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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As the tumult in the Middle East distracts Obama, shifting American focus eastward appears threatened 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.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid