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Apr 212014
 

Juniper smkoe at the Puja alterClick here for latest full update

The serac collapse into the Khumbu Icefall last Friday has not only taken at least 16 lives, s it has changed Everest climbing forever.

Emotions and relations are tense today at Everest Base Camp with Sherpas presenting the Ministry of Tourism a set of 13 demands ranging from improved insurance to improved pay as part of the millions the government earns from permits each year.

Teams are currently on hold waiting for the Ministry to respond to the demands, search They gave a date of 7 days or April 28, 2014 or they will stop climbing. Already, climbing has been halted for a period of mourning. Plus bad weather stopped all further efforts to search for bodies in the icefall. Some Sherpas, but not all, returned to their homes which are normally less than a days walk from base camp.

If enough of the largest commercial teams cancel their season, the smaller teams will be encouraged to leave as well. In 2012, Russell Brice, Himex, canceled his season on May 1 after his Sherpas expressed significant concern about passing underneath the same area that released last Friday. He has 43 members and Sherpa climbing on Everest and Lhotse this year.

UPDATE: late Monday in Nepal, Alpine Ascents (AAI) announced they were ending their Everest 2014 season. AAI had  a large part in supporting the logistics team supporting Joby Ogwyn wingsuit attempt plus had Sherpas killed in the serac collapse. They had 12 members, 2 guides plus and employed more than 20 Sherpa.

Climbing on the north side of Everest continues with teams already at Advanced Base Camp but the Chinese are refusing entry and permits for climbers not already in Tibet or on their target mountain. This has been ongoing for several weeks. In essence this will leave south side climbers without the option to switch to the north side unless Beijing changes it’s mind. – end update.

Wingsuit Jump Broadcast Canceled

NBC Universal, Peacock Productions announced late Sunday night that the wingsuit jump off Everest’s summit has been canceled out of respect for the victims of the serace collapse. There is a report that Ogwyn wants to do the jump anyway but it will not be televised.

Donations

The Ministry of Tourism had previously announced an immediate payment of $400 to cover burial expenses for each family of the Sherpa victims. For 2014, life insurance for each Sherpa was increased to US $10,000 from $4,000. The Nepal government collected US $3,107,700 for the Everest 2104 season.

Multiple funds have been established to accept donations supporting the Sherpa families.

  • The American Alpine Club has established a fund to help the Sherpa families.
  • The Juniper Fund is accepting donations
  • The Khumbu Climbing Center is accepting donations
  • Himalayan Trust in New Zealand
  • Sherpa Education Fund

Sherpa Demands

The demands from the Sherpas are wide ranging and include:

• Increment of immediate relief announced for avalanche victims

• Provide Rs 10 million (US$103,590)  each to families of d

• Set up a memorial park in the name of the d in Kathmandu

• Cover all expenses for ment of the injured

• Provide Rs 10 million (US$103,590) to critically hurt who cannot rejoin mountaineering activities

• Set up mountaineering relief fund with 30 per cent of royalty collected from issuing permits to different mountains (est $1M for 2014)

• Double the insurance amount to the mountaineering workers

• Provide additional chopper rescue to mountaineering support staff if insurance fails to cover the cost

• Provide perks and salaries, except summit bonus, through concerned agencies to Sherpas if they want to call off climbing this season

• Manage chopper to bring logistics and equipment from different camps if mountaineers decide to abandon climbing this season

• Don’t take action against SPCC icefall doctors if they refuse to fix ropes and ladders on the route this season

• Let the expedition members to call off this season’s climbing if they wish so

A Difficult Trade-off

The environment at Everest Base Camp remains very somber now with a further umbrella of uncertainty. Some Sherpa are willing to continue accepting the risks as are some foreigners; others have already left base camp never intending to climb again.

Tourism is the lifeblood for Nepal but everyone from climbers to yak herders wants a safe and clean environment. Simply stopping climbing on Everest or any of the dangerous Himalayan mountains would have a severe impact on Nepal.

Clearly, the loss of life is unacceptable and I know of no climber who would ever callously risk the life of a Sherpa, guide or teammate for a summit.

Alternatives

Alternatives to preventing a similar event such as an ice serac collapse range from none to few and each have implications with complicated consequences.

