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A photo of the Everest basecamp and the Khumbu Glacier.

Base Camp on Mount Everest lies next to Khumbu Glacier, 3,570 meters from the summit.

PHOTOGRAPH BY CORY RICHARDS

Mark Jenkins

for National Geographic

Published April 23, 2014

In the wake of the death of 16 sherpas in the Khumbu Icefall on the south side of Mount Everest last Friday, Base Camp is in turmoil.

"Whether the climbing season on the Nepal side of Everest is over is not yet clear," says Dave Morton, filmmaker and Everest veteran, from Base Camp.

But it appeared to be in jeopardy after six expedition teams announced they were abandoning their attempts to summit Everest. Leaders for Adventure Consultants (which lost three Sherpas in the accident), Alpine Ascents International (which lost five Sherpas), Alpenglow Expeditions, Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (RMI), Peak Freaks 8000, and International Mountain Guides, one of the largest Everest guiding operations, all said they were pulling their teams off the mountain. Asian Trekking, one of the few Sherpa-run outfitters, is also said to be considering leaving. (Related: "Climbing Finished for Season on Everest After Deadly Avalanche?")

More than 30 different expeditions comprising roughly 900 people are gathered at Base Camp on the south side of Everest, with roughly 300 climbing clients and 600 Sherpa support staff. The climbing clients have each paid between $40,000 and $100,000 for a chance to summit the world's tallest mountain. Meanwhile, most of the Sherpas rely on income from working on Everest—ranging from $2,000 to $6,000 a season—to support their families in the impoverished Khumbu region of Nepal, a country where the average income is around $700 a year.

Discussions With Sherpas Ongoing

Leaders of two of the largest guiding services, Himalayan Experience and Seven Summits, are working closely with Sherpas at Base Camp to determine whether, after the tragedy, they still want to continue.

"The scales could tip if the larger outfits pull out," says Morton, "but uncertainty and confusion abound at Base Camp right now."

The big guiding operations provide the most Sherpas, and the most experienced Sherpas, for fixing the lines high on the mountain. If they abandon Everest, the smaller guide services may have to follow suit because there won't be enough Sherpas to put in the ropes that their clients rely on to get up the mountain.

There is also the question of whether the "ice doctors," the Sherpas who specialize in setting ropes and ladders through the Khumbu Icefall—where the 16 Sherpas died—are willing to go back into this treacherous jumble of jagged ice to replace the lines. If the ice doctors leave, the season is definitely over.

Morton declined to speculate on the ultimate fate of this year's climbing season, but he did indicate that there was friction among different factions of Sherpas at Base Camp.

Sherpas Divided

Some Sherpas say the climbing season should be called off for a variety of reasons—to honor the dead, to make a statement about their importance to the lucrative Everest climbing business, and to pressure the Nepali government to improve working conditions for climbing Sherpas and invest more money in the Khumbu region. Others say they want to stay on the mountain and earn much-needed income. (Related: "Everest's Sherpas Issue List of Demands.")

Some of the guiding operations have allowed Sherpas to temporarily return to their villages to grieve and sort out their personal affairs. Russell Brice, leader of the Himalayan Experience team, is reported as having concerns about the possibility of violence among the various Sherpa factions.

In an email from Base Camp, Adrian Ballinger, leader of the Alpenglow team, said that some "Sherpas are convinced that the mountain doesn't want them there this year." Ballinger said that he felt the Sherpa community could not handle another tragedy and therefore decided to end his team's attempt. (Related: "Injured Sherpas Recall Deadly Avalanche.")

"The sorrow and grief at Base Camp are so bad right now," said Ballinger, although he acknowledged the tragedy had a political side that had the potential to get ugly.

In a recent dispatch from Everest Base Camp, Dave Hahn, leader of the RMI team, said they have called off their expedition. Hahn said that after meetings with a number of team leaders, Sherpas, and sirdars (Sherpa leaders), it was decided that the "right course was to give up Mount Everest for Spring 2014. Following the accident, our list of serious obstacles for an Everest summit was always significant, but we believed it worthwhile to continue looking for some way forward." But now, "we'll start heading for home soon."

