist to reach the top on 24 May (see box).

But there was also tragedy. Swiss veteran mountaineer Uwe Gianni Goltz died on his way down from his summit attempt on 21 May. Goltz is said to have collapsed shortly before Camp 4 at 7,900m, probably due to exhaustion after an attempt to summit Everest without oxygen.

Even though the south side of Chomolungma was teeming this year, it didn't exceed last year's record of 628 people on top partly because of the closure of the north side of the mountain.

Other mountains
The Himalayan spring saw other feats besides Chomolungma. On 1 May Ivan Vallejo from Ecuador became the 14th person to climb all the world's 14 8,000m peaks, closely followed by Swiss mountain guide Norbert Joos, who is on his way to bag number 14 on 29 May.

German mountaineer, Ralf Dujmovits, also successfully climbed Makalu and attempted Lhotse together with his wife, Austrian mountaineer Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner. However, the couple had to turn back about 400m short of the summit due to extreme cold and Dujmovits having a chest infection. The retreat leaves Dujmovits with one eight thousander to go and Kaltenbrunner, who bagged Dhaulagiri I earlier this month, with three. Together with Italian climber Nives Meroi, who has reached 10 summits, Kaltenbrunner is on the path of becoming the first woman to climb all 14 eight thousanders. Neither of the women uses supplementary oxygen.

Another eight thousand meter man is Andrew Lock from Australia, who climbed Makalu on 21 May making Makalu his 13th 8,000m peak. Makalu also saw the death of 37-year-old Nil Prasad Gurung who died of high altitude celebral oedema at Camp Four whilst climbing with a French team.

Tragedy and heroism on Annapurna
Top Spanish climber Iñaki Ochoa de Olza died at 7,400m on Annapurna I on 25 May. Ochoa de Olza was on his quest to finish his 13th eight thousander, and together with his climbing mate, Horia Colibasanu from Romania, got to about 100m below the summit of the 10th highest mountain in the world.

The pair had to turn around due to problems with Ochoa de Olza's hands and lack of ropes to fix some difficult sections. Reports say that upon his arrival at Camp 4 the Spaniard collapsed with either a stroke or celebral oedema. Four days of agony and an amazing coordination of rescue efforts ensued. Clibanasu stayed with de Olza until Swiss climbers, Ueli Steck and Simon Anthamatten, who were intending to open a new route on the treacherous South face of Annapurna, arrived at Camp 4 on 22 May.

However, all efforts were in vain and Ochoa de Olza, who would have turned 41 a few days ago, succumbed to pulmonary oedema on 23 May at 12.30 PM. His death sent a shock through the Himalayan climbing community as he had made many good friends over the past 18 years of mountaineering in Nepal.

The rescue effort was truly impressive and it showed, once again, that comradeship has not at all died in the Himalaya. Mountaineers in Kathmandu changed their flights, flew back to Pokhara and tried everything humanly possible to save Ochoa de Olza, who was involved in helping mountaineers in trouble numerous times and loved Nepal. The rescue efforts say a lot about comradeship and he will be deeply missed.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)