New Peaks, New Trouble in Nepal

104 peaks now open, but avalanche concerns abound

Mt. Kangchenjunga is the third-highest mountain in the world and home to a new eight-thousander available to climbers, but an avalanche recently struck its west side.     Photo: Aaron Ostrovsky/Flickr

Good news: Nepal has just opened 104 new mountain peaks for climbing. Bad news: Three climbers are missing after another avalanche, and new climate change research says the country's glaciers are melting quickly—which could only increase avalanches in the future.

Among the new peaks available for commercial climbing are two named for New Zealand climber Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay, who were the first people to climb Everest. In fact, these peaks were named just in time for next week's 61st anniversary of their climb.

Yalung Kang (8,505 meters/27,903 feet) is also open now. The government of Nepal announced that it's seeking international recognition for this peak from the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation. The hope, of course, is to boost mountain tourism.

Meanwhile, three climbers are missing after another avalanche, this time on Mount Kangchenjunga. One climber has been identified as Chhanda Gayen, reported as the second Indian woman to climb Mount Everest and the first to summit Kangchenjunga. At the time of the avalanche late Tuesday, she was with two Sherpa guides, Dewa Wangchu and Migma Temba, according to the Times of India.

The three climbers had been close to the summit of newly opened Yalung Kang, also known as Kangchenjunga West, when the avalanche began. That was the last anyone heard from them. A helicopter search continues for these climbers, but bad weather halted today's efforts.

The long-term outlook for Nepal's avalanche concerns is not great, according to a study published this week. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) found that Himalayan glaciers have shrunk by almost a quarter over the past 30 years. It's not unusual for glaciers to shrink and grow over time, but it is unusual for Nepal's glaciers to recede at such a high rate—almost 24 miles each year.

That's very bad news locally, as loss of glacial ice means loss of freshwater reserves and a higher risk of flooding from glacial lake outbursts. It's also concerning for the future of mountaineering in Nepal: "The frequency of avalanches like the one that struck at Everest base camp last month may increase due to global warming," the report's lead author, Samjwal Bajracharya, told Reuters.

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