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Veteran French climber seeks new Everest route and record

A 70-year-old French climber is aiming 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 lethal Khumbu Icefall that all climbers must cross to reach the world’s highest peak from the Nepal side. The treacherous, ever-shifting expanse of glacial ice that requires climbers to navigate crevasses over rickety ladders has claimed more than 40 lives.

In 2014, a huge block of ice broke off a hanging glacier and barreled down into the icefall, killing 16 Nepali guides in one of the worst tragedies at Everest. “Too many people have died there,” Batard told AFP in Kathmandu before setting off. “This project is not only for me. I am very happy to climb Everest again. But I want to use my reputation to do some good things… This new route is not easy but it is safer,” he said.

Batard was 18 when he discovered mountaineering, climbing the Pyrenees that straddle the border of 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 reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain without bottled oxygen in under 24 hours. His solo 22.5-hour climb earned him the nickname “Sprinter”. Batard also made headlines in the 1980s for speed climbing several 8,000-metre mountains.

French mountaineer Marc Batard prepares his equipment before an interview with AFP in Kathmandu.

Recently back from retirement, Batard now hopes to reach the 8,848.86-metre (29,031 feet) summit of Everest for a third time. He will camp in Gorakshep at 5,150 meters, away from hundreds of Everest climbers in the usual tent city at base camp.

The new route crosses the foothills of adjoining Nuptse to an unnamed peak, and Batard along with his team will have to climb down if they want to join the regular route at the Western Cwm. “We’ve already set a part of the route… Batard is a strong and experienced climber, so we hope we can be successful,” said teammate Pasang Nuru Sherpa, 47, who has summited 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 climber Abele Blanc, who reached the Everest summit in 2010 aged 55 without oxygen support.

The oldest person to climb Everest with oxygen support was Japanese climber Yuichiro Miura. He was 80 when he scaled the peak in 2013. With the coronavirus pandemic winding down, expedition operators in Nepal are hopeful of a better climbing season this year. Kathmandu only reopened Everest last year after the virus shut down the mountaineering industry in 2020. The Tibetan part of Everest continues to be closed to foreigners, possibly adding more climbers to the Nepal side. Nepal has so far this season issued 135 climbing permits for various Himalayan mountains, including seven for Everest. – AFP


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