The 2018 spring climbing season may be over, but Mt. Everest continues to generate news stories, and not in a positive way. Over the past few days, mainstream press outlets have picked up on a story that was mostly a blip on the radar in the midst of the very busy 11-day summit push that ended last week, but is now creating controversy over ethics on the mountain.
Fox News – amongst other outlets – is reporting that a Sherpa by the name of Lam Babu Sherpa may have perished on Everest after helping a team of foreign climbers reach the summit. That team, which was sponsored by ASKfm – a social media site where members can ask each other questions – were on the mountain to attempt a stunt involving cryptocurrency. The group pf three climbers from Ukraine took a crypto wallet containing tokens worth $50,000 to the summit of Everest and buried it there, with the intention of then daring other climbers to go to the top to retrieve the money. The trio were accompanied to the top by three Sherpa guides.
Everything went according to plan and on May 14 – early in the summit season – the team reached the top, buried the wallet, and proceeded back down. During the descent, the weather reportedly turned bad and the three Ukrainian climbers sped on ahead of their Sherpa guides, trying to make it to Camp 4 before conditions worsened.
Apparently, one of the Ukrainian climbers – a man named Taris Pozdnii – suffered frostbite on his fingers and toes, but has since recovered. But, while the group was making its way down, Lam Babu Sherpa reportedly fell behind the others and was struggling to keep up. It is unclear if he took ill, was simply exhausted, or just traveling slower. His two Sherpa companions stayed with him, while the foreign climbers moved on ahead to C4, where they reached the safety of their tents. The following day they returned to Base Camp and on May 17, ASKfm held a press conference to herald the team’s success.
The problem is, Lam Babu Sherpa appears to have gone missing above Camp 4 and is obviously now believed to have perished there. Exactly what happened to him remains a mystery, although one of the Ukrainian climbers indicated to The Financial Times that they were aware that one of the Sherpas was “dying” but they pressed on to C4 anyway. That climber said, “At the top of Everest the weather was very bad, and then we were coming down. We were going down to Camp 4, which is at about 7900 m, and one Sherpa was dying. That’s all we know. … He was behind us, so we don’t know what happened to him. We were going fast and the Sherpa wasn’t coming with us. He was coming behind so we didn’t see him.”
To make matters worse, rescue teams were not alerted to the situation and Lam Babu seems to have been mostly forgotten until now. It is a sad story and another incident of foreign climbers coming and going from Nepal with little interest in anything else than reaching the top of Everest and then going home.
To be clear, it’s not certain that the Ukrainian team could have done much to help the Sherpa if he had taken ill. Rescue efforts are incredibly difficult that high on the mountain and from the sounds of things, it was all they could do to get themselves down safely. Still, it seems odd that they wouldn’t at least inquire about the missing man or alert others to his predicament. Perhaps they thought that was the job of the other Sherpas on the team, but it comes across as extremely shortsighted and self possessed to not at least say something or inquire about the condition and whereabouts of the guide that just helped you get to the top of the world’s highest peak. Most climbers develop a fairly close relationship with their Sherpa guides, even if it is for only a brief time.
This story comes on the heels of two Polish climbers being left behind on Makalu, making one question even further the safety record for the support teams on these climbing expeditions. We may never know what became of Lam Babu Sherpa, but these stories certainly aren’t helping the cause of mountaineers on Everest.
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