Right on schedule, look the Sherpas have arrived at Everest Base Camp (EBC) to begin establishing the route and camps. To reserve their favorite spots, some teams sent Sherpas to “reserve” a place as early as mid February. Most climbing members will not arrive until April 10th at the earliest.
International Mountain Guides’ Eric Simonson has always been one of the first teams on the Nepal side and posted an update this week:
Ang Jangbu reports from Nepal that the Icefall Sherpas (the “doctors”) have now reached Base Camp and are starting to work on the route. Today the first wave of sixteen IMG sherpas are on their way to Base Camp, under the leadership of veteran guide Ang Chhiring (Kami) from Pangboche. These guys will be working hard the next two weeks getting our Classic and Hybrid camps put together.
Also, today our Kathmandu team sent another large container truck of food and gear to Jiri for transport by helicopter to Shyangboche. These supplies will be received by Phunuru and Ang Pasang for transport to Base Camp by yaks and porters. It is a busy time of the year in Nepal, so we are continuing to move supplies uphill to stay ahead of the wave!
The Icefall Doctors are a dedicated team of Sherpa who are paid to establish and maintain the fixed ropes from Base Camp (17,500′) to Camp 2 in the Western Cwm (21,500′). Remember that the Khumbu Icefall is 2,000′ of moving ice and can shift up to three feet a day.
While the route is somewhat the same each year, it takes the Doctors a lot of time to find the safest route that has the lowest risk of movement. Also they are very aware of avalanches off the West Shoulder of Everest that could damage the route and, of course, kill or injure climbers.
Once established, the route must be maintained each day. Sometimes ladders are twisted by the movement or fall into a crevasse requiring the Doctors to carry new ladders back into the Icefall and re-open the route.
It takes over 33,000 feet or 10,000 meters of rope to “fix” the route from EBC to the summit on the south side. Usually one team takes ownership of ing the rope and getting it to EBC and the other teams contribute money and manpower to set the lines above Camp 2. There has been talk of creating a special Sherpa team to fix the lines from C2 to the summit but I don’t think that has been firmed up for 2014.
The rope fixing team takes great pride in their work and generally is allowed to set the route before anyone climbs. But independent climbers or those not wanting to use the rope are free to climb. It was this tension that generated the infamous fight last year and set the stage for some of the changes the Ministry of Tourism put in place for 2014.
By “fixing” the route, Sherpas will tie the thin, 8mm, nylon line onto aluminum pickets, ice screws, pitons and other anchors roughly every 100 meters. Climbers will attach themselves to the line with a carabiner attached to a piece of nylon webbing that is attached to their climbing harness.
On the steeper section including the Lhotse Face or in parts of the Icefall, a second device called a jumar is used to assist in climbing. The jumar has teeth that clutch the line during a fall stopping the climber immediately – at least that is the theory!
There are bolts that have been drilled into the route on the Yellow Band, below the Balcony and at the Hillary Step. This allows the Sherpa to fix the line faster and increase the safety in these area where the anchor may experience extreme stress from many climbers and multiple rotations.
The traditional bottleneck areas usually have two fixed lines – one for climbing up and the other for descending. These area include the Lhotse Face and the Hillary Step. In 2013, a new line was established allowing climbers to rapel off the Hillary Step, thus avoiding one of the more notorious bottle neck sections. In practice, only a few guides actually used it since crowding was not a huge problem last year given many days of good weather for summit attempts thus spreading the crowds out.
Starting next week, climbers from around the world will say good bye to friends and family as they fly to Kathmandu.
Memories are Everything