Climate Change Part of the Problem?

Tim Rippel, leader of the Peak Freaks 8000 team, also announced on his company's website in the past few hours that his team was leaving. "The route in my professional opinion is NOT safe ... and we've cancelled expeditions before to save lives." Rippel mentions that climate change may be playing a role, stating that what he sees on Everest this season is exactly what he's seen on nearby mountains, 22,493-foot (6,856-meter) Ama Dablam and 23,494-foot (7,161-meter) Pumori.

"We no longer climb those mountains due to global warming, the ice is melting, the glue that holds them together," he wrote. (Glaciers have been receding worldwide, with ice melting so rapidly in the Alps that many of the mountains are disintegrating. For example, some of the routes on Mount Blanc are no longer considered safe to climb and the Eiger is now often climbed in winter, rather than summer, because the ice is vanishing.)

Rippel goes on to say that the political environment at Base Camp is "getting more complex and anger is developing. There seems to be two tribes forming and this makes for a dangerous situation in an already unstable mountainous environment ... This is not how we climb mountains!!"

Story updated on April 23 at 5:45 p.m.

15 comments
Magali Castro
Magali Castro

Perhaps it is time to truly introspectively reflect on what DOES it mean to climb mountains....while ALSO building respectful connections and exchanges with local communities. Each learning from the other. Our Disneyland mentality of conquering a mountain, any mountain, all mountains seems to have perversely taken away the mythical and sacred aspects of preparing for the climb (working out, building up mental and physical strength by climbing, saving money, doing research, practicing climbing,, etc) and then getting out there and actually doing it! Facing the challenges and not just paying absurd amounts of money to buy the experience. Climbing Everest seems to have become something that people tick off of their bucket list....completely forgetting that it IS also a way of Life for so many Sherpas and mountaineers. What would those who have truly climbed Everest on their own accord have to say, I wonder.

Leandro Quimosing
Leandro Quimosing

Pay the sherpas postpone the expeditions and let the government hear their greivances.

Madeline Grace
Madeline Grace

Not only should all expeditions pull off the mountain as soon as safely possible (not only out of respect for the dead, but also as a safety precaution as something is clearly wrong on Everest), the Sherpa guides should receive full pay for the season. Wealthy Western clients pay enough for all Sherpa guides to be paid in full for the season...anything less would be disrespectful. 

David Aylsworth
David Aylsworth

Setting aside the issues of the tragic loss of life and economics of the Sherpas, the remaining teams need to be mindful of the actual conditions of the mountain environment there since the avalanche.

The mountain has just calved a huge serac and the conditions of the ice on the slope above and underneath still need to reach an equilibrium. The Khumbu glacier is always an active and risky place, but the associated risk right now has dramatically increased. In addition to having to navigate a new route up the Khumbu, the remaining teams must weigh the risk of the danger in continuing this season against the value of climbing that mountain with all new teams of Sherpas.

Planning and executing a season on Everest is not a casual thing for either the expedition teams or the Sherpas. There are materiel and logistics considerations that must be accounted for in our to get to the higher camps. Watching the avalanche come down has to become a priority consideration across the whole team environment. It is a game changer that should not be ignored.

The aftermath of this deadly event should be enough to give even the most ardent climber pause to consider whether the mountain has literally expressed that the mountain is not safe enough to climb this year.

Mark Pommier
Mark Pommier

I didn't look at the Sherpa list of demands, but I hope they hold out for a whole lot more money. They live in a very poor region of the world, yet they are expected by climbers from around the world to make themselves available to serve the climbers' arrogance and vanity. Now the would-be climbers are angry that they've shelled out money, only to have their ascent nixed. In another comment I read where the Sherpa should return to the mountain this season because "they know the risks." It seems to me that one of the risks of shelling out a whole lot of money for mountain-climbing expedition that relies on these Sherpa are also a hazard.

Anup Aryal
Anup Aryal

Nepal should ban people from climbing the Everest all together. The climbing process is not as complicated as K-2 so it defeats the purpose of having climbed a really challenging mountain. Blind, legless, old people have climbed the Everest thanks to sherpas. It has become a really expensive and polluting Disney Wolrdesque adventure. Yes, the sherpas make a living out of it but Nepal should be taking better care of its citizens through other means that are less dangerous than having to climb a damn mountain with so much burden strapped to their backs so someone can walk up and take a selfie to say I climbed the highest mountain.

David Talbot
David Talbot

I'm sorry but everyone - and I mean everyone - who works on Everest knows the risks when they take that employment up.  No one is forcing the Sherpa's to work.  If they want to go home, then fine they should.  Others will take their place because the pay is lucrative.  The pay is also a reflection of market forces and it is wrong for the Sherpa to use this situation as a bargaining tool.  In my opinion the Sherpa in recent years have become like a heavy-handed union mob and are ruining the atmosphere on the mountain.  The season should continue and those Sherpa that don't want to climb should go home.  Everest is a tough mountain and anyone who wants to work on it or climb it needs to accept the risks and the losses and carry on.

Mark Fissinger
Mark Fissinger

I think the author has done a great job distilling the essence of this tragic situation and look forward to a more lengthy and nuanced report. _____ There are many aspects to consider before non climbers can appreciate how complex the situation has become. There is an almost symbolic quality to the serac collapse on Sherpa climbers just out of Base Camp and the questions that arise in that moment.____  The story of Everest climbing has become shaped like the mountain itself with a massive base of history infused with goals ranging from simply being able to say to oneself, "I made it," to the wide ranging economics of Nepalese Tourism and commercial guiding services. _____ The serac collapse didn't just happen, it had been happening for years and simply finished falling last week. The current level of Sherpa discord at base camp is similar in that it just didn't begin with the death of 16 comrades last week, it has been happening for years albeit in smaller less news worthy numbers.

I would question why anyone would wish to continue this year without full Sherpa support.

Yes there are people who may never get another opportunity to try to summit and they may lose money, too, but they will come home. To climb now presents the possibility of a very bad scenario in the shortened season ahead. Would you want to be the climber that falls or becomes ill up on the South Col and become the focus of a hazardous rescue attempt?



Melissa Burton
Melissa Burton

I agree with the Sherpas who say the mountain does not want them to come this year.

SURYA SINGH
SURYA SINGH

I think the expeditions should not be pulled off. I know it is a time of mourning for the Sherpas who died; but ending it could mean no source of income for them (Sherpas) or their families. Also it would not be fair for those who paid for their expensive expeditions. Rich people do not necessarily invest their money on expensive trekking adventures like this; adventure seekers and true enthusiasts do. I'm sure it would be fair for them if they got what they paid for. (It's not like spending your weekend at the beach). 

Rachel Cervantes
Rachel Cervantes

I agree with Cher. Despite Everest not being safe, there are people risking their lives for the dreams of others. It is very sad. What can we do?

Cher Renke
Cher Renke

Yes... let them end the season...  All the money the clients pay, and those Sherpas hardly see any of it, yet pay the ultimate price?    Sad...

Mark Fissinger
Mark Fissinger

@David Talbot David, everything you write is true, but I don't understand why you feel it is wrong for the Sherpa to use this event to their financial advantage...if possible. It makes sense to use Western Market Driven Economics to secure their financial future. Yes, it is heavy handed, Yes, it's a real bad time to start negotiating. And yes, it does harsh the atmosphere around base camp. But there isn't any rule against this, it's just bad form.

Not wrong, just bad form. And everyone- and I mean everyone who works or climbs on Everest knows that climbing has nothing to do with form.


Undoubtedly some climbing will continue as closing the mountain would require the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism to take action and that would mean paperwork and loss of revenue.


It just seems like a poor decision to carry given all the objective and subjective risks. Hopefully, there will be no coercing of Sherpa to continue if they wish to retreat this season.






SURYA SINGH
SURYA SINGH

@Cher Renke  I agree with the fact that the government of Nepal is getting that big amount and is hardly been shared to the Sherpas. I am from Nepal and i know what the government is like in Nepal. Sad but true. Peace!

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