At this point I think it's hard for anyone to NOT have heard about what recently transpired on Everest. While I am not there this season, a lot of my good friends are (both Westeners and Sherpas). Thankfully none of them were caught in the massive collapse that occurred on the 18th near the top of the notoriously dangerous Khumbu Ice Fall (Although Mark Horrell and the Altitude Junkies team were on their way to the base of the Ice Fall when it happened. Read here). To get an idea of what the Ice Fall is like, watch some of my footage from 2011. It's a complex labyrinth of crumbling snow and ice and moves up to 6" per day, hence it's incredible danger. Nearer to the end of the video, you'll see roughly the region where the avalanche happened (where the crevasses start to get wider and the ladder bridges get longer):
According to Alan Arnette's blog, there were at least 16 deaths, all of them Sherpas. This is one of the biggest tragedies to hit any 8000 meter peak. That it happened on Everest makes it that much more of an attention grabber, since so many climbers flock their each season. In 2012, on Manaslu (another 8000m peak), there was an avalanche that took the lives of 11 people, but the recent Everest avalanche trumps that one by quite a bit. More than anything, it has woken up the Sherpa community who are now demanding a number of things from the Nepali government before they consider getting things back moving on the mountain. And things won't move on Everest if the Sherpas don't. They are the reason ANYONE can climb this mountain.
Will the mountain shut down for the season? Already some teams have packed up and left. Alpine Ascents, who had Sherpas killed in the avalanche, already announced that they would. Also, the Discovery Channel wing suit jump has also been nixed. Will more follow suit? For one, the Sherpas will dictate whether or not climbing will resume. If it doesn't, the season will end most definitely. In fact, the Sherpas have put a 7-day ultimatum on the Nepali government. If their demands are not met, the season will be cancelled. Here are some of their demands (taken from this Himalayan Times article):
• Increment of immediate relief announced for avalanche victims • Provide 1,000,000 Rupees (~$10,000) each to families of deceased • Set up a memorial park in the name of the deceased in Kathmandu • Cover all expenses for treatment of the injured • Provide 1,000,000 Rupees (~$10,000) to critically hurt who cannot rejoin mountaineering activities • Set up mountaineering relief fund with 30% of royalty collected from issuing permits to different mountains • 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
If the season continues, teams will have to decide whether they want to continue despite the tragic losses. From personal experience, I can tell you that climbing doesn't feel dangerous until it does. When you see an avalanche first hand, or worse yet, a dead body, you suddenly go through some serious priority setting. What is climbing Everest really worth? For me, it caused me to turn around twice. And I don't regret it one bit. I'm sure there will be many climbers who end up doing the same in light of these recent events. It will be interesting to see what ends up happening.
Sherpas are one of the friendliest, most hard-working, happiest, strongest group of people I have ever met. It's a tough thing to swallow, recognizing the extremely dangerous work they do for us paying clients. We climb because we have the money and the desire to do something big in our lives, a rather selfish endeavor. They climb because they have a family they need to take care of and some because it is the only high-paying job in the area. I mean, check out this frightening infographic . Hopefully the above demands can be met. It's the very least that they deserve.