I’ve been away for the past week spending some time time camping, hiking, and paddling in the Lake George region of Upstate New York, so imagine my surprise when I return home just to discover that Everest continues to makes news. We all know by now that it has been a very rough season on the Big Hill, with at least 11 deaths to go along with what is surely a record number of summits as well. But now, more than two weeks after the season has ended, we continue to get some strange, confounding, and eye-opening reports on what went down there this year.
While I was away, Alan Arnette posted his season summary, which is a good read not to just remind us of everything that happened in the Himalaya this past spring, but to get Alan’s expert commentary on the situation as well. As you can imagine, there is a lot to digest there, but the title sums things up nicely. Alan says that 2019 was “the year that Everest broke” and he just might be right. The summary post is a long one, but well worth a read for anyone who pays attention to mountaineering in the Himalaya. Beyond that however, it’s a good balance point for some of the stories we’ve seen in the mainstream press, which sometimes miss the nuisances in the story in their rush to get clicks and sales based on the people who have lost their lives on the world’s highest peak.
Speaking of mainstream press, The Himalayan Times had a number of interesting stories to share over the past week too. Not the lest of those was this article, which quotes some of the Sherpa guides, who insist that congestion and traffic jams on the mountain didn’t cause any of the deaths. The quote is so important, I’m going to lift the entire thing here:
“A bit of a crowd was seen above the balcony area on May 23 as well, but my client wasn’t exposed to it,” said Lakpa Rinji Sherpa who was with Indian climber Nihal Bagwan. Nihal died at Camp IV after sherpas rescued him from the balcony area. “Bagwan fell ill below the south summit, but he turned down my request to descend from there,” said Sherpa, who suffered frostbite injuries to his hands. “Ignorance, not congestion, took his life,” added Sherpa.
When looking at this quote, it is important to note that the major traffic jam that we all saw in the now-famous photo (shown above) by Nims Purja took place on May 22, so Lakpa Rinji Sherpa is right when he says that his client wasn’t exposed to that same situation. However, he also indicates that Nihal Bagwan turned down his request to turn around. That’s not the way things should work on Everest, where the guides shouldn’t just “request” a client turns around, but instead insist upon it. Simply put, Bagwan should not have been allowed to continue upwards, but should have been turned around when he took ill. Lakpa is correct in stating that “ignorance, not congestion” too his clients life. But I think the ignorance wasn’t on the part of the client himself, who likely wasn’t in the right frame of mind to begin with.
The next story from The Himalayan Times may sound like a familiar one. It seems that a group of three climbers from India may have faked their claimed summit on Everest, which is similar to a major story that took place just a few years back. This time out, the trio of Vikas Rana, Shobha Banwala, and Ankush Kasana have been exposed for saying they went to the top of Everest from the Nepali side of the mountain, but have refused to share any summit photos and claim they can’t remember the names of their Sherpa guides. They also say that they topped out around 10:30 AM on May 26, but were seen in Base Camp that day at 12:30 PM. To say it is impossible to have descended from the summit back to EBC, on foot, in just two hours would be an understatement. Other climbers also indicate that the three men never made it above Camp 3 and turned back from there instead.
Why would anyone attempt to fake an Everest summit, particularly when there have been high-profile failures in recent years? Back in India, climbing Everest is a major event that can bring fame and fortune to anyone who manages to accomplish that feat. In a sense, the climber becomes somewhat of a celebrity back home, which has caused some to go to Nepal to make the climb just for the notoriety that it brings. At this point, we’re not sure if that is the motivation here, but it seems likely.
Finally, we also get the news that National Geographic has installed the world’s highest weather station on Everest. The high-tech device was put in place at The Balcony, a spot located at around 8430 meters (27, 657 ft), with a second station installed at the South Col at 7945 meters (26,066 ft). The two units will provide real time data on the current conditions on Everest, while also monitoring the impact of climate change. The multi-disciplinary team that installed the weather stations also took ice core samples from the mountain, completed highly detailed lidar scans of Everest, and collected water and sediment samples from surrounding lakes. The hope is that this data will help us to better understand climate change and the impact on our environment.
Whew! That’s a lot of stuff on Everest to continue to report on. It seems likely that things will get quiet in the Himalaya for awhile now, but you never know. This year, Everest seems to be the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to providing news, both controversial and otherwise.
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