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

Beijing Warns Hong Kong Protesters, Cracks Down at Home

In suppressing protest news, China reportedly has arrested more than 20 people on the mainland who acted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters More

Competing Goals Could Frustrate Efforts to Fight Islamic State

As alliances shift and countries re-define themselves, analysts say long-standing goals of some key players in Middle East may soon compete with Western goals More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid