Thursday, March 5, 2009

Himalayan Meltdown

Global climate change is affecting the Himalaya much faster than previously thought, and mountaineers have been the first to notice the changes: more frequent avalanches, more crevasses and exposed rock faces where there used to be snowfields.

Cho Oyu and Chomolungma used to be considered the easiest of the eight-thousanders to climb, but have become more difficult in the past 25 years.

"There are certainly more crevasses than there used to be on Cho Oyu and climbers have to take a new steeper route than before," says Phil Crampton, who has been leading expeditions to Cho Oyo and Chomolungma for the past seven years.

Mike Roberts, a mountain guide from New Zealand, has also seen changes on the mountain: "I think the upper section of Cho Oyo is getting steeper and more difficult, and expeditions will have to start putting ropes there."

At 8,201m, Cho Oyu is the sixth highest mountain in the world, and this year hasn't been kind to mountaineers. Normally the success rate on the mountain is relatively higher than other mountains, but this year most expeditions had to turn back due to bad weather.

Mountaineers have also noticed a change in weather patterns, with more frequent late monsoon storms. Russell Brice, a guide from New Zealand, says: "Even though the last two monsoon seasons were very heavy, there was hardly any deposit of snow on Cho Oyu."

Sections that were snow and ice when George Mallory and Andrew Irvine climbed the north face of Mt Everest in 1923 are now mostly bare rock. In fact, this was probably one reason Mallory body was found in 1999 because the ice had melted, exposing the body.

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