News / Asia

After Deadly Everest Avalanche, New Focus on Risks

FILE - A Nepalese porter walks with his load from Everest base camp in Nepal, May 2011. Porters walk for weeks, sometimes carrying supplies heavier than their own body weight.
FILE - A Nepalese porter walks with his load from Everest base camp in Nepal, May 2011. Porters walk for weeks, sometimes carrying supplies heavier than their own body weight.
Anjana Pasricha
Nepal's deadly accident on Mount Everest that killed 16 local guides a week ago has thrown the climbing season into disarray. Mourning for the ethnic Sherpa guides has turned to debate over the huge risks they face in an increasingly commercialized industry.

According to Indian Army Colonel Satish Sharma, who scaled Mount Everest in 2001 and led another expedition in 2013, Sherpa guides moved ahead of the climbers, shaving off huge blocks of ice and carving out paths — something that does not happen on most other peaks.

“It has a steep gradient," he said, describing the Sherpas' work as often dangerous, particularly on a perilous stretch known as the Khumbha Icefall, the fastest moving glacier in the world.

"If you open the route in the morning and you are coming back in the afternoon, sometimes you have to change the route," Sharma said. "If you put the ladder, sometimes the ladder crumbles by evening, before the members start moving up the glacier.

Sharma said the Sherpas are called "the Khumbha Icefall doctors." "They move up this glacier early in the morning," he said. "As early as 2 or 3 a.m., they start opening the route, fixing the ladders.”
 
It was along the Khumba Icefall that a massive piece of ice fell, burying at least 13 Sherpas in the single deadliest accident on the mountain. Three others are missing and presumed dead.
 
Those who have scaled Everest say the risks facing Sherpas have risen sharply over the last decade, as the 8,850-meter peak has turned into what Sharma calls a “commercial mountain."

Others say Everest is no longer a mountaineer’s ultimate challenge, but a valuable piece of real estate from which the government and private Western trekking outfits make millions of dollars.
 
A tough and dangerous job

Sold as a tourist package to hundreds of people, often with little experience scaling such rigorous peaks, a trip up Everest no longer involves opening treacherous routes or ferrying oxygen, ropes and other equipment.
 
That job has been fully handed over to the Sherpas, whose challenge is to ease the path through danger zones for mostly foreign climbers so they conserve their energy for the final bid on the summit. While all climbers cross the Khumbha Icefall once, Sherpas makes dozens of trips.
 
A portrait of Dorjee Khatri, who lost his life in an avalanche at Mount Everest, is seen on the truck carrying his body during the funeral rally of Nepali Sherpa climbers in Kathmandu, Apr. 21, 2014.A portrait of Dorjee Khatri, who lost his life in an avalanche at Mount Everest, is seen on the truck carrying his body during the funeral rally of Nepali Sherpa climbers in Kathmandu, Apr. 21, 2014.
x
A portrait of Dorjee Khatri, who lost his life in an avalanche at Mount Everest, is seen on the truck carrying his body during the funeral rally of Nepali Sherpa climbers in Kathmandu, Apr. 21, 2014.
A portrait of Dorjee Khatri, who lost his life in an avalanche at Mount Everest, is seen on the truck carrying his body during the funeral rally of Nepali Sherpa climbers in Kathmandu, Apr. 21, 2014.
The recent accident, in which all those killed were local guides, underscored the constantn risks they face.
 
Hardy residents of mountain-hugging villages, the Sherpas undertake such intensely dangerous work because it affords them some $3,000 to $6,000 for a three-month climbing season — several times the average earnings in a poor country.
 
But according to Sharad Pradhan of the Nepal Tourism Board, the once-impoverished Sherpa villages have benefited.
 
“If you just see the demographic situation, Sherpas are one of the most well off communities in Nepal," he said. "That is because of all this trekking and climbing. There is no other alternative for them other than climbing or helping the expeditions.”
 
Meager compensation 

But the Sherpas' unexpected refusal to guide climbers in the aftermath of the recent tragedy is perceived by many as a sign of resentment over the small fraction of revenue that guides earn from the extremely lucrative — and extremely dangerous —  expeditions.

The initial spark of anger among Sherpas was the $400 compensation offered by the government to families of those buried in the avalanche.

Government officials have since offered additional relief and said they would raise the amount of insurance coverage for Sherpas.

Too little, too late
 
But it may be too late to rescue this year’s climbing season, as many foreign teams are already packing up to leave.

“They are in grief, you know, they have lost friends," said Sobit Kunwar of the Nepal National Mountain Guide Association. "They want attention [of the] government of Nepal to do certain good things, certain welfare for the families [who] lost their man on the mountain.”
 
The head of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, Ang Tshering Sherpa, who also operates a trekking company, echoes the sentiment, explaining that most Sherpas aren't likely to walk off the mountain but are in shock.
 
“The climbing community is very tight in family circle and that is why they are very shocked and upset," he said. "Everyday they do 'pujas' for departed souls.”
 
Catering to wealthy climbers

Some mountaineers feel that the resentment over pay and benefits among Sherpas could be linked to the increasingly luxurious experience that an Everest expedition offers to those who can afford to pay.
 
Sharma noticed a huge difference in the 12 years between his first and second trips.
 
"Base camp is becoming a five-star kind of a resort," he said. "There are expeditions who bring their inflatable bathing tubs, also all communication equipment ... Facebook and everything. People are buying it and service providers are giving them. This is adding to the problem also.”
 
The disarray on Everest means the world’s highest peak may not get too many visitors this season. But most observers are confident that, despite the risks, the Sherpas will again tackle the rigors of high-altitude climbing, resuming the risky livelihood that is the only job they know.

You May Like

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

Al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Deux from: Bangalore
April 25, 2014 11:41 PM
Our sympathies with the Sherpas, at least if Everest isn't exploited for season it would remain that much pristine.
Everest has become commercialised and a rubbish dump.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs