Himalaya Spring 2019: Icefall Doctors Already at Work on Everest

While the clock is ticking for the last remaining team on K2 this winter the attention of the mountaineering community is already starting to turn towards Nepal and the spring climbing season ahead. Guides and climb operators have already begun to arrive in Kathmandu and in just a few short weeks, droves of climbers will follow. At the moment, the alpinists who will be attempting Everest, Lhotse, or one of the other big Himalayan peaks this year are putting the finishing touches on their planning, organizing their gear, and preparing to say goodbye to friend and family. And while they are still wrapping up their business back home, important progress is already being made on the world’s highest peak.

The so-called Everest Ice Doctors arrived in Base Camp on Everest late last week and have now made themselves at home for the next three months. This team of sherpas is responsible for finding and maintaining the route through the Khumbu Icefall on the South Side of the mountain in Nepal. This extremely difficult and dangerous stretch of the climb consists of a series of ropes and ladders that are placed over crevasses, allowing the climbers to not just go up and down them, but also walk on them horizontally too. Most describe this as the most nerve-wracking part of the climb, even though the icefall is located just above Base Camp.

Because the towers of ice in the icefall are constantly shifting and collapsing, the Doctors are on hand throughout the entire season to maintain the route or repair it should one of the seracs collapse. That means that even though they are in BC now, they are likely to stay there until sometime in late May, when the last of the climbing teams goes home. This first-to-arrive, last-to-leave aspect of their job has earned them a lot of respect, as has their tireless efforts to ensure everyone gets through the icefall in safely.

On Tuesday of this week the Icefall Docs held their puja ceremony, which is required before they step foot on the mountain. During the puja, a local lama comes to pray to the mountain gods for safe passage on Everest or any of the other big peaks. The lama will also bless the climbers and their gear. No team will set out from Base Camp without ever having gone through the puja first. Once it was completed a few days back, the sherpas were free to begin installing the fixed ropes and ladders through the icefall, which is exactly what they’re doing now.

Typically it takes several days to set up the full route, which means it will have been put in place and is ready when the first climbers arrive. That’s still a few weeks off, although there will be other sherpas in BC soon setting up camp and preparing for their clients to complete the trek to Everest Base Camp. It is a time of great excitement and anticipation. Another season on the brink.

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