On April 16, the summit of Annapurna experienced a climbing traffic inappropriate for the tragic legend of this 8,091-meter mountain. It was Friday and 67 climbers were photographed at their climax, 12 of them women. Conquered in 1950, Annapurna was the first of the planet’s 14 eight thousand to be defeated, an honor won by the French Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal. From that date until 1990, another 65 mountaineers stepped on the top of Annapurna, already known as the deadliest mountain at that time. So April 16, 2021, a single day, reflects a record of peaks that equals in number all those reached in 40 years of expeditions since its conquest.
Although the COVID pandemic was mainly focused on its capital Kathmandu, Nepal closed its borders on March 24, 2020, leaving the mountain tourism industry in parentheses, whose local operators are willing to exploit with hunger. The recent reopening of the country coincides with the beginning of the spring season in the Himalayan mountains and with surprising news: queues have been generated to stand on top of the most dangerous of the eight thousand. Many wonder how it was possible … In 2019, at the wheel of the Nirmal Purja team, 32 mountaineers slipped in one day on the top of Annapurna. It was the never seen before, and a revelation for mountain tourism agencies as powerful as Seven Summits Treks, run by Sherpa Nepalese, who saw the opportunity to expand their business strategy. His idea is to export the Everest roller model to 14 eight thousand, that is, to turn dangerous mountains into comfortable and safe highways, placing kilometers of fixed ropes, oxygen tanks and pulling qualified workers to equip and organize mountain traffic.
Of the 67 who reached the top of Annapurna last Friday, 28 were Sherpa workers from five different agencies, one of them that of Mingma G, now a local legend after conquering K2 in winter with 10 of his compatriots. Of course, these agencies did not skimp on resources: when they came face to face with a more technical mountain than expected, they used up all the rope they had to fix, which in the past would have ruined almost all attempts to the top. Now it was enough to wait for the arrival of a helicopter that deposited several coils of rope at 6,400 meters. And the rope is one of the keys, together with the artificial oxygen and the footprint opened by the Sherpas, to guarantee the success of the clients on a mountain that until last year accounted for 72 deaths (37 of them caused by avalanches) for 298 ascents . Tied to this rope, clients cannot fall or lose their way and grab or pull it to progress. Any hint of autonomy in the mountains is a mirage.
The Everest business is huge but it falls short and too subject to the windows of good weather. The demand for high-altitude tourism has grown and continues its unstoppable rise, and massing the roof of the planet is no longer a healthy option, given the images of traffic jams and recent deaths during an unbearable wait at 8,800 meters of altitude. Diversifying is the new leitmotif of local agencies, which are not cut off and already tried out last winter at K2, due to their Pakistani side. If they can attract the attention of new clients, diversifying their sources of income will reduce the pressure on Everest, which could see a closed number of annual expeditions. But the moment to stop the flow of applicants to the roof of the planet does not seem close to being reached: in 2019 a record 382 permits were registered on the southern (Nepal) side of the mountain. To date, the local government has granted 338 and the number continues to rise, and this without counting Sherpa workers, which contradicts all previous announcements declared by the country’s authority to selectively select the flow of climbers.
The statistics for this season reveal a large increase in female demand: if to date only 11% of the summit permits requested in Nepal were processed by female mountaineers, in the spring premiere the percentage has been placed at 21 %, a figure that explains that of the 67 people who stepped on the top of Annapurna on April 16, 12 were women, six of them Nepalese. Pasang Lhamu and Dawa Yangzum achieved it without using artificial oxygen, with the help of four compatriots: Maya Sherpa, Sharmila Tamang, Dabhuti Sherpa and Purnima Shrestha.
Between 1950 and 1990, only two women reached the top of Annapurna. The Czech Vera Komarkova and the American Irene Miller did it in 1978, the same day and using artificial oxygen. From 1950 to 2020, only 17 female peaks had been recorded at the top of Annapurna.