Nepal to upgrade forecasts, station doctors on Everest after deadly avalanches

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Nepal will station doctors on Mount Everest and upgrade weather forecasting systems on popular trekking and climbing routes after a snowstorm and avalanches killed dozens last year, officials said Monday.

The measures come a week after officials announced plans to change the traditional route taken by climbers to ascend Mount Everest, following an avalanche that killed 16 guides last April in the deadliest accident on the world's highest peak.

Barely six months later, a massive snowstorm struck the popular Annapurna circuit at the height of the trekking season, claiming 43 lives and capping a grim year for the tourism-dependent Himalayan nation.

"We have held meetings with the tourism ministry and the meteorology department to develop an early weather forecasting system for popular trekking and climbing regions," said Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.

"We expect to see improved, accurate forecasts by the spring season and I believe it will make mountaineering safer," Sherpa told AFP.

Although meteorologists had predicted last October's snowstorm, information failed to reach hundreds of hikers who found themselves stranded in the higher reaches of the Annapurna region.

Tourism department spokesperson Keshab Bimali said government officials and industry leaders were trying to work out a way to ensure tourists had access to forecasts.

The government will also station medical recovery teams on Mount Everest before the April-May climbing season, Bimali said.

"We will establish a team on Everest base camp which will include police, tourism officials, medical teams and rescue experts," Bimali told AFP.

"Safety and our primary concern. We want to assure foreign and local climbers that we are working to build a secure environment for them with the resources we have," he said.

The death of 16 guides last year sparked an unprecedented shutdown of the 8,848-metre (29,028 feet) peak after a block of ice broke off a hanging glacier along the dangerous Khumbu icefall, triggering an avalanche.

A new route will now take climbers through the centre of the icefall, avoiding the cliffs and glaciers to the sides.

Every year, hundreds from around the world attempt to scale peaks in the Himalayas when weather conditions are ideal.

Mountaineering is a huge revenue earner for impoverished Nepal, home to eight of the world's 14 peaks over 8,000 metres.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.