Four veteran Sherpa climbers left on Monday for Mount Everest on a mission to climb the world’s highest mountain in five days from the Nepali side, aiming to set a record for its shortest winter ascent in nearly three decades, hiking officials said.
If successful, the team led by 34-year-old Tashi Lakpa Sherpa, who has climbed Everest eight times, will be the first to climb the 8,850-metre (29,035-ft) peak in 27 years during winter, when freezing cold and shorter daylight hours make climbing difficult.
"We know it is extremely risky and difficult to climb Sagarmatha during the winter, but we are very well acclimatised and prepared for this," Sherpa told reporters, using the name by which Nepalis refer to Mount Everest.
"Ours is a strong team and we have confidence that we can do it," he added, before flying in a helicopter to base camp at Everest.
Temperatures in the death zone of Everest, so-called because of thin air above its South Col, can drop as low as to -40 degrees C in winter, making climbing more challenging and risky than the popular spring season, say hiking officials.
[Click https://tmsnrt.rs/2r5hOS3 for an interactive graphic on last year's deadly spring climbing season.]
The last winter ascent of the mountain dates to 1993, and many winter expeditions since have failed to reach the top, said Mira Acharya, an official of Nepal's tourism department.
Climbers usually spend several weeks on Everest acclimatising and preparing for summit bids, but compressing that into five days is very challenging and risky, said Shanta Bir Lama, the chief of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.
Last year was Everest's deadliest since 2015, with 11 climbers, most of them Indian, dying, nine on the Nepali side and two on the Tibetan side.
Since Everest was first summitted by New Zealand beekeeper Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953, about 5,000 people have reached the top, but more than 300 people have died on its slopes.
Two teams from Germany and Spain are now on Everest battling cold weather, hiking officials said.