Everest 2014: Picking Up The Pieces

800px Mt. Everest from Gokyo Ri November 5, 2012 Cropped

It was a sad, somber weekend on both the North and South Side of Everest following the massive avalanche that claimed as many as 16 lives on the Nepali side of the mountain last Friday. It was the single most deadly accident in Everest history, and it will not only have a lasting impact on this season, but many seasons to come.

While the efforts to retrieve the bodies of the fallen continue, climbing on the South Side has come to a complete standstill. The Sherpa community is in shock, and mourning the loss of their brethren. As a result, they have asked for a 7-day moratorium on operations on the mountain, while they sort through their grief and come to terms with how to proceed. That means, none of the clients are moving up the slopes at the moment, while everyone waits to see what will happen next.

Over the weekend, the Sherpas met in BC and discussed their plans moving forward. Out of that meeting came a list of demands that they wanted to see fulfilled before they would resume their work. Alan Arnette summarized those demands, and they are as follows:

  • Increment of immediate relief announced for avalanche victims
  • Provide Rs 10 million (US$103,590)  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 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 call off this season’s climbing if they wish so

If these demands are not met by the end of the week, there is a real chance that the Everest climbing season could be cancelled this year. The Sherpas are essentially threatening to walk off the mountain, which would bring a halt to the vast majority of expeditions. It is unclear at this time, what the response to these demands will be. 
In the wake of the tragic accident, the Discovery Channel has cancelled its planned coverage of Joby Ogwyn’s attempt to summit, then jump off the top in a wing-suit. Ogwyn says that he is still going ahead with his plans, it just won’t be televised now. 
The rest of the teams are in a holding pattern while they decide what to do. There are some reports of climbers already leaving BC and heading back to Kathmandu, while others wait to see how things will unfold. Dave Hahn, one of the top guides in the world working for RMI, said in a dispatch: “Our Sherpa partners love their jobs and love to climb, but nobody is climbing now and all are struggling to come to terms with how to proceed in a way that honors those lost and protects those left alive.”
Similarly, my friend Gulnur Tumbat, who is in Base Camp now, posted this to her blog: “The mountain is shut down at the moment and this season is to bedeclared as “Black Year” with the deadliest day ever. We are exhausted and broken. We are trying to figure out what to do.”
Both quotes give you an idea of the mood on the mountain right now. 
Word of the tragic events that occurred on the South Side, spread quickly to the North as well, where, the Sherpa teams are mourning the loss of friends and family too. But teams like the 7 Summits Club and Adventure Peaks have begun to arrive in Base Camp there, and work is proceeding on that side of the mountain. There are preliminary plans for the first climbers to head up to Advanced Base Camp today, as the acclimatization rotations begin. There will be further reports from the North Side as things unfold. 
As you can see, it is another strange year on Everest, with tragedy creating unusual circumstances. What will happen over the next few days remains to be seen, and it is possible that even if he Nepali government meets on the requirements of the Sherpas, that the season will be cancelled anyway. It is a sad, uncertain time on the mountain, and my heart goes out to everyone who is there right now. 
Kraig Becker