As the post-monsoon climbing season swings into action, mountaineers from around the globe have been making their way to Nepal and Tibet to take on 8000’ers such as Cho Oyu, Manaslu, Dhaulagiri, Shishapangma and Lhotse. Around 350 foreign climbers will be on these five peaks this Autumn.
For the hundreds of climbers, sherpas and support staff currently at Manaslu Base Camp, progress on the mountain has stopped as the grounding of many helicopter operators have left teams without food, clothing and equipment.
Expedition operators typically charter helicopters to ferry fresh food and equipment to Base Camp; however, it seems they are currently unable to do so due to unavailability of aircraft. While expedition outfits are placing blame on the aviation companies, the helicopter operators are pointing the finger at the Nepali authorities.
Speaking to The Himalayan Times, Mingma Sherpa, the Managing Director of Seven Summit Treks, said, “The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation barred three operators–Heli Everest, Manang Air and Air Dynasty–from flying to restricted areas, including Mt Manaslu region, while other helicopter operators have had to wait for over a week to get permission from different agencies to provide the services.”
These three aviation providers were cited for fraud in a recent expose on the scamming of insurance companies by expedition and helicopter operators. It is not clear if this is the reason for the immediate ban on these outfits. Regardless, it appears that the current logistical “crisis” results from this ban as well as a backlog of flight permission administration in Kathmandu.
The present situation follows the sad news that an Altitude Air helicopter crashed while leaving the Manaslu area on September 8. Six people were killed, including the experienced pilot Capt Nischal KC, a friend of 13-time Everest-summiteer Kenton Cool. Writing on social media, Cool paid tribute Nischal: “Without doubt the best pilot I ever flew with, a humble man with incredible talent. Thoughts with his family. Miss you already buddy!”
The Nepali Department of Tourism estimates that more than 250 foreign climbers and 500 plus support staff have headed to Manaslu this autumn. Disruption to such a large number of visitors could well have negative implications for Nepal’s aim to welcome two million tourists in 2020.