Showing posts with label Logistics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Logistics. Show all posts

Himalaya Spring 2016: Alan Arnette Posts Pre-Season Preview

Even though the calendar says that it is only February, the 2016 spring climbing season in the Himalaya really isn't all that far off. In less than two months, climbers from all over the world will be finalizing their travel plans, packing their gear, and saying goodbye to loved ones as they head off to Nepal and Tibet to begin what is sure to be another very interesting year in the tallest mountains on the planet.

By most accounts, it is shaping up to be a quieter year on Everest, where tragedies the past two seasons have put an abrupt end to climbing operations. Several of the leading outfitters that operate on the mountain say that the number of clients they'll be guiding this year are down, as many are taking a wait and see attitude. That said however, I'm sure Everest will still be a very lively place to be this spring, with lots of great stories to follow.

In preparation for the start of the season, Alan Arnette has already kicked off his now legendary coverage of the proceedings on the mountain. Yesterday, Alan posted his preview of the 2016 spring season ahead, which fittingly enough begins with a recap of some of the major stories from the past few years – including a much publicized brawl between Sherpas and prominent climbers, the deaths of 19 Sherpas as a result of the collapse of a serac in 2014, and the devastating aftermath of the deadly earthquake that struck last year.

Each of those events has left its mark on the climbing community on Everest in the past few years, causing some to sour on attempting to summit the tallest mountain on the planet. But many of us believe that these are just temporary setbacks that will be overcome as we move forward.

In his article, Alan takes a look ahead at the 2016 season, which he too expects to have low numbers for several reasons. The lingering impact of the earthquake – at least in terms of public perceptions – is a major one of course, but also because Nepal is in the middle of a significant fuel crisis, with a shortage of gas making its way into the country thanks to a blockade from India. On top of that, expedition companies are being forced to raise their prices too, which of course has an impact on how many people sign up for an expedition as well.

If you're someone who keeps up with the Everest scene each year, you'll definitely want to give this a look. It provides some great insights into what is happening in Nepal presently, and how the currently political culture there is shaping the climbing season ahead. As always, it shouldn't have any shortage of intrigue and surprises.

Antarctica 2015: Weather Could Delay Start of the Season

The 2015-2016 Antarctic season is about to begin, but that nemesis of adventurers and explorers everywhere is already rearing its ugly head. The first flight out to the frozen continent is scheduled to take place tomorrow, but there is already talk about weather delays that could prevent the first Antarctic skiers from getting underway as scheduled. In fact, it may end up causing problems with fully establishing the Union Glacier camp, which is the launching point of many expeditions to the South Pole and other regions in the Antarctic. 

Built, supplied, and maintained by the team at Adventure Network International, the Union Glacier camp already has a dedicated crew in place that is working hard to prepare for the arrival of the explorers. That includes preparing the mess hall, ensuring all of the tents are in stable, and in place, and organizing supplies for the long season ahead. 

One of the other important jobs that this advance crew is responsible for is building a runway for the big Ilyushin aircraft to land upon. Those massive planes bring supplies, fuel, and visitors to Antarctica, and the season can't truly get underway until those big birds can take off and land safely. Unfortunately, the weather at Union Glacier isn't great right now, which is preventing the team from completing that runway. There is still hope that they'll be able to have it ready for tomorrow's first flight, but at the moment it doesn't look promising. The final decision on whether or not to fly will come tomorrow. 

Polar explorer Henry Worsley is scheduled to be on that flight, and hopes to arrive in the Antarctic tomorrow. As you probably recall, Henry is about to embark on an ambitious expedition that will seem him attempt to become the first person to ski solo and unassisted across the continent. He'll cover approximately 2735 km (1700 miles) over the course of about 80 days to accomplish that task. While he obviously hopes to stay on schedule with his flight tomorrow, Henry has built in some extra days into the schedule that will help him to set off on time. In fact, he has said previously that his hope is to be underway by November 10, which means there is no reason to panic just yet. There will be some work that needs to be accomplished once he reaches Union Glacier of course, but at the moment there is still plenty of time. 

Speaking of Worsley, ExWeb has posted a brief interview with the British Army vet, who is currently in Punta Arenas, Chile awaiting that flight tomorrow. As part of that interview, Henry shares his preparation schedule, the sections of the route that are most concerning, and the gear that will help him traverse the Antarctic continent. Definitely an interesting read for those of us who follow these kinds of expeditions. 