The nature of an ice serac prevents it from being “removed” by blasting as is done in ski resorts due to the remote location, uncertain terrain, unpredictable results of a blast not to mention Everest, and many other mountain in the Himalaya, are consider sacred and blasting would probably not be acceptable.

Simply not passing underneath the so-called “objective danger” is another alternative but the reality is that the route through the Khumbu Icefall adjacent to Everest’s West Shoulder is the safest route to access Everest from the Nepal side.

Reducing the number of passes is probably the solution to reduce exposure and this could be accomplished by acclimatizing on other Himalayan peaks so as not to reduce the money spent in Nepal and work for the porters and Sherpas. Many teams already utilize this strategy including IMG, Peak Freaks, and Himex. However, even this scenario requires multiple passes in high risk areas, something unavoidable when climbing any 8000m mountain.

Reducing the number of trips for Sherpas is a good strategy. One way to eliminate some trips would be to simplify the camps above base camp, reducing the amount of oxygen used thus the number of cylinders required, or by asking each climber to carry their own stove and fuel. This would increase the risk for the climbers but also require them to be more self sufficient, experienced and prepared.

Using helicopters to ferry climbers and supplies directly to the Western Cwm thus avoiding the icefall altogether has been discussed but it would be dangerous as helicopters are generally stripped down to a minimum weight when flying at those altitudes so it would require multiple flights, each with it’s own risks, as well as an enormous expense. Remember these are altitude above 20,000’/6000m, higher than the summit of Denali, or Mont Blanc. If note, this was proposed by some operators for 2014 but turned down by the Ministry of Tourism.

Of course by reducing the number of climbers, the number of Sherpas would also be reduced thus lowering the number of people exposed to objective dangers.

Finally, reducing the number of Sherpa supporting the climbers would reduce the total of Sherpas exposed to the dangers. Since 2000, the number of Sherpas summiting Everest compared to foreigners has risen to 2.3 Sherpa to member, almost twice what it was in the 1990s.

In almost every scenario the number of Sherpas required to work on Everest each season would be reduced, thus lowering their income and increasing some risks in general.

An unintended consequence of making the Nepal side more expensive or with less support would be to encourage people to climb from the Tibet side. The Nepal side is more popular with 4416 summits than the Tibet with 2455 summits and overall 262 people (161 westerners and 101 Sherpas) have died on Everest from 1924 to 2014, 154 on the Nepal side and 108 from Tibet. There has been a measurable increase in the number of deaths of both members and Sherpa on the Nepal side since 2009.

Formula

The current formula for commercial guiding on Everest and other popular mountains around the world is based on a high level of support, advanced oxygen and other technologies, sophisticated weather forecasting, known routes and professional guides.

This formula has opened mountains to people otherwise unqualified to attempt them independently. It has created an economic model where customers get what they want, and well paying jobs are created for the local population when compared to the nearby alternatives.

All this said, the risk are real, and tragic with long term devastation to families of the fallen. No job anywhere of any type is worth a person’s life.

The only true solution to preventing deaths of Sherpas, members, and guides is to stop climbing. Increasing pay and insurance, while justified, will not save lives.

I want to express again my own personal sorrow at the loss of life and express my deepest sympathies for the families.

Alan
Memories are Everything

  85 Responses to “Everest 2014: Tragedy Overwhelms Everest”

  1.  

    The tallest mountain on the planet where humans say to themselves, “I think I will climb this mountain.”
    Hillary said it, and hundreds of people say it and dare to pursue this dream.

    The first time I saw mountaineers lined up waiting,as if they were at Epcot center,Disney Land, or the Worlds fair I felt sick.
    Waiting for there time in the spot light–A Look at me Look what I did Only 40 sherpas were needed to haul all my stuff and cook for me/fastening ropes/hauling the oxygen that I will breath b/c I am in the danger zone.

    Minimum-climbing experience must be attained -to even dream about Summit.

    A young women climbed to the top (summit) reached her goal–had never climbed seriously, she dies on the way down—
    A tragedy, maybe preventable if certain standards were maintained.
    There are people on the mountain—-they have no serious effort preparing to climb this Mt.Like the rides at Disney land say, “You must be this tall to ride”

    Mt Everest needs a sign.
    sophie

  2.  

    Alan, Is it ethical for a human to pay someone else to risk their lives so that the human can achieve a goal?

