Kiwis among teams who hope to reach Everest summit for first time in two years
Climbing season on Mt Everest is in full swing and a Kiwi-led team has reached the final staging post ahead of the first summit bid in two years.
The business of climbing the world's highest peak has been on hold for two seasons, after a series of earthquakes and deadly avalanches killed dozens of mountaineers and sherpa guides.
It is also the 20th anniversary of the 1996 disaster on Everest, in which New Zealander Rob Hall and seven others succumbed in a fierce blizzard.
The company Hall helped found, Wanaka-based Adventure Consultants, is among those close to a summit attempt, as teams wait for a weather window to make the last push for the peak.
The mountain climbing economy has been practically shut since 2014, when an avalanche near the Khumbu icefall killed 16 sherpa guides, three of whom were contracted to Adventure Consultants.
Last year, when a magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck Nepal and killed at least 8000 people, six more sherpas working for Adventure Consultants were among 22 climbers and guides killed on the mountain.
A team from Adventure Consultants has reached camp four at South Col, the final stop before an attempt to reach the summit during the brief April-May season.
The Col lies at 7906 metres, while the summit is at 8848m.
In a dispatch, Adventure Consultants expedition leader Mike Roberts said the team was not far from the Hillary Step but getting a rope-fixing team together was not easy.
Some climbers, on social media and expedition reports, have been critical of the rope-fixing, which is carried out by sherpa teams.
"On day two of rope fixing tomorrow [Wednesday], the ropes will fall a bit short of getting to the Hillary Step and summit, but the difference can be made up later.
"I awoke to yet another milky sky day with a big halo around the sun. Sure enough it was snowing just after noon. As dry and sunny as April was, May has been the opposite. Sun now hits my tent before 7.00am and if I'm not woken by avalanches there is a dawn chorus of birds.
"In general this is a time of the expedition for patiently waiting, going for walks to keep fit and monitoring weather forecasts.
"Today is the 20th anniversary of the Everest 1996 tragedy. We remember great friends lost and lessons learned. Peace brothers."
Mountaineering blogger Alan Arnette said ropes were fixed just below the balcony, a small rest stop at 8,400m on the Nepal side, and on the Tibet side.
He said the first weather window was May 14-16 and more than 100 climbers could be on the ascent for the first summit push.
Around 225 climbers are on the mountain.
"[On] Everest there is always something and I guess if one needs to find something to complain about it is the speed of the sherpas fixing the ropes to the summit.
"Several small operators have made it the center piece of their Facebook and blog posts that they are being inconvenienced and delayed by rope fixers…Meanwhile other guides proudly declare that "our Sherpas have fixed the ropes…"
Consecutive disasters in 2014 and 2015 sparked a debate about commercial guiding in the Himalayas and the terms and conditions given to the sherpa guides
Nepal Mountaineering Association chief Ang Tshering Sherpa told Reuters the route from the Col to the summit required fixing.
Climbers were expected to start summit attempts in the next few days.
Last year marked the first season when no one made it to the summit since Sir Edmund Hillary climbed the mountain with Tenzing Norgay in 1953.
Adventure Consultants chief executive Guy Cotter, who founded the company with Hall, set up a fund for the Sherpa teams after the back-to-back disasters.
The company has several teams in the Himalayas this season, including a luxury Everest trek team, a Mera peak trek team and a group climbing Lhotse, the world's fourth-highest peak at 8548m.
The 1996 disaster was the basis for the 2015 movie adaptation Everest.