For the most part, the South Pole skiers are only just now starting to arrive in Punta Arenas, so there isn't a lot to report just yet. November is the traditional start of the season, so things are running on schedule for now. Expect more teams to start arriving later this week and next, as they prepare for one of the biggest challenges of their life – skiing hundreds of miles across a frozen expanse while pulling  a sled filled with their gear and supplies behind them at all times. While not nearly as difficult as skiing to the North Pole, an Antarctic expedition is never the less a difficult undertaking. 

More to come soon.

The Cost of Climbing Everest: 2015 Edition

Whenever I discuss an expedition to Mt. Everest with someone who doesn't know much about mountaineering, I find that they are always surprised by two things. First, they have no idea that it takes roughly two months to summit the mountain after you factor in travel time to the Himalaya, getting to Base Camp, acclimatizing to the altitude, and waiting for the proper weather window. They are also continually shocked at how much an Everest climb actually costs, as they don't understand all the logistics involved.

To help all of us understand those costs better, each year, our friend Alan Arnette does a detailed analysis of the current going rates for an Everest climb. Yesterday, he posted the 2015 edition of his annual report, and it wasn't good news for prospective climbers. As Alan indicates in his report, costs have gone up substantially for the spring climbing season, and more companies are jumping across the border into Tibet in order to avoid ongoing strife between the Nepali government and the Sherpas in the wake of last year's shutdown on the South Side.

There are several significant factors that are causing the price of an Everest expedition to go up, including a raise in price for the climbing permit. This year, all climbers will be charged a flat-fee of $11,000 to get their name on a permit. In the past, it was usually about $10,000, with the overall price for the permit spread out across multiple climbers. Alan also says that more teams are increasing the amount of life insurance they are carrying for their Sherpa staff as well, going up from $10k to $15k, with the difference being covered by the clients of course. On top of that, Nepal has begun enforcing a 2012 rule that requires all trekkers and climbers to hire a local Sherpa guide for use during their visit. He estimated that will add an additional $4k to the price.

What does all of this mean for climbers wanting to attempt Everest? Alan says that the average price for a climb without western guides is now at $41,700. With western guides, that price rises to $57,000 on the South Side, and $46,000 on the North. In other words, it is a substantial sum of money no matter which side of the mountain you're climbing, and who you are climbing with. Alan is quick to point out that a few high-end guide services on the North Side are also skewing the average to a degree. Alpenglow and Himex have both jumped to the Chinese side of the mountain for 2015, and they charge $79,000 and $64,000 respectively. Without their numbers added into the mix, a North Side climb averages about $37,000.


But the big story isn't just the change in pricing. Alan says that there are major changes afoot in Nepal, as local operators take over the South Side. These companies have been offering good service for years, and now they have also learned the business side of leading expeditions as well. Many of these companies are now undercutting western guide services, and are attracting more and more clients. Alan warns that not all of these companies offer the same experience however, and that it remains a "buyer beware' environment.

This is just the very beginning of the report, as Alan also goes into the cost breakdown of the climb, examining the details of what you actually get for your money. He also looks at the price for planning your own Everest expedition, as well as the options for hiring guides, the size of teams, summit stats, and much more. Basically, this report contains everything you've ever wanted to know about putting together a climb on Everest, and then some.

If you follow the climate on Everest, much of what is reported here will come as no surprise. Considering the political fallout that came after the South Side was shutdown last spring, the future of expeditions to that side of the mountain remains a bit uncertain. Obviously the mountain is a cash-cow for the government of Nepal, but major disruptions could continue in the future, as disputes with labor still need to be resolved. It is a time of upheaval on Everest, and not all of the past conflicts have been settled just yet.

We still have a little over four months to go before the start of the busy Spring climbing season. It is already shaping up to be another interesting one.

ExWeb Talks North Pole Logistics with Victor Boyarsky

A few weeks back we received news that Kenn Borek Air has ceased operations in the Arctic. The company, which goes by the motto "Anytime, Anywhere...Worldwide" has been a stalwart on the Canadian side of the North Pole, shuttling explorers to and from the ice for years, and helping with the logistics of operations in that part of the world. But its sudden departure from the scene has left some teams in the lurch. Several groups had already contracted with Kenn Borek for the 2015 and 2016 Arctic seasons. Those intrepid adventurers are now wondering what they can do to overcome this obstacle, with some considering jumping to the other side of the planet, and skiing to the North Pole from Russia instead.

