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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.  

    Om mani padme hum. Sweetest blessings to those souls lost, and to all out there this season. Don’t stay away from that magnificence, but please be as safe as is possible.

  2.  

    Maybe the mountains are trying to tell us all something? I really do see all the many peoples views. I would like to do what you all do, but for some the risk is not worth the trip. Nature verses man. I feel sad for the loss but they were all doing something they loved. Thank you all for sharing.

  3.  

    I loved the article (very complete)

  4.  

    Found this tweet with an interesting video of climbing thru the Khumbu Ice Falls… https://twitter.com/ClimbForMemory/status/458282826899914752

    Again, thanks Alan for the updates and blessings to all who have lost family and those who continue on.

  5.  

    As an Everest summiter in 2008, I too hope that Sherpa requests are respected. My hope is that those, Sherpa and member climbers, who wish to continue can do so after careful risk assessment. My heart goes out to the families of those who were killed, lost, or injured, and to the climbers who have prepared hard for what is for many the time of a lifetime. I will always be grateful to those Sherpas, guides, and fellow member climbers who supported my own climb of a lifetime.

  6.  

    I am a climber and there is an unexplainable calling and passion for the mountains. Mountain climbing is dangerous business. As tragic as this is, I hope the Sherpas requests are met and climbing for those who can manage it continue on with all respect to those lost.

  7.  

    On this occasion I have nothing of value to add except to thank you Alan for your sensitive musings on this dreadful tragedy on Everest. We must all be sensible and not jump to any conclusions or decisions regarding Everest and the future. I believe it must all be left to those whose lives will be affected by the tragedy together with the relevant government authorities. I just hope it can be sorted peacably and sensibly after allowing the raw emotions to ease a little. Cheers Kate

  8.  

    A question regarding the possible effect from helicopter rotor wash: Do the rotors’ gale force winds and/or percussive vibrations increase the risk of snow avalanches or serac releases? If so, does this dictate flight routes up and down the mountain, etc? Just curious, and realize you may be far too busy to answer, but always appreciate your insight.

    •  

      Carolyn, I don’t know but snow avalanches can be triggered by almost anything, including people walking across a slope so having a helicopter nearby is probably not a good thing in a fragile area…

      •  

        I understand their importance when evacuating the sick and injured, but was just thinking about it. Thanks so much for your response.

  9.  

    I wonder if this will make a major shit towards the North side? Granted, its colder, dustier, way longer, but it has less objective danger. Am I wrong about that, Alan?

    •  

      Perhaps Charles but the north has become harder in recent years with less snow and as you say it is colder and windier. There have been snow avalanches o that side including in 1922 that killed 7 Sherpa so it is certainly not “safe”. Something strange is also occurring on that side this year as the Chinese are refusing to issue permits to some Americans without explanation. The unpredictability is why most commercial operators do not run climbs on that side anymore.

  10.  

    I wonder if this will make a major shit towards the North side? Granted, its colder, dustier, way longer, but it has less objective danger. Am I wrong about that, Alan?

  11.  

    As I understand it there is not really a “safer” time to climb through the icefall. When the serac collapsed on K2 in 2008 it was said that people thought that it was safer at night than during the day. But it wasn’t.
    The ice that melts through the day refreezes at night and expands. According to “Buried in the Sky” this has the same effect as freezing water in a glass, as the ice expands the glass breaks. Any thoughts on this or is it just more another depressing thought in the light of this awful tragedy.

    •  

      The traditional wisdom is to climb all ice and snow at night when it is most frozen but I can also see the other point. To state the obvious, an ice serac can break loose at anytime as it did this time.

  12.  

    Attended the funeral of the sherpas of those who died in the unfortunate accident today in Kathmandu.
    I having lost my own on the Everest in 2007, understand how big the loss is to every family. My heart and prayer goes out to their parents and wives.

  13.  

    Alan, thank you for the detailed information and the continuous updates. My thoughts and prayers are with the Sherpas and their families. I have seen reports that up to 100 other Sherpa’s and climbers were above the slide zone when the avalanche occurred and were essentially blocked from returning to base camp until the ice doctor’s created a new route. Do you have any information regarding what is happening with regards to these folks higher on the Mountain? Thanks again.

  14.  

    Alan, I’d heard there were quite a few people who were above the serac collapse that were “trapped” because the route through the icefall was destroyed. Have they made it back to BC?
    So appreciate your posts!

  15.  

    Alan, thank you for the detailed information and the continuous updates. My thoughts and prayers are with the Sherpa’s and their families. I have seen reports that up to 100 other Sherpa’s and climbers were above the slide zone when the avalanche occurred and were essentially blocked from returning to base camp until the ice doctor’s created a new route. Do you have any information regarding what is happening with regards to these folks higher on the Mountain? Thanks again.

  16.  

    Proper safety precaution is most needed. Government of Nepal don’t really care much about the Sherpas death on Everest. The Greedy Government of Nepal only wants to collect the 100 and thousands of USD $ royalty.

    Very unfortunate. So the climbing community needs to rise and push the rules.

  17.  

    I wonder what the result would be if “the sherpas go home” and mass commercial climbing stops and the only people that climb Everest are mountaineers who handle their own business with a few individually hired sherpas…hmmm.. I see no problem there and it is a solution that nobody could complain about.

  18.  

    Jagged globe has announced their redraw for this year as well as the set up of a special trust to support the families of the five sherpas from their team that have lost their life in their avalanche.
    As for the ethics of everest climbs these days… am afraid when vanity surpasses real climbing ability, it can only end up in tears.
    we would hate for any western members to be put off their sushi by the latest events!

  19.  

    Alan, What is the typical income for a Sherpa during an Everest season including perks and summit bonus? Thanks for the updates.

    •  

      between $3000 to $10,000 depending on their role, the company they work for and tips. Being a Personal Sherpa working with one member is the highest paying job, especially for the tips. Different companies handle the summit bonus different way from small to leaving it to the member to awarding a “summit bonus for leaving the South Col with or without making the true summit.

  20.  

    This tragedy could have happened at any time over the last 20-30 years. These giant ice seracs don’t just emerge overnight – they accumulate over many years & eventually gravity wins, they collapse. It could have been Climbers, Sherpas or could have happened in the winter months when nobody at all is climbing. A terrible tragedy of course & I can’t stop thinking of the families but this is a very real risk this mountain (and others) carries & it was highly unfortunate that it happened when so many were in the icefall. Respect & calm heads are needed right now. A cautionary statistic is the ratio of deaths to summits on the Tibet side. It looks statistically to be the riskier route? Thanks Alan for the continued excellent reporting.

  21.  

    My hope is that teams are not becoming involved in attempts to influence Sherpa decisions about whether to proceed with the season’s attempts. The tragic losses they have suffered are quite enough. Commercial interests should be put aside; the Sherpas deserve that respect and a great deal more.

  22.  

    i’m sorry for the latest deaths of the avalanche.they were all beautiful,lovely people who didn’t deserve to dye.

  23.  

    Oh yeah and make the use of oxygen illegal immediately !!. Climbing to 8000 m + is all about how to manage the lack of oxygen , so climbing with oxygen is a oxymoron , Also having a Sherpa carry an oxygen bottle up the mountain puts him at an unacceptable risk, creates enormous pollution and should officially be considered doping !! What do you think Allen ?

    •  

      this is a long time debate and people generally line up along philosophical lines. Of the 6,871 total summits on both sides, only 192 climbers summited without supplemental oxygen through February 2014. My personal experience is that I would not have been able to summit without using O’s.

      •  

        So in all Honesty this might be a good opportunity to start reflecting on who should be on the mountain and who should not be on the mountain (members and sherpas alike). The use of oxygen and sherpas attracts a lot of unskilled people that might be climbers but not high altitude climbers. This also applies to the Sherpas. Of course we hear about great climbing Sherpas but quite a few are actually not experienced enough.

        Another problem is that all 8000 m + mountains lack some sort of standard operating procedures (or written code of ethics) that all climbers/sherpas abide by and commit to (read and sign). For instance it should be generally accepted that climbers/sherpas should never climb, walk, wait for ropes etc in groups larger than lets say 6 people, but instead spread out; that all trash should be brought down; all climbers and sherpas should have proven qualification / experience to climb above 7000+ ; and a ban on certain aids, equipment etc should be accepted by sherpas and operators.

  24.  

    Weston, I think overall the spirit of the requests from the Sherpa are fair and should be possible. I would like to see the season continue as it is unlikely the serac would release again but this is more of an emotional decision versus logical or logistical. If the climbing community onsite feels uncomfortable, they should listen to their inner voices. I have been on climbs where a teammates dies, and the consensus was to continue. If it were me, I would want my teammates to continue. But this is highly personal and not something for others to judge, in my opinion.

  25.  

    Jennifer, another way to look at this is Everest has about a 3.8% death to summit ratio while K2 is 26%. For reference the deadliest is Annapurna at 35% and safest is Cho Oyu at 1.5 – per Himalayan Database.

  26.  

    Thanks, Alan, for the excellent post. Man will exploit labor whenever and wherever possible, it is encouraging to see that may come to an end on Everest.

  27.  

    Or the most simple solution: the Sherpa communities receive a large chunk of the annual 3 mil plus income (the mountain is in their back yard), so they don’t need to put their lifes at risk short roping wealthy members to the summit. But of course they are not the dominant party in the whole circus so that”s not likely to happen

  28.  

    Thanks Alan. I very much appreciate your coverage, really informative and thoughtful.

  29.  

    Interesting exploration of alternative strategies, but what about the demands of the Sherpas and whether this season’s attempts should be canceled?

  30.  

    When I mention how much more difficult and deadly K2 is, I use the statistic 10x. But that doesn’t come close! Only 310 (- +?) have made the summit of K2 and close to 20x that have made it up Everest. Thanks for the updated numbers.

  31.  

    Hélène, not directly, many are in wait and see mode. To my knowledge, none have left but could have. Jennifer, yes this includes multiple summits. Overall 4042 individuals have summited including from both sides.

  32.  

    Total summits, Nepal and Tibet sides = 6971? Wow. I thought it was more like 4000. Thanks for the update.

  33.  

    Alan , I’m curious if you’ve been able to get any personal updates on the climbers you had interviewed earlier this year, who were heading to Everest? You had some great interviews, and I’ve been wondering how these folks are doing, in view of the circumstances. I hope they are all safe.

  34.  

    Alan, good post as always. As you say, the only way to prevent fatalities, is to stop climbing, which would be a loss unto itself. But you also point out something that I think is very important…that the mountain has a lot of unqualified people on it, slowing other climbers down, causing chokepoints like we saw in 1996, and at K2 a few years ago. I think instead of charging more, hold the members to a more stringent qualification process.

  35.  

    Thanks Alan Arnette – great update. Concise and informative. Keep them coming.

  36.  

    Alan – I believe the Himex cancellation in 2012 was due to not being comfortable with the Lhotse face route and conditions not the icefall or shoulder conditions. The Lhotse face and upper mountain was quite dry and there were a number of injuries due to rock fall. The route was moved more to the climbers right then to use the seracs and crevasses as natural protection, but Himex pulled the plug before that route was completed.

    Do you think preventative avalanche control like in ski areas (e.g., bombs) may become used in future years? While it is a national park they already fly helicopters there and there isn’t much wildlife to be concerned with.

    Vik

    •  

      Vik, You are right, those were additional concerns but speaking with Russ and Phurba Tashi directly, the Shoulder threat was paramount. No, I don’t think avalanche control is a viable option.

  37.  

    “For 2014, life insurance for each Sherpa was increased to US $10,000 from $4,000”
    Insurance doubled in 2014 for climbing sherpa staff only. Other support staff such a cooks based at ABC and camp 2(some among the victims of this tragedy) the insurance remains inchanged $5000 a pop. A sherpa’s life is cheap

  38.  

    Allan ,great post,what I feel is the permanent solution required.can the nepal govt call for technical/engineers ,ask them for SURVEY,make the possible safe root/solutions for climb.i don’t think there was any involvement of technical persons(those who study glaciers or keep an eye on them,geologists,civil engineers,and various experts, local Sherpas,ice fall experts)since the first climb,it is a traditional way of climb found by sir edmond Hillary and his team ,there should be some touch of modern and tech suport in order to safeguard the climbers of this period.if you go through the modern marvels of the world u would find amazing things done by the engineers of today too.i know i may be too small to say all these ,but plz give a single thought.thank u ,Rgrds-sudhir. (following you since 2009 everst season).

  39.  

    Thanks for the updates Alan. Such a sad climbing season.

  40.  

    Well written, Alan. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and analysis, and for your support to the climbing community.

  41.  

    Don’t you think part of the Sherpa:member summit success ratio (2.3 in the article) is because the Sherpa get a summit bonus? It makes sense for them to summit and get the bonus.

  42.  

    Thank you for your thoughtful and informative post. Thoughts and prayers for all in the climbing community.

  43.  

    Great post Alan! I would personally vote for reducing the number of trips through the icefall by simplifying the camps above BC and reducing oxygen use. One should not expect the same level of comfort in camp 2 as in BC. I really hope the outfitters will change the way Everest is climbed and make it safer for all the Sherpas.

  44.  

    Hello Alan, thank you very much for sharing news of Khombo ice fall. wishes of good luck to every one from Pakistan!!

  45.  

    Thnx Allen sir,ur advice help me..lot of thnx

  46.  

    Thnx Allan.its a great post..its helps thouse who r dreaming climbing the Everest as like me

  47.  

    Great post Allan, thoughts and prayers to all

  48.  

    Thanks Alan. Interesting and insightful as ever. I do not see how stopping the climbing, or wingsuit flights etc could be beneficial. The Climbers, Sherpas and Govt have too much invested in it. I am sure the Sherpas deserve better pay and insurance etc but holding the Govt to ransom is not the way. It is after all a risky place and a dangerous business and Mother Nature doesn’t play by the rules !

  49.  

    thanks for sharing this alan. #HeavyHeart #MemoriesAreForever (y)

  50.  

    In 1996, voices were also predicted changes in the way to approach Everest. Of course, this time, things are different, the victims are exclusively workers risk. The real change must come first from us Westerners eager for glory, but also from the Nepalese authorities …