9-year-old to climb Mount Everest and more news

(CNN) -- This year a 13-year-old from California stunned the world when he became the youngest person to summit Mount Everest. Now a 9-year-old Nepalese boy says he can do it, too. Or at least that's what the child's father is reportedly ... read more

(CNN) -- This year a 13-year-old from California stunned the world when he became the youngest person to summit Mount Everest. Now a 9-year-old Nepalese boy says he can do it, too. Or at least that's what the child's father is reportedly promising.

Sherpa Pemba Dorje, who holds the world record for the fastest Everest ascent (8 hours, 10 minutes), recently boasted that his grade-schooler will try to conquer the globe's tallest mountain in 2011.

To illustrate his seriousness, Dorje and his son Tseten last week climbed Mount Ramdung, a 19,440-foot peak in the Dolakha region of Nepal, according to the Himalayan Times daily and the Indo-Asian News Service. Dorje told reporters it was a practice run for Everest, which is more than 29,000 feet.

 

The notion of another baby-faced adventurer -- backed by an ambitious parent --sailing the widest seas or climbing the tallest mountain unearths a familiar question: Does inherently dangerous record-setting have an age limit?

"Little children do not belong on big mountains," said Jiban Ghimire, a Nepali renown for leading multiple expeditions on Everest. Ghimire's Shangri-La Treks & Expeditions, a go-to climbing assistance company, has employed Dorje as a guide. "I know Pemba Dorje, and I know he's said he wants his child to do this, that his son is capable of it.

"I would not want to discover, on that mountain, that the boy is not capable," Ghimire said. "I feel that you ask for something bad with this."

The obvious objections to allowing a child to climb Everest, or any major mountain, have to do with the physical toll it could take on his or her body. While there's no conclusive research that an adolescent is more susceptible to developing potentially fatal altitude sickness, anecdotes of mental and physical woe abound.

Past Everest climbers have experienced motor-skill dysfunction, sleep troubles, language disassociation and other problems that may be related to depriving the brain of oxygen while climbing, experts say.

Alan Arnette, a Colorado-based climber, has been on 20 expeditions from Tibet to Argentina. He most recently climbed 27,500 feet up Everest.

"Nobody doubts how talented Sherpa Pemba is," Arnette said. "Any Westerner would be smart to trust their life with him on the mountain. But that's any adult."

"When you get up there, it's not like you're gasping for air, you feel like you want to sit down and sleep forever -- that's altitude sickness," he said. "You have to be aware of what your body is doing and act accordingly. That's an adult's experience. Who knows what would happen to a developing child."

Besides, Arnette surmises that the odds of the boy making it past base camp are "just about zero."

The China Tibet Mountaineering Association, which regulates expeditions in Tibet, issued new climbing rules this year that ban anyone younger than 18 from climbing the Tibet side of Everest. A climber must be 16 to attempt Everest from the Nepali side. Penalties for breaking the rules are stiff, ranging from high fines to prison.

Arnette points out that every expedition must have a permit, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars. It's relatively easy for Everest authorities to catch someone trying to climb illegally, he said. Permits must be shown to officials when entering the park, and liaison officers from the Nepal Ministry of Tourism are assigned to each expedition group to help in case something goes wrong, and to ensure groups aren't leaving behind garbage.

In Dorje's case, everyone on the mountain knows who he is. He's clearly drumming up publicity for the climb. So why? Is it money? Arnette doesn't think so.

"No company or sponsor is going to get behind this. There's too much risk," he said. "My best guess is that he's motivated by national pride."

In May American Jordan Romero, 13, became the youngest person to summit Everest.

"I think all the Everest records should be held by Nepalese people," Dorje told London's Daily Mail.

Jordan received worldwide press for his feat, most of it glowing, and he encouraged younger kids to follow in his bootsteps. "Age is not a matter," Jordan told reporters in Kathmandu a day after he returned from his climb, which took 10 months and 10 days. "My body did cope with the altitude very well."

The teenager broke a record few thought possible.

"The American boy is famous. When many people think of Everest, they say his name," Ghimire said. "But a mountain doesn't care who you are."

 

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Adventurer Chessell hangs up his boots

 

Adelaide adventurer Duncan Chessell, a three-time conqueror of the world's highest mountain, has hung up his climbing boots and is planning to go prospecting for gold and uranium.

 

 Chessell has joined newly formed company Endeavour Discoveries as its managing director and will take a break from leading expeditions to such places as the Himalayas or Antarctica for a few years.

"I have faced many challenges and overcome almost all of them by working with extraordinary teams of people on seven continents and have enjoyed almost every minute of it," Chessell said in an email to his clients and supporters on Monday.

 "I have now reached a stage where I am over living from backpacks though.

 "So thanks for coming along for the ride, sail, paddle, walk, climb - it has been simply awesome."

 In May this year Chessell became the first Australian to reach the summit of Mt Everest three times in an expedition hampered in its final push by heavy snowfalls.

 His triumph followed his two previous trips to the top of the world in 2001 and 2007.

Chessell has sold his Chessell Adventures company to friend and sales and office manager Katie Sarah. Sarah was part of the group that reached the Everest summit this year.

 As the boss of Endeavour Discoveries Ltd, he plans to take the company to a public float in the next 12 to 18 months. "We are aiming to discover gold and uranium deposits in South Australia and the Northern Territory," he said.

 

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Bad Weather Strands Thousands near Mt. Everest

 Flights are still grounded at the air strip closest to Mt. Everest, stranding around 2,000 foreign tourists, including some Americans, in the small town of Lukla in eastern Nepal.

