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New climbing season begins at Everest

Hundreds of climbers are arriving in Nepal and Tibet at the moment, with dreams of ascending Mount Everest. But, after the avalanche tragedy in the Spring of 2014, the new season is set to be a challenge.

On April 18 of last year an unstable piece of ice above the base camp caused an avalanche

killing 16 Nepalese climbers.

Now, almost a year on from that black Friday, Jamling Tenzing Norgay is still concerned about his favorite place, Mount Everest. Norgay's father, Tenzing, was the first to climb Mount Everest in 1953 with New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary.

"My fear is that there will be more people this year due to the backlog of climbers plus the new climbers on the mountain this year," the son of the world's best known Sherpa told DW.

The avalanche in Spring of last year was one of the worst in the 100 year history of mountaineering at the world's highest mountain. After the accident, the Sherpas protested and demanded to see changes. They wanted higher insurance payouts in the case of death of one of their guides. A small group of them even started threatening local and foreign climbers who continued to climb the mountain. A week and a half after the avalanche, the base camp was empty: the season was

basically over before it started.

A new route, but few other changes

Despite the 2014 tragedy, very few of the tourist operators have changed their plans for this season. One operator has started to now work from the northern Tibetan side, and only two companies have cancelled tours. The majority of climbers will head back to the base camp on the southern side of the mountain, just below where the avalanche took place.

A rescue operation on Mount Everest after the avalanche in April 2014

A rescue operation on Mount Everest after the avalanche in April 2014

Some 300 foreign climbers are expected there this year. Just recently, the Nepalese government decided that the climbing permits invalid last year would now be available to use until 2019. These passes now cost $11,000 (10,172 euros) per person, no matter how big the group. Previously the fee was around 10,000 per head and now the new insurance packages for the Sherpas - negotiated after the 2014 tragedy - are also more expensive.

The route leading out of the Nepalese base camp will now head more through the central part of the ice fall, in order to reduce the risk of avalanches. That means that climbers will be in the ice labyrinth for longer though. In emergency situations those injured should be able to be rescued by a helicopter inside of one and a half hours.

It's also planned that officials will be stationed in the base camp, for policing and to be on hand to resolve disputes. Last year that was a major problem.

Uncertainty remains

In the other base camp on the northern, Tibetan side of Mount Everest, things are likely to be much quieter. There will be a slight increase in climbers there though. "But it won't be really busy, like it was back in the old days on the north side," says Ralf Dujmovits, the only German to have climbed all of the world's 8000 meter peaks. "That's for the simple reason that the Americans don't know whether they will get let in to China."

Sardar Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary

The originals: Edmund Hillary and Sardar Tenzing Norgay in 1953

This season Dujmovits - together with Canadian Nancy Hansen - wants to climb to the top of Everest without any supplementary oxygen. When he did it back in 1992 he used an oxygen mask.

German climber David Göttler also plans to do the climb with Daniel Bartsch, from Munich, and the Canadian Raphael Slawinski. The trio say they have worked out a new route. Göttler wanted to climb Everest last year from the southern side, but was forced to abandon the mission due to the unforeseen events at the base camp.

"I was every disappointed about the last season and about all the things that are happening in Nepal," the 36-year-old said. "I wanted to avoid the uncertainty that will be present this year. I think the best thing is to let a few seasons worth of climbers go through, and then wait until things get back to normal again."

But even then, Jamling Tenzing Norgay is convinced that climbing Everest is now very different to when his dad first scaled the mountain. "I think that he would be shocked to see how it has become so commercialized and that Everest has become a playground for 'overnight mountaineers,'" Norgay said.

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