    •  

      Alan – your coverage has been just incredible, fair, open, balanced and caring. Despite how difficult it must be I am so glad you are there for others during this difficult time. Thanks
      Mike Madden
      Ps – when things settle down we will make the trip back to London in honor of global Alzheimer’s community

    •  

      This is human histoty… Yes, it definitely is.

  3.  

    In the 90s wasn’t the route through the ice fields different, more vertical and more technical? and didn’t go directly through the field. It seems they have the current route because it is easier for the current crop of members, many whom I believe shouldn’t be on the mountain, have limited experience and are really just Eco tourists putting everyone at risk. The bottom line is there are too many people on Everest.

    •  

      Toni, no, todays route through the Khumbu Icefall is very similar to what Hillary and Tenzing used in 1953. It is just as hard today as it was back then. It shifts side to side depending on the year and this year, 2014, the Icefall Doctors put it more to the center trying to anticipate a collapse of the ice serac on the West Shoulder. But if the collapse is so massive, the route location is somewhat immaterial.

  4.  

    Ellen
    I really appreciate your very compassionate and down to earth and up to mountain perspective. Yes the Sherpas didn’t die doing what they love, they died because they were doing their job. There is no right or wrong on this and there is danger in all we do from the sacred to the mundane to the possibly insane. And the trade-off for risk is money. For you it is adventure and achievement and likely other things which I do not fully know.. Your heart and soul are good and though deeply hurting still hopeful to make things better for all. All we can say in a comment or blog is platitudes. I look forward to your coming home and seeing my friend Ellen again
    Love
    Rhonda

  5.  

    Alan, I love your blog. This was a very fair account of what is going on currently on Everest.

  6.  

    BBC, AFP mentioning seazon has been called off after meetings

  7.  

    Ubuntu Everest team just posted this update from EBC, they are with Asian Trekking:

    “SARAY from EVEREST BASE CAMP. The sherpas are really angry that the government did not send any representatives after the tragedy and are now using this as a way to force the hand of the government. We have been advised to stay in our camp and use some of the surounding mountains to acclimatise. We do not feel threatened at all at the moment but as soon as the situation changes, I will have to make a call and abandon the expedition. Today they had the puja ceremony for the dead. There seems to be a mob that is pushing for the closure of the season. The difference is that Assian Trekking sherpas are full time employees and were given time off after the tragedy. The free lance sherpas are mainly the ones causing the riot. Will keep you updated but tomorrow a few of us are going back to pumori for another acclimatisation hike.”

    Thought some people may find it interesting on here.

  8.  

    I find it rather disgusting that the Western climbers are happy to sit around in BC conserving energy and reaping the rewards of the hard work and risks undertaken by the Sherpa. They are quite happy to tie into fix ropes all the way to the top and to strap on another oxygen cylinder carried by somebody else to a higher camp, but when it comes to shouldering some of the inherent dangers of multiple trips through the danger areas, the Western dollar is king. I am sure if it was an option, some of these members would be willing to pay for a piggy back up and down.

    16 brave lives cut short, my sympathy to the family and friends of the lost and the real climbers of Everest.

    •  

      So the Western climbers forced the “real” climbers to do this job? They pointed a gun at them or a knife? This was not a choice made by those who agreed to do the job for that evil Western dollar? No doubt they could have easily made as much money milking yaks or picking weeds so it is sad they were forced into this high risk job.

      •  

        Fred,
        You are absolutely right, the Sherpa risk their lives for money and too support their families. My point is, the paying member can afford not too or at least limiting the dangers to themselves as part of their package deal. The fact the Sherpa are not forced is irrelevant.

  9.  

    We clearly have the technology to fly people to the Cwm and should do so!
    The vast majority of “climbers” (and I use this term loosely) on Everest every season have little or no mountaineering skill and have virtually paid for a summit, go home, then prattle on about what “heroes” they are. Fly these idiots to the Cwm and save good, decent sherpa lives!!

  10.  

    Another sensitive and thoughtful post. Thank goodness we have bloggers like you Alan– real insight and understanding.

  11.  

    @Ellen-I am encouraged by your position and hope it is shared by everyone @ EBC.

  12.  

    Heli lift the majority of kit past the Khumbu Icefall and minimise what does go up the hill.

  13.  