 "Again the weather was very bad today," wrote Phurba Gyeljen Sherpa, proprietor The Irish Pub and Internet Caf?. "Very few airplanes were able to go out and the Americans here, and other nationalities, have grown weary and frustrated."

 The military stepped in and posted flyers at the airport telling people not to pay more than $350 for private helicopter companies.

"Then they flew in large MI-17 military transport helicopters, cable of carrying 24 people each," continued Sherpa.

 The military chose who would fly out first by who was stranded there the longest, instead of those willing to pay the most money.

Since there was only a brief period of good weather, the military quickly ferried the stranded people to a nearby airstrip in Ramechhap, where the weather was more stable.

 When the weather destabilized, the military returned to Ramechhap and tourists to Kathmandu.

Slightly over 75 percent of westerners were evacuated.

 

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Will Wi-Fi ruin Mount Everest?

Broadband arrives on the world's tallest mountain. But having hiked it, I worry the magic will vanish

By Jeff Greenwald

 When I began my career as a travel journalist in the 1980s, there was lots of talk about "remoteness." This was what many travelers were looking for: places so hard to get to, and so different from the world we knew, that their very existence seemed almost miraculous.

 Today, the value has shifted. What we look for now is connectedness: the opportunity to check our e-mail, upload video clips and chat on Skype -- even if we happen to be on the Khumbu Icefall, 18,000 feet high in the Nepal Himalaya.

 Last week, a network of eight 3G base stations began operating along the route to Mount Everest, in Sagarmatha National Park. They were installed by Ncell, a Nepali telecom firm. The news didn't surprise me. But I felt that, irreversibly, another blow had been struck against magic.

 

 Access to the Internet is starting to seem like a human right, so let me offer a disclaimer. There is no rational downside to the arrival of broadband on the flanks of Everest. I'm not a Luddite, and would never suggest that developing nations should be denied, for any reason, the global access that technology can provide. This 3G network will undoubtedly save lives -- not only by providing weather information and support to Everest climbers and trekkers, but as an alert system for the nearby villages threatened by flash floods from Glacial Lake Overflow (GLOF), another peril caused by global warming.

 It's a good thing. So why did the news make me feel like Robert Conway in "Lost Horizon," looking back on a land to which I can never return?

 During my earliest visit to Nepal in 1979, phoning home even from Kathmandu was an adventure. I'd bike to the Telecommunications Office at 2 a.m. (mid-afternoon in New York), fill out a form, and wait hours for my trunk call to go through. The costly result was often a busy signal -- or a barely audible connection. The most reliable means of communication was "snail mail": a metaphor that, with three weeks of lag time between a letter and its response, seemed literally true.

 Even this much contact was a marvel, compared to the situation in the mountains. When I first trekked the Everest route, in October 1983, it felt as though I'd entered a world completely detached from the familiar. After a harrowing flight to the tiny airstrip at Lukla, the 10-day hike to Base Camp (with an elevation gain of more than 8,000 vertical feet) began. Immersion in the Sherpa Buddhist lifestyle was inescapable, and transformative. Phone calls were impossible. Even writing a postcard was like putting a message in a bottle, and tossing it out to sea.

 None of this seemed like an inconvenience. Though there were bouts of homesickness, and the occasional longing for new music and old friends, it was exhilarating to have entered such an isolated realm. This, actually, was the point. Travelers embarked on our journeys to Everest or the Annapurnas aware that it would be a full-body experience -- an equation that included our brains.

 As a result, trekking in the Himalaya never felt like sightseeing. It was a commitment to the here and now, demanding full-time engagement with both Nepalis and fellow travelers. There were infinite opportunities to forge new friendships, experience Sherpa Buddhist culture, or enjoy exquisite solitude. By day, you could walk alone or with companions; at night, the lodges flickered with candles and butter lamps. Out came the maps, backgammon sets and tattered journals. Tales of avalanches and Yeti sightings were shared, along with cups of the dizzying local rakshi.

 During my most recent trek to Everest region in 2008, it was clear that the area was changing. Though the mountains looked the same, they felt less like a world apart. For one thing, it was a lot more crowded; an estimated 15,000 trekkers shared the narrow trails. Cellphones were already in use between the main villages, and the isolating aspects of technology were taking hold. Sherpa guides and sinewy porters marched up the steep mountain grades with telltale white headphone cords snaking beneath their parka collars, lost in the private soundtracks of their MP3 files.

 Getting online was a different story. There were only a handful of cybercafes along the trekking route -- the highest of which was at Everest Base Camp itself, at 17,500 feet -- with Internet access via satellite. Connections were sluggish; it often took Gmail more than five minutes to load. Sitting in a cozy inn, immersed in conversation, was far more seductive than surfing the Web.

 The arrival of 3G will change all that -- and not just how quickly trekkers can upload their photos to Flickr, keep tabs on their investments, or stream the latest episode of "Mad Men." Wireless broadband, barely imaginable even 25 years ago, will change the way future travelers and locals interact in the world's highest mountains.

 For the Sherpas of Sagarmatha, of course, it may well seem that one kind of magic has simply been traded for another. Broadband on Everest! What next? If the Yeti buys an iPad, he might even decide to "friend" Bigfoot on Facebook.

 For the rest of us, this constant connectedness may have a bittersweet aftertaste. My recent trek into the Himalaya was a reminder of the pleasures of remoteness. It was a joy to escape from the hamster wheel of distractions, and immerse myself in the expanded moment of real time. Because being connected -- really connected, with the place you're in and the people you're with -- requires disconnecting, at least temporarily, from everywhere else.

 We are far past the time when we can expect to a find a Shangri-la, anywhere, beyond the reach of the Internet. But as the world races toward connectivity, travelers might stop to consider why we travel in the first place, and which connections we really want to make.