With that in mind, ExWeb caught up with Victor Boyarsky, the owner of VICCAR, a company that specializes in logistical support in the Arctic and Antarctic. Boyarksy's organization offers assistance on both the Russian and Canadian side of the ice, although at this point, VICCAR will only be able to offer rescue operations and evacuations from the ice, as the company mostly works out of the Barneo Ice Camp, which is erected every year on an ice flow located around 87º or 88º N latitude.

In the interview. Victor provides some history on the Russian Start to the Geographic North Pole, which is traditionally located at 81º.2N, 95.5ºE. Originally, that point was a good place to store fuel and other supplies for helicopters heading into the Arctic, but it also became a place to drop skiers off as well. The fueling point is still used by aircraft on their way to Barneo, but in 1995 it was first used to launch an expedition to the North Pole as well. It has been used routinely since that time as the starting point from that side of the ice.


ExWeb indicates that they have inquired with other airlines to see if anyone will step up to fill the vacuum created with the departure of Kenn Borek, but so far no one has said they'll begin supporting the North Pole skiers. That means that explorers planning on heading to the Pole may have to shift to the Russian Start instead, or abandon their plans of going to the North Pole altogether. Without air support, not only will it be incredibly difficult to get to the starting point on Ellesmere Island, it could be incredibly dangerous to try to operate in the Arctic without the safety net of a rescue flight coming to retrieve them.

Skiing to the North Pole has always been an incredibly difficult endeavor. In fact, I believe it is the toughest expedition in the world today. At the moment, it seems that there will no longer be any operations conducted from the Canadian side of the ice, at least for the foreseeable future. Whether or not we see more expeditions heading to the Russian side remains to be seen.

With the North Pole season just a few months away, it will certainly be interesting to see how this will all unfold. My guess is, we'll see a few expeditions cancelled this year, and possibly rescheduled for 2016 instead. It is likely to be a quite season in the Arctic in 2015.

Kenn Borek Air Ceases Operations in the Arctic

For years, Kenn Borek Air has supported expeditions to some of the most far flung destinations on the planet. In fact, the company's motto is "Anytime, Anywhere... Worldwide." They may have to amend that in light of recent news involving the airline, as ExWeb is reporting that the company has ceased operations in the Arctic, and will no longer support teams heading to the North Pole. 

In a brief article posted to its website, ExWeb wrote the following:
"Rumour has been confirmed that Kenn Borek Air, operating from Canada, will not be flying any North Pole expeditions to their start points, or pick them up at the North Pole, or anywhere in between for emergency purposes, in the foreseeable future. 
Explorersweb has asked Kenn Borek for a statement, and will publish it as it becomes available."
At this time, that is all that is known about this story, but it still is a significant one. For years, Kenn Borek Air has been the logistical lifeline for expeditions heading to the North Pole from the Canadian side of the ice. The company flew skiers to their starting point, and often picked them up at the Pole as well. In recent years however, very few expeditions were able to reach 90ºN, and thus the pilots for  Kenn Borek were forced to retrieve explorers out on the ice. With the changes that have been occurring in the Arctic over the past few years, that had to increasingly more challenging.

Until we get a statement from Kenn Borek, it is hard to say exactly why this decision was made, but I'm sure the unstable conditions, and added expenses, of operating in the Arctic played a major role. Weather conditions in that part of the world seem to be getting increasingly worse during the traditional Arctic expedition season, making it all the more difficult to operate as well. Safety for both the pilots, and the explorers on their way north, are obviously one of the big concerns.

It seems rather unlikely that another airline will step in to pick up the slack, which means those hoping to ski to the North Pole will have to do some from the European side of the ice. The Russian government handle a lot of the logistics for Arctic explorers on that side of the planet, although there are a few other alternatives as well. In recent years, going to the North Pole on skies has become one of the most difficult endeavors in exploration, and without Kenn Borek, it has just gotten a little more challenging.

Hopefully we'll get more information about this development in the near future.