This month, three Scouts, battling wind and snow, reached the summit of Mount Everest to fly the flags of Scouting from the top of the world’s highest mountain. Having completed the ascent from Everest’s south side two years ago, becoming the first Nepalese Scout to make the climb, this time Scout leader Anish Luitel decided to approach the summit from the north face. Battling a white-out, the 24-year-old was the first of the Scouts to make it to the summit this climbing season, reaching the top on May 14 at 11.35am and in the process becoming one of only 543 people to have climbed the mountain from both sides. The mountaineer said he wanted to take on the challenge to “show the adventure spirit of the Scouts and to feel the real adventure.” At the peak, he unfurled the flag of Nepal Scouts and next year’s World Scout Jamboree, which will be held at Summit Bechtel Reserve in the United States. His climb was sponsored by the Northern Star Council, one of the largest councils in the Boy Scouts of America. Second to the top, and flying the flags of the World Organization of the Scout Movement and the Messengers of Peace, was Prakash Raj Pandey who reached the summit via the south route at 11.30am two days after Luitel. A fellow Scout leader from Nepal, Pandey also took the opportunity to unfurl his country’s flag.
“I was beyond the limit of happiness,” Pandey said in a statement after returning to base camp. “Of course, I was tired but I was feeling a different kind of energy from my inner heart. I can say it was the spirit of Scouting. Even though I had tears in my eyes, I was so happy.”
The official climbing season for Everest, which is 8,848 metres high, lasts for only a few weeks each spring. This year more than 700 people reached the summit (about 476 from the Nepal side and 239 from the north side in Tibet), making it the most successful season in five years. Among them was 29-year-old Henrique Scalco Franke, a Scout from the south of Brazil who reached the summit just after midnight on May 19, becoming the 19th Brazilian to achieve the feat. Franke didn’t start mountaineering seriously until 2013, but had already reached the top of six other mountains, including the 6,962 metre Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest peak in South America, before he embarked on his Everest expedition. It took Franke some 11 hours to reach the top of Everest from his final camp, climbing with an Australian and a Sherpa guide. Although the climbing season takes place during a time when the weather is more stable, the altitude means conditions on the mountain remain extremely unpredictable. Luitel, who was climbing without a Sherpa and following a rope-fixing team, found the winds far stronger on the northern approach than on the southern route, and the entire climb a lot more challenging. Partly, that was because there was a lot more rock above 8,300 metres. But also because of the low oxygen levels.
“It’s difficult to walk on rock wearing crampons,” he said. “I remember I was walking on the rock and I saw right down (the) north col from 8,500 metres, and it was windy and the rope was moving. I think you can imagine how I felt.”
The 24-year-old first attempted Everest in 2015, reaching Camp Two, but after a massive avalanche caused by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck on April 25 that year, was airlifted out of the region. Luitel was in the dining tent with other members of his expedition when he was buried by the snow, and was pulled to safety by some Sherpa friends. Avalanche risks and high winds also created challenges for Pandey, who was climbing with a Sherpa guide, and arrived at Base Camp (5,360 metres) on April 19. He used that time to acclimatise, practising ice climbing, how to use oxygen and how to cope with problems arising from high altitude mountaineering. The team had to abandon their first summit push because the wind was too strong, retreating to Camp Three at 7,000 metres to try again the next day. Reaching the summit with his guide, Chiring Bhote Lama, was a “dream come true” for Pandey, who wore his Messengers of Peace scarf throughout his expedition. Northern Star sponsored Luitel, a Scout leader in Nepal, to help boost the visibility of the Movement worldwide, and to “demonstrate the adventure of Scouting.” Luitel will serve as an International Scouting Ambassador for the council and share his adventures with the region’s Scouts and wider community when he visits the US in the summer. Pandey, meanwhile, also hopes to inspire more Scouts to adventure after becoming only the second Scout from Nepal to scale the peak.
“I believe the flags I flew on the top of the world spread the message of peace all over the world,” Pandey said. “Together we can create a better world.”