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 Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    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.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora