Click for site home
The Blog on alanarnette.com
Climbing the World to End Alzheimer's
Apr 022014
 
Icefall Doctors on Everest

Icefall Doctors Working

It has been a difficult start for the hard working Sherpa on Everest 2014 with one death and and a separate serious accident.

Tim Ripple, owner of Canadian guide service Peak Freaks, just reported the death of one of his Sherpa team, Mingma Tenzing.

Tim reported that Mingma was not feeling well and was treated by the doctors at Himalayan Rescue Clinic. They had him evacuated to Kathmandu where he died at the hospital from apparent pulmonary edema.

Tim reported:

Yesterday afternoon he was at Everest Base camp working with the rest of the team organizing base camp when he complained of not feeling well. Tashi Tunde Sherpa, our Sirdar, organized getting him down to Pheriche to the HRA clinic. The doctors there determined he had the onset of HAPE – high altitude pulmonary edema. Now too dark for helicopter rescue, he was kept at the clinic under the care of the medical team who held his hand throughout the night. At first light he was lifted by helicopter and flown to Kathmandu. Karsung Sherpa our base manager met him at the airport and took a video of him walking with the oxygen bottle to the ambulance and showed this to me at the Ministry office. My first thought was one of relief, he can walk!  he looks good! he’ll be okay! 
 
A few hours went by with the formalities and I get a call that Mingma Tenzing Sherpa from Namche Bazaar had passed away. They could not control the fluid that kept building in his lungs no matter how hard they tried. 
 
We are in complete disbelief. This reminds us once again just how serious AMS – (acute mountain sickness) is. Even with all the knowledge, medicene, clinics, awareness, conditioning and helicopters, you cannot guarantee no one will die from the affects of altitude. Mingma was young and strong and lives at altitude.
This is a major blow to the Peak Freaks family as, like all operators, their Sherpa team is family.
 
My deep and sincere condolences to Mingma’s family and the Peak Freaks team.

IceFall Doctor Hurt

Just before the news from Peak Freaks I received news from an on-scene, reliable source that one of the Icefall Doctors fixing the line in the Khumbu Icefall has fallen into a crevasse near Camp 1.

He is reported to have broken his leg and was carried back down to Everest Base Camp where he will spend tonight then airlifted by helicopter to Kathmandu for treatment. No names have been released.

Sadly, it seems the Icefall Doctors are getting hurt more often these days. Last year, Mingmar Sherpa died after falling into a crevasse between Camps 1 and 2 in the Western Cwm. He was 45 years-old and was  from Goratapting of Solukhumbu. He lived in Dingboche with his wife and son. He had been an Icefall Doctor for nine years.

And in January 2013, long time leader of the Icefall Doctors, Ang Nima Sherpa, died at his home in Pangboche at age 59 in January.There is a BBC film crew doing a documentary on the work of the Icefall Doctors in 2014 so we will probably see exactly what happened this time.

The Doctors are a small team of Sherpa who are paid to set the fixed line from Base Camp to Camp 2 plus the ladders that cross the deep crevasses.

The Icefall can move up to three feet a day in the 2,000 foot high Khumbu Icefall so it requires constant monitoring and adjustment in April and May when climbers and Sherpa are doing rotations to the higher camps for acclimatization and establishing the higher camps.

The crevasses in the Western Cwm are notoriously deep and can be hidden by fragile snow bridges after heavy snow. In 2001, Babu Chiri Sherpa died after falling into a crevasse near Camp 2.

My best wishes that this Sherpa recovers quickly.

Climb On

Alan

Memories are Everything

Alzheimer’s kills more Americans each year than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined (source: UsAgainstAlzheimer's)
Alzheimer's disease is the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed

  13 Responses to “Everest 2014: Sherpa Dies, Another Hurt – updated”

  1. R.I.P. Mingma Tenzing :( and all the best wishes and a speedy recovery to the Sherpa who fell #Heroes

  2. Hi Nancy
    I was also an armchair mountain climber but now in my 50’s climb non technical climbs such as Kilimanjaro in Tanzania or Mont Blanc from Chamonix in France. Very enjoyable, and achievable with easily attainable levels of fitness. AMS on these climbs can be avoidable to a certain extent with careful acclimatisation over a period of days paying close attention to your incredibly skilled and dedicated mountain guides.
    Love the blog. Always informative and enjoyable.

    • Thanks for the insight, Vin. I am 50 this year and will keep fit. Someday I will trek base camp.

  3. Alan, I am an armchair mountain climber. Thanks for the time and effort you take to make this the best blog site out there.
    Question about HAPE. How is it possible that someone can live and work in a higher altitude come down with this? Especially since he was not even high on the mountain. One day I dream of trekking to base camp. Most of the trips say great for a beginner. I am physically fit, able to walk several miles per day. I have second thoughts now. Can you shed some more light on this subject?

    • Nancy, I like to say that altitude is random. A climber can go for years never have a problem and then one year develop HAPE, HACE or AMS. Sherpa are people too, and are not immune to altitude issues. The best strategy is to acclimatize slowly and at the first sigh of trouble, descend quickly. Clearly, I was not there for this situation but from afar, it appears everyone did the best they possibly could. My sincere condolences to all involved.

      • Thanks for your response, Alan. My thoughts are with them, also. I am hoping to one day experience Everest BC. Thanks again for all you do for Alzheimer’s research.

    • It sounds like Mingma had some very unfortunate timing. Like Alan said, the best remedy for any form of AMS is to descend, but by the time he had been diagnosed, it was too late for a helicopter rescue and I don’t think you can easily get significantly lower in elevation by hiking away from EBC, not unless you hike for a while.

      AMS is tough, but I wouldn’t let it dissuade you from trekking in the Himalaya Nancy. I suspect the most dangerous part of a trekking trip in the Himalaya is driving to the airport back in the states. Besides, serious AMS can happen way lower than Everest Base Camp. You just never know. A few years ago we had a super fit climber on Mt. Shasta succumb to HACE after bivvying on the summit, only 14K ft. There’s an excellent analysis by the victims partner here: http://www.summitpost.org/against-all-hope-life-partnership-and-loss-on-mt-shasta/626323#Recount

      • I want to be clear that I don’t know if acclimatization, schedule, etc. had any impact on Mingma’s HAPE. The staff at the clinic where he was treated is world-class. As Mark say, it can happen at any altitude above 8,000′ to anyone, anywhere, anytime

        Dr. Peter Hacket has the best site for this conversation and is the world expert on altitude issues. http://www.high-altitude-medicine.com/

      • Mark, what a sad story. Thank you for the link it was well written and informative. Read it twice, in fact.

  4. Hey Alan,
    Thanks for the update. In general, do you know if the Ice fall doctors clip in?? In the icefall, I really didn’t see many of the Sherpas clip in unless it was a ladder crossing as it takes a lot of time to clip and then un-clip hundreds of times each time when venturing into the icefall…

    • As you saw Zach, the Sherpa can skip some safety steps in the interest of moving quickly as they make so many rotations through the Icefall.I know that the Sidars stress safety but with so many new and young Sherpa, it can be difficult.

      • If clipping in saves lives it should be made mandatory. And from my own arm chair I’d suggest if the technology to do so fast by all needs reconsideration so be it. Knowing it saves lives I think that all within a dangerous work environment like the Ice fall need be told you clip in or you’re fired.

  5. Sad. Like any dangerous, but routine endeavor, it’s the more experienced folks that seem to be at greater risk. I receive mine fatality reports every week and you almost never see the greenhorns getting killed. Always a guy with 10+ years of experience (and not uncommonly 25+). It’s hard to not get complacent when you do the same thing year in and year out, however dangerous it might be. Maybe this relatively minor injury will serve to ramp up the alert-level for all the other Ice Docs and it will be the only injury of the icefall fixing project this season. I hope that is the case. (I also hope the guy with the broken leg gets some sort of income for his efforts. No doubt his family was depending heavily on this job.)