Climate change threatens Himalayas

Four Nepali mountain climbers trade stories Tuesday at the Save the Himalayas rally held near the United Nations. The rally was held to raise awareness about Nepal's changing climate. Photo by Kathryn Kattalia

Nima Gombu Sherpa lives on top of the world. Rolbaling, his village, is tucked away in the folds of the Himalayan Mountains that cascade through northern Nepal.

But he fears his home is disappearing.

“I have been climbing for many years, but every year something changes,” Sherpa said. “There is less and less snow, and you see the ice melting.”

Sherpa’s life revolves around the snow-capped peak of Mt. Everest. He makes his living guiding climbers to its frozen summit, and he has reached its peak 15 times since 1993. The whiteness that surrounds him is his means of survival — his village depends on melting glaciers for water.

Sherpa and more than 100 Nepalese environmentalists, ambassadors and mountaineers concerned about the effect climate change is having on the Himalayas, rallied in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near the United Nations, yesterday, hoping to draw the attention of 140 world leaders and diplomats gathered for a meeting of the UN’s General Assembly. Chanting in both English and Nepali, the crowd’s message was simple: Save the Himalayas.

“The Himalayas are one of the treasures of the world,” said Siddhartha Bajracharya, executive officer of Nepal’s National Trust for Nature Conservation. “They are our soul.”

Ang Chhiring, who coordinated the rally, said he has seen firsthand the impact climate change has had on the mountain range. In 2003, Chhiring, a general assignment reporter with the Kantipur Daily newspaper in Nepal, became the first journalist from South Asia to summit Mt. Everest.

“The Himalayas are snowy mountains, but the snow is melting, the glaciers are disappearing and the rivers are drying up,” he said.

Chhiring said he organized the rally to raise awareness and to pull Nepal back into a global discussion that he believes has lost focus.

“We have to get our voices out,” Chhiring said. “Our lives depend on the Himalayas.”

Stretching through Southeast Asia, the mountain range is home to the world’s highest peaks, making it a topographical hot spot for climbers and geographers. It is also the sole supply of water for 1.3 billion people.

Bajracharya explained that increased rainfall and flooding is already disrupting patterns in agriculture, the area’s main source of income. He fears the worst changes are yet to come.

“Nepal is one of the least carbon-emitting countries, and yet 15,000 glaciers are melting,” Bajracharya said. “Glacier lakes are enlarging and are in danger of bursting. If they burst, thousands of tons of water will flood. Our regular supply of water will disappear. It will impact all people.”

A.C. Sherpa, another climber, grew up admiring the whiteness of the Himalayas. Born in the tiny northeast Nepali village of Tapting, he moved to Seattle, Wash., when he was 14. After he returned to Nepal last May, Sherpa broke a world record by climbing Mt. Everest in 42 days. It was a bittersweet moment, he said.

“It’s very different,” he said. “When I was 12 years old, I went to the base camp of Mt. Everest and it was full of snow. Now there’s nothing. It’s like a burned-out hill, just a rocky mountain.”

A.C. Sherpa said he does not plan on attempting Everest again. Instead, he chose to focus on protecting the mountains he loves.

“I’m not only thinking about myself as a climber,” he said. “I’m thinking about future generations.”

Dressed in a “Save the Himalayas” t-shirt worn over a black suit, acclaimed mountaineer Appa Sherpa shook hands with rally-goers after speaking at the UN Tuesday morning about the impact of climate change in Nepal. Appa Sherpa holds the record for reaching the summit of Mt. Everest more than any other person — he’s made it 20 times. He is now a UN ambassador for the Southeast Asian Regional Council.

“This is an issue that affects not just our nation, but the entire world,” he said. “It needs to be addressed.”

Chhiring said the next step is to continue spreading his message to a global audience. He plans to organize similar events in other countries in the coming year.

“People need to listen to why we are here,” he said.



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AC Sherpa says:

Dear Kathryn Kattalia,

Thank you for your article and little error about climbing 42 days! I climbed seven summits within 42 climbing days in the world and seven summits is seven highest mountains in each continent.

I am climbing Mt. Everest again on May 2011, like to acomplish 3 times in one season window. please join me through or

Thank you,

AC Sherpa

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