“I remember well the thought gnawing at my brain… Only Sherpas and Bhotias killed — why, oh why could not one of us, Britishers, have shared their fate? I would gladly at that moment have been lying there, dead in the snow, if only to give those fine chaps who had survived the feeling that we had shared their loss…” – Howard Somervell, 1922 Everest Expedition
Arriving to Base Camp on April 18th, 2014 was sad day indeed. To be coming to Everest Base Camp for a six week expedition on the mountain, only to discover that a serac hanging over the upper part of the Khumbu Icefall had cut loose that very morning, on a day where possibly some 300 or more climbing Sherpa and other local climbing porters were carrying loads for many different expeditions to establish Camps 1 & 2 on the mountain, killing well over a dozen people, and seriously injuring nine more, how can I put that into perspective? I’d love to write about the walk up from Pangboche; having lunch with Ram in Dingboche and the glasses of Seabuckthorn juice he kept pouring, or perhaps about the chortling Tibetan Snow Cocks I watched chasing each other on the hillside as I hiked up and over the 5500 meter (18,200ft.) pass of the Kongma La from Chukkung to Lobuche, but really, it all falls into the sheen now. The memory of bodies being flown off the mountain is far more prevalent, and I really don’t think there is any way to make it more clear what has happened here on Good Friday of 2014. It is very, very sad, and I’m quite sure that it will not be possible for me to take another step into the Khumbu Icefall without remembering this day and those who have lost their lives there.
I wish not want to sensationalize this event, nor try to open some debate regarding if what we are trying to accomplish here in the Himalaya, and on Mount Everest is a good thing or not. The simple truth is that climbing in these magnificent mountains is dangerous; peaks in the Himalaya exist on a scale like no other, and the resulting objective hazards are often impossible to circumvent. Almost every significant mountain I’ve climbed on has a tricky spot or two, where the risk of passing through cannot be eliminated, be it a rockfall zone, an avalanche prone slope, or a glacier riddled with hidden crevasses. But none I’ve known compare to the mountains I’ve climbed in the Himalaya; the scale is simply too great, the hazards too large. And so it is on the greatest mountain of all – Jomo Longma, the Mother Goddess of the Earth, or as we know her, Mount Everest. To chose to climb this incredible mountain and obtain the rooftop of the world is also to chose to accept these risks.
It has been a few days since the accident now. Mostly we have been laying low at camp, eating, staying in contact with family and friends, keeping up with the news, getting to know each other better. Here at camp we have with us: Jim Williams – Expedition Leader, Scott Williams (no relation) – Base Camp Manager, Climbers – Steve Slaughter, Martin Glynn and Shane Jones, myself – Climbing Guide. Nima Tashi is our Sirdar (Nepali Expedition Leader), Jetha Tamang is our cook, and we have Nima’s son Dawa, his son-in-law Karma Gelgyn, Karma’s brother Pertemba and Sonam as our Sherpa climbing team. Helping out in the kitchen are Mote, his son Renji, Jetha’s son Karma, and yet another Jetha.
My first free day in camp I grabbed a shower before lunch, and then spent the afternoon visiting other camps, getting to know their managers and guides, see how their team is doing, and jotting down radio frequencies in case we needed to get ahold of someone. The next day we spent some time going over harnesses and fixed-line ascension systems, in addition to catching up on blogs, etc. It was a laid back day in general, and sun-shiny all day, which was pleasant.
Yesterday, Barbara and Nima Tashi headed over to Lobuche East, a trekking peak 6000m high. (When we found out they summited at 9am this morning, the group let out a big cheer!) Scott spent the day working on the efficiency of our solar system (we have no generators in our camp). Jim went around camp meeting with other team managers one on one to get a feel for the situation. Steve, Martin, Shane and I decided to hike up on the flanks of Pumori, where we found a decent trail up to a knoll at 5700m (18,500ft.). There are some small tent sites there and the most amazing view. From that spot, we could see the massive hulk of Everest, from Changste up the profile of the North Ridge, over the summit to the Hillary Step and the South Summit, down the SE Ridge to the South Col, and over to Lhotse. I was pleased to be able to describe the route to the team from Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face up past the Yellow Band and the Geneva Spur to the South Col, which typically you don’t get a chance to see on the trip.
Today it was announced that there would be a puja (buddhist ceremony) at the SPCC camp. We all headed over and watched a fair bit of the ceremony, after which a bunch of speeches were made. It is still undecided if the season here is finished, but serval teams, mostly those that lost members of their team, are finished. A group of about 300 Sherpa signed on to a list of demands for the Nepali Government; a few of the line items include getting a plot of land in Kathmandu for a memorial to honor fallen climbers, raising the maximum allowed employer provided insurance from $10,000 to $20,000, raising the Government provided support from $400 to $10,000 per fallen climber, and lastly but not least, that the Nepali Government give 30% of Everest Permit proceeds to . In addition, the group made it clear that they do not want to return to the Icefall this year. The writing is on the wall, and I’m sorry to say that as I write this, Jim is telling the group that basically the trip is over, and we are discussing our exit plan. Sad news atop sad news. All of us are disappointed, but at the same time we want be respectful of those who have lost their lives in the Icefall, as well as all the Sherpa climbers that no longer want to work on Mount Everest this year. After all, we are dependent on them for the success of our climb, and without their support, the climb is far from the reach of a small expedition such as ours.
One last thing I would like to mention. While we were on the trail yesterday, we bumped into Melissa Arnot, so I took a moment to inquire about the non-profit foundation that she and Dave Morton are running. The Juniper Fund (www.thejuniperfund.org) was created to directly benefit the families of local climbers and porters who lose their lives working on expeditions. She explained that 100% of all donations of each year get evenly distributed amongst the families affected in that calendar year, and that the money would be distributed over a five year period in an effort benefit the families over a longer period of time. For anyone wishing to donate to the families of those who lost their lives in this terrible accident, this would be a direct and worthy way to do so.