Avalanche-hit Everest reopens to climbers; Japanese to be first to attempt summit

Reuters, Kyodo

A Japanese climber will be the first to attempt to scale Mount Everest since a massive earthquake in April triggered avalanches that killed 18 climbers, shutting an industry that supports thousands of people across Nepal.

Nobukazu Kuriki, 33, of Tokyo will make a solo attempt on the 8,850-meter-high summit along the normal southeast ridge route pioneered by Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953, the Nepal government said Sunday.

“I have chosen to come now to help Nepal, which is in troubles because of the earthquake,” Kuriki told reporters.

Kuriki will climb in the fall season that starts next month, which is not usually popular among climbers because of extreme cold and shorter periods of daylight.

Six Sherpas are also on the team. But from Camp 2, at an altitude of 5,364 meters (17,598 feet) Kuriki will be alone, according to Tika Gurung, managing director of Bochi-Bochi Trek, the local agency handling his expedition.

Kuriki has climbed the highest peaks of six continents but Mount Everest has denied him glory four times, of which two attempts were made from Nepal and two from Tibet.

Kuriki’s last attempt on the mountain was in the fall of 2012 when he tried to make it to the top via the difficult west ridge route. He was evacuated to Kathmandu from Camp II after suffering serious frostbite to his fingers, toes and nose.

Nine of his fingers had to be partially amputated as a result, but his zeal to climb remains unscathed.

“Kuriki is climbing at a time when there is confusion in the world about the safety in Nepal after the earthquake,” Nepal Tourism Minister Kripasur Sherpa said after handing out the climbing permit.

“This will be an example for other visitors to come to Nepal, which is safe for mountain climbing.”

Two earthquakes, in April and May, killed almost 9,000 people in Nepal, including scores of climbers and foreign trekkers.

About 400 foreign climbers who were at the Everest base camp at the time of the earthquakes were forced to abandon their attempt after avalanches destroyed their route through the Khumbu Icefall and Sherpas said the slopes were too dangerous to climb.

Thousands of tourists and trekkers, a key source of income for the impoverished Himalayan country, headed home and many hotels and trekking agencies experienced heavy cancellations.

Tourism accounts for 4 percent of Nepal’s gross domestic product and employs more than 500,000 people. The government fears tourist arrivals could fall by 40 percent this year.

Beside Kuriki, 13 foreign expeditions have been permitted to climb other mountains in Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 peaks that are 8,000 meters (26,307 feet) or more above sea level.