Nine Nepalis reached the top of Mount Everest on Wednesday, the first group of climbers to summit the world’s highest mountain in two years after deadly disasters forced a shutdown.
The team reached the summit at 5:02 pm (1117 GMT) while fixing ropes for foreign climbers, who will try later this week to ascend the mountain, hit by tragedy in 2014 and 2015.
“A team of nine Nepalis have set the route and reached Everest’s summit,” Nepal tourism department director general Sudarshan Prasad Dhakal told AFP.
“This opens the doors for other climbers to reach the summit as well. This is very good news after two years of disasters and has shown that the road up Everest is safe,” he said.
Climbing teams announced plans to summit Everest after disasters cut short campaigns to the 8,850-metre (29,035-foot summit) high Himalayan peak and raised fears for Nepal’s lucrative trekking industry.
Hundreds of climbers abandoned the mountain last year after an earthquake-triggered avalanche killed 18 people at Everest base camp.
Only one climber summited the peak in 2014 after an avalanche killed 16 Nepali guides. China’s Wang Jing reached the top after using a helicopter to transport tent equipment to higher camps following the closure of the year’s climbing season.
Hopefuls are now massing at different camps on Everest after Nepal issued 289 permits to mountaineers for this year’s brief spring climbing season, which runs from mid-April to the end of May.
Many, including tour operators whose colleagues were killed in the disasters, are preparing to make the final ascent in coming days.
‘All on track’
British expedition operator Jagged Globe, which lost a guide and a client in the 2014 and 2015 tragedies, posted a message on its blog Wednesday, saying “all on track for summit 13 May”.
“If the rope fixing is completed, the team will move to Camp 4 tomorrow in preparation for the summit,” said Rachel Tullet, base camp manager for the team.
The four-person team includes British climber Nick Talbot, who suffers from cystic fibrosis and who has returned to the mountain after cracking his ribs in last year’s avalanche.
Sherpas were fixing ropes, stocking supplies at the highest camp and making other final preparations for foreign climbers.
South African climber Lysle Turner, 26, who was on Everest when the 7.8-magnitude earthquake tore through base camp last year, said he felt positive about returning to the peak this season.
“The last two years were affected by disasters, but I think this will be a great year. We hope it will move forward smoothly,” he told AFP.
May marks the crucial weather window when winds are mild and before the monsoon blankets the region in snow.
Last year, Japan’s Nobukazu Kuriki, 33, was forced to abandon his solo attempt to climb the peak in winter because of heavy wind and deep snow.
Even in milder weather the mountains are dangerous, and a tour operator said Wednesday two Nepali Sherpa guides had died of suspected altitude sickness while climbing 8,481-metre-high Makalu peak.
Mountaineering is a major revenue-earner for impoverished Nepal but last year’s earthquake , which killed almost 9,000 people, threatened the future of the Himalayan nation’s climbing and trekking industry.