Kathmandu (AFP), April 2 – A 70-year-old French mountaineer aims to become the oldest person to climb Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen and at the same time find a new, safer route.
Marc Batard wants to explore a new way around the deadly Khumbu Icefall that all climbers must traverse to reach the world’s highest peak from the Nepalese side.
The treacherous and ever-changing expanse of glacial ice that forces climbers to navigate crevices on rickety ladders has claimed more than 40 lives.
In 2014, a massive block of ice broke off from a hanging glacier and slammed into the icefall, killing 16 Nepalese guides in one of Everest’s worst tragedies.
“Too many people died there,” Batard told AFP in Kathmandu before leaving.
“This project is not just for me. I am very happy to climb Everest again. But I want to use my reputation to do good things… This new road is not easy but it is safer,” he said.
Batard was 18 when he discovered mountaineering, climbed the Pyrenees which straddle the border between France and Spain, and began working as a mountain guide.
He first entered the record books in 1988 when he became the only person to summit the world’s tallest mountain without an oxygen tank in less than 24 hours.
His 22.5-hour solo ascent earned him the nickname “Sprinter”.
Batard also made headlines in the 1980s for climbing several 8,000 meter peaks.
Recently returned from retirement, Batard now hopes to reach the 8,848.86-metre (29,031-foot) summit of Everest for the third time.
He will camp at Gorakshep at 5,150 meters, away from the hundreds of Everest climbers in the usual tent city at base camp.
The new route crosses the foothills of Nuptse adjoining an unnamed peak, and Batard and his team will have to descend if they want to rejoin the regular route at Western Cwm.
“We have already defined part of the route… Batard is a strong and experienced climber, so we hope we can succeed,” said teammate Pasang Nuru Sherpa, 47, who has climbed Everest 14 times.
Batard and Sherpa, 47, will both be joined by their sons – aged 26 and 42 – on the expedition.
If successful, Batard will break the record set by Italian mountaineer Abele Blanc, who reached the summit of Everest in 2010 at the age of 55 without oxygen.
The oldest person to climb Everest on oxygen was Japanese mountaineer Yuichiro Miura. He was 80 when he reached the summit in 2013.
With the end of the coronavirus pandemic, expedition operators in Nepal are hoping for a better climbing season this year.
Kathmandu only reopened Everest last year after the virus ended the mountaineering industry in 2020.
The Tibetan side of Everest continues to be closed to foreigners, possibly adding more climbers to the Nepalese side.
So far this season, Nepal has issued 135 climbing permits for various Himalayan mountains, including seven for Everest.