Monumental task awaits team near top of highest mountain - Human & Nature - Tibetol

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Monumental task awaits team near top of highest mountain
By:China Daily
update:February 22,2019

Feb. 22, 2019 -- Mountain guide Ngakwang Dradul was heartened upon hearing of plans to relocate the remains of climbing victims that lay exposed within 1,000 meters of the summit of Mount Qomolangma, known in the West as Mount Everest.

"It's a smart idea, and it shows respect for the victims," said the guide, who took part in a similar effort three years ago to relocate the remains of climbers who had died at altitudes above 8,000 meters on the 8,848-meter peak, the world's highest.

At that time, Ngakwang Dradul, who has more than 10 years' experience as a guide, helped move the remains of several victims from where they lay exposed on the climbing routes to places alongside the routes in an activity conducted by Tibet Himalaya Expedition Co.

"The remains were either covered up with stones or their faces were covered with cloth," recalled the guide, who also is an employee of the company.

"The work was so difficult, since the altitude was so high, and it was emotionally hard to touch human bodies," he said.

This year, the Tibet autonomous region's mountaineering team plans to relocate other remains of mountaineering victims at the high altitude, according to the Tibet Sports Bureau.

"It is necessary to recover the remains and bury them properly," said Nyima Tsering, head of the bureau.

"It will bring comfort to the bereaved families and convey respect, and it will not affect new climbers who might see them."

According to the plan, professionals will collect the bodies carefully to avoid damaging them, and then will bury the remains at three sites away from the routes at above 8,000 meters.

Identifying the bodies is also part of the plan, and the Tibet Mountaineering Association is working on contacting the families of climbers who died, a task they hope to finish by the end of March.

"At present, we are not sure of the victims' nationalities, and the exact locations of the remains need to be identified," said Sonam, the secretary of the mountaineering association, who, like many Tibetans, has only one name.

It is not yet known how the graves of those buried at the three sites will be marked. Since the ground at that altitude is frozen, the bodies will not be buried in the ground but under stones gathered from nearby.

When better methods and techniques are available, the remains can then be brought down from the mountain for further arrangements, Nyima Tsering said.

"Now it's very risky to transport the remains down from the mountain, as there are potential safety hazards for climbers and collectors to carry out the work," said the bureau chief, who also is head of the China Mountaineering Team (Tibet).

For one thing, the difficult task requires a large amount of oxygen.

According to senior climber Tsering Tandar, air at an altitude above 8,000 meters contains just 30 percent of the oxygen found at lower altitudes.

"It requires eight cylinders of climbing oxygen (per person) to climb at altitudes above 8,000 meters," he said.

Professionals, proper equipment and adequate funding are needed to carry out such work at the high altitude, and financial support from the government is crucial, said Nyima Tsering.

The Ministry of Finance has promised to provide 4 million yuan ($595,000) to the Tibet Sports Bureau this year for efforts to relocate the remains of mountaineering victims as well as for the campaign to clean up the environment on Mount Qomolangma.

In addition, the Mount Qomolangma National Nature Reserve has banned ordinary tourists from entering its core zone, to better conserve the environment. However, the mountaineering activities of travelers who have a climbing permit will not be affected, according to the reserve.

Kelsang, the deputy director of the reserve's administration, said ordinary tourists are banned from areas above Rongpo Monastery, which is around 5,000 meters above sea level.

Travelers with a climbing permit will be allowed to go to the base camp at an altitude of 5,200 meters.

Meanwhile, Sonam, the mountaineering association secretary, said relocating the bodies will be especially challenging.

"Qomolangma is the tallest mountain in the world, so the height is a challenge that differs from climbing other mountains," he said.

Lodre, a mountaineering coach from the region's mountaineering guide school, said it is a good idea to relocate the remains of climbing victims on the mountain.

"It's not good that these remains are exposed within sight of climbers along the climbing tracks," said Lodre. "It's good that the government will invest in the project."

According to the region's mountaineering statistics, more than 300 climbers reached Qomolangma's summit over the past six decades, and over 2,300 reached the summits of peaks above 8,000 meters. The region's mountaineering team has received more than 20,000 climbers from 40 countries in the past eight years.

Ngakwang Dradul, the mountaineering guide, recalled that in 2009, when he was at the Mount Qomolangma Base Camp, a climber died on his way back from the summit due to lack of experience at high altitudes.

"It's because he had never climbed a mountain with an altitude above 8,000 meters before," the guide said.

In 2010, the region introduced a new climbing regulation that bans climbers from scaling a mountain with an altitude of more than 8,000 meters unless they have previously climbed at an altitude higher than 7,000 meters.

"Since then, there have been no Chinese climber victims at Mount Qomolangma in the past few years, and the number of foreign climbers who died has been reduced," he said.

Lodre, the mountaineering coach, said the effort to relocate the bodies also should take into consideration the wishes of the dead climbers' families.

"It's important to get the permission of the families of the deceased first, since some families want the remains carried down from the mountain, but others prefer that they remain there," he said.

Though Lodre, who is 56, no longer climbs Qomolangma due to his age, he said he still would like to provide assistance to the relocation effort.

"For the collection of climbing victims, I can give some advice."

By: Palden Nyima

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