Asia, Nepal, Helicopter Usage

Publication Year: 2011.

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Helicopter usage. A helicopter whirling overhead on a flight to an expedition’s base camp area is no longer a rare event brought on by a serious emergency situation. In the autumn helicopters evacuated: climbers who had failed to factor into their schedules the extra time needed for periods of bad weather and avalanches; climbers forced to take a slightly different line than planned up or down their mountain; climbers who found their inflexible time limit was up and simply had to catch their previously booked flights home; climbers who had serious, though in some cases not so serious, medical problems; a leader in a great hurry to travel from base camp to the village of a Sherpa who had a fatal accident, in order to break the tragic news to the Sherpa’s wife as soon as possible; two mountaineers who got into trouble on a seldom-climbed route and had no means of getting down when the route ahead became impassable, since they had neither brought appropriate equipment nor prepared an escape route; and expedition members who just didn’t want to walk when they could ride.

Next spring a prominent organizer of commercial expeditions is changing hotels. He will no longer book his groups into a friendly, comfortable hotel in central Kathmandu. Instead, he is switching to a huge, impersonal establishment far from the city center and belonging to an international chain. He explained that this is the only hotel with a helipad; his clients are wealthy, and choppers taking them close to their mountain and back is what they want.

“Don’t walk when you can ride” means not being bothered to trek into base camp, or not wanting to “waste” perhaps five days’ time. But in doing this, surely one loses a bit of acclimatization and a lot of local atmosphere.

Perhaps one day, high-altitude helicopters will be brought to Nepal to whisk people to Everest’s summit, touch down for a few minutes while passengers take great photographs, then deliver them to a spot where they can resume a pleasant trek in the area. Will the next step in making climbs as convenient as possible be to carry people through the nerve-wracking labyrinth of Everest’s Khumbu Icefall? Will this trend eventually lead to uphill and downhill tourism on the most popular mountains?

Elizabeth Hawley, AAC Honorary Member, Nepal