by Kraig Becker
As summer nears its inevitable end in the Northern Hemisphere the fall climbing season is getting underway in the Himalaya. Now that the seasonal monsoons have subsided for another year, climbers are descending on Kathmandu and starting to make their way out to base camps across the region. Over the next six weeks or so teams of mountaineers will be focused on gaining experience and building their skills on one of several big peaks located in Nepal and Tibet. Often the work that they do now will help prepare them for more difficult challenges ahead, such as a spring climb on Mt. Everest.
The fall season is always far more quiet than the spring, which is traditionally when hundreds of climbers arrive just to make an attempt on Everest alone. At that time of the year the teams are busy acclimatizing and hoping for good weather as they rush to summit ahead of the arrival of the monsoon. In the fall, with the seasonal storms past, the process will be much the same but this time they’ll be trying to wrap things up before the bitterly cold temperatures and heavy snows of winter settle across the mountains. That typically occurs by early November, bringing the curtain down once again.
There is one significant difference about the fall climbing season when compared to the spring. This time of year almost no one attempts to climb Everest. Occasionally there are autumn expeditions on the world’s tallest peak but for the most part the bulk of the climbing on that mountain is done in the spring. As of this writing, I don’t know of a single team that has set its sights on the Big Hill this fall, although someone may yet show up to take advantage of the lack of crowds.
The mountains that will be seeing plenty of action in the weeks ahead include Manaslu (8156 m/26,759 ft), Makalu (8481 m/27825 ft), Cho Oyu (8201 m/26,906 ft) and Shishapangma (8013 m/26,289 ft). Each of them is generally considered to be amongst the easier of the 8000-meter peaks to summit and as such they are often used as tune-up expeditions ahead of some of the more challenging climbs. “Easier’ is a relative term however and all of these peaks still provide a significant challenge to any mountaineer. While they may lack some of the more technical aspects found on other big mountains, their altitudes alone makes them a good test for those looking to eventually take on the likes of Everest or K2.
Over the next week or so the climbers will begin to get settled in their respective base camps before they start the process of acclimatization. Is is tradition in the Himalaya, they’ll make a number of rotations up and down the mountain that will help facilitate their bodies becoming accustomed to the higher altitude. Once that process is complete and all of their high camps have been built, they’ll wait for a weather window that will give them access to the summit. Once that window opens it will be time to go. But for now, the summit is a distant goal and there is much work to be done before anyone stands on the top of one of these Himalayan giants.
[Photo Credit: Kraig Becker]