    It’s a sad day when climbers are killed (and I consider Sherpa climbers). Unfortunately, it’s part of the game. I’ve been a climber for decades, and objective hazards are just part of the risk, if you want to climb. They all knew that, and they all put it aside to be there.
    My feelings about the zoo on Everest has been, once again, reinforced. Everest is dangerous, period. Everyone from the guides, to the members, government officials and even the Sherpa are responsible for this level of tragedy. By level, I refer to the number of simultaneous deaths.

    Guides sell a product that anyone with a enough bucks can . Sherpa are put in position to make big bucks if they put risk aside (consider how many times they run that gauntlet the icefall). The government officials squeeze every dime out of it they can and promote it.

    Point is, the culture and system has existed for a long time now where cash not competence will get you to the top of Everest (and many other peaks). All it takes is enough money and hand-holding by Sherpa and/or a guide. In my opinion if you can’t get to the top without someone carrying your stove for you, you shouldn’t be there. That and demonstrated competence in self-rescue, anchors, wilderness first-aid, the list is long. Too many people climbing big mountains are just paying for the ride and have little business being there. They pose a risk to everyone around them. If I had enough cash I could claim to have driven in the Indy 500. Difference is that Indy car driving has minimum criteria to get near the car.

    I really wish guide services would put a stop to their “come one come all” bus trips, and implement some better minimum standards for these trips. It would reduce the ridiculous numbers and reduce the probability of these large accidents. It reduce the number of Sherpa per member if the members were more competent, and the necessity of so many trips.
    On the flip side no one should be shocked. It was a matter of time. Look back a the ’96 season, K2 2008, or any number of bad accidents. That’s life in the mountains, but has anything been learned or changed? Not on Everest it seems.
    Yes it’s sad, and tragic, and as a climber it’s heart breaking, and to a large degree It was also avoidable.
    Alan if you choose not to allow this comment I understand. Some may deem it untimely, but so are the deaths of the victims. At some point, this is a topic that needs to be taken up among the climbing community.

    My sincerest condolences to all the families and their loved ones.

  14.  

    Dear Allen,

    Thank you for sharing this great article and hope to heard more changes. I have 100% support for climbing sherpas, all these guiding companies must carry insurance same as western standard to their hard working lives. Human being everyone should treated equally, take care for there families left behind and respect o p p. Last year incident at the base cause by those two climber, lie whole thing and made movie saying Sherpas are potters. These movie should not be allow, it needs to stop, it will cause lots damage between future climbing world and more problems.

    I am hearing lots of negatives information’s from Colorado Sherpas, New York, California and other part of the World. We need to learn, help each others in the climbing world and lead example like Sir Edmond Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa. After all it’s team work, not individual sport.

    I am happy about the decision made by those big companies to pull back. Who should not make poor decision call mountain, being safer than sorry.

    Thank you again,

  15.  

    Alan, great perspective and appreciate the “back story”. Thoughts and prayers to the Sherpa families and those injured.

  16.  

    Alan, thanks for the great article. I’m curious…how did the climbers trapped in the cwm get back down to base camp with no route fixed in the ice fall?

  17.  

    To Carlene, this tragic accident was not a message from this spectacular Mtn. It was not “revenge” as has been suggested in one crazy FB post. It is not “nature vs man”, Carlene. It was a tragic accident, a perfect storm in a sense with a ladder out and people backing up in a dangerous spot. We all feel devastated by this loss of life. The Sherpas died doing a dangerous job. To say they died “doing what they loved” romanticizes this horrible accident. They were, instead, doing a very dangerous job which brings lots of money into Nepal. Their families need to be appropriately compensated by the govt. I pray that their demands will be met as do so many of my fellow climbers. We are hopeful.

  18.  

    As one of the climbers sitting at EBC……waiting……I am addressing Weston’s comments above. Weston, you need to know that teams (both leaders and western climbers) are fully supportive of the amazing Sherpas. In my group, there has been only support and encouragement for our Sherpas to make independent decisions about whether they wish to continue; our team is still unsure and we wait. I have seen only solidarity between Sherpas and western climbers. Personally if I were asked to walk away from this once in a lifetime expedition as a way to guarantee a positive response from the Nepali govt to Sherpa requests, I would do so in a second. Weston, you are way off base to suggest that we are trying to influence the Sherpas for our personal gain.