A common question about Everest is how to make it safer. With over 30 deaths just in the past two years, climbers, Sherpas and families of both often ponder what can be done. Most deaths can be prevented in the big mountains by having appropriate experience, making good decisions or climbing with experienced partners. But the big picture is having the proper skills can prevent many accidents. This is where the Khumbu Climbing Center (KCC), founded by the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation (ALCF) comes into play.
Founded in 2003, their mission statement reads:
to increase the safety margin of Nepali climbers and high altitude workers by encouraging responsible climbing practices in a supportive and community-based program.
Lack of Experience Requires More Sherpa Training
One of the emerging issues with climbing Everest and other Nepali peaks is providing the appropriate support for the level of experience the current generation of members have. The days of national teams that train together for a year before arriving on Everest – North or South – is long gone. Today’s representative member usually has a climb, not necessarily a summit, of a 5000 to 7000 meter mountain.
Popular peaks mentioned by today’s Everest climbers include: Island Peak, Kilimanjaro and for some Denali and Aconcagua. While the Nepal Ministry of Tourism has suggested Everest climbers have a summit for 6500 meter, that requirement is not enforced. Another requirement often overlooked is that each foreigner must climb with a Sherpa Guide, but there is no requirement for their experience. The guide companies, both Nepali and Western often take members based on business reasons and not experience.
These dynamics are not going to change anytime soon and with ever lower prices, Everest will see more inexperienced members each season.
Khumbu Climbing Center
The KCC, based in Phortse is trying to change all of this with a world-class training programs for the mountain worker community. While the Sherpa ethnicity dominates the classes, they are open to everyone and have even had a few participants from Pakistan.
I had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with Conrad Anker, who represents the ALCF for the KCC over the past few days here at Everest Base Camp.
Conrad, who leads the North Face Climbing team, has been working with the KCC to build a permanent location for their training programs. The training takes place the last two weeks of January and the first week of February each year for 80 students usually 18 to 25 year-old. The class are divided into four sections: basic climbing skills, including knots, rock climbing, ice climbing and basic first aid. There is also an English language segment. They have trained over 1000 men and women since 2003. Each student must pay their own small tuition and insurance or find a sponsor.
In early March 2016, they did a special course at Everest Base camp for 12 Sherpas who specialize in building the route through the Khumbu Icefall to Camp 2 for Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse climbers. I was invited this morning to their graduation ceremony at Everest Base Camp.
Dedicated Training Facilities
Conrad told me a permanent KCC building is critical to the overall program as there have been other programs that were started but stopped after a year or less. With a building to house, classrooms, a climbing wall, video room and the training facilities, the longevity of the program will be secured. By placing it is Phortse, the home of many Everest summers and climbers, it will make the training available to those throughout the Khumbu who will have the most impact on the Everest climbing community.
The instructors include former graduates of the program plus foreigners that volunteer. For example Dr. Luann Freer of the Everest Base Camp Er has taught the medical segment. Other instructors have included Pete Athens. But building a strong local presence both in terms of skills and instruction is key to the longevity Conrad mentions. This year three Sherpas served as instructors: Phu Nuru, DaNuru and Panuru Sherpa.
The program has been funded the ALCF with major contributions from The North Face, Jon Krakauer and individuals from around the world especially from Chile.
The KCC is run totally by Nepalis and they make up the board. Foreigners serve as advisors.
I sat down with one of the local principles in running the building, Tenzing Sherpa and who is also a Sherpa Guide. He also runs the electric co-op for Phortse. I asked the 20 something Sherpa why the training was important compared to the older generation of Sherpas who have been guiding on Everest for decades. “We are learning techniques such as how to build an equalized anchor systems, proper knots or crevasse rescue systems plus learning the signs of altitude sickness. This make our job safer and the mountains safer for the members.”
Conrad emphasized the need for the KCC to be run by locals and not from a foreign country in order to build long term commitment. He said the families of the students appreciate that their father or son is receiving professional training and not just climbing the mountain with no education.
The KCC Building will cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Fund raising has been a full time job for some since the inception in 2009. While in mid construction last year, the earthquake set back the time table but now it is hoped to be completed by 2017.
The building was a brainchild of climber and architect Chris Bergum . He funded a graduate student program at the Montana State University School of Architecture led by Professor Mike Everts to design a world class building that would be earthquake resistant, use local materials, adhere to local design (for example, toilets are outside) and serve as a centerpiece for training for decades to come.
Great Paul of the Salt Lake City based Momentum Gym is helping to raise funds for a state of art climbing wall in cooperation with Noah Bigwood.
Conrad mentioned they are accepting donations to finish the building on schedule for example with an individual sponsor a door or a window or a truss. Please visit the KCC website for more information and how to support this critical program.
Memories are Everything
Latest Everest News – Wednesday April 20, 2016
- First Westerners enter the Icefall for nights in the Western Cwm
- Sherpas are making are taking loads to Camp 2
- Icefall route is a bit more difficult than in 2015
- Alan is in Everest Base Camp and has gone into Icefall once.
- EverestLink is working well this year, Ncell is spotty
- Weather continues to be quite warm, more like late May than mid April
- Some concern with warm temps and impact on climbing conditions in the Icefall.
- Teams limiting rotations thru Icefall to a little as possible
- No major avalanches reported onto Icefall
- 279 Everest permits have been issued to 31 different teams as of April 10 per Himalayan
- In 2015, the Ministry of Tourism reported 319 individuals with Everest permits and 96 for Lhotse. 109 climbers from 2014 used their permits in 2015.