Sherpas in Nepal have refused to rebuild a climbing route on Mount Everest that was destroyed by an earthquake-triggered avalanche more than a week ago, a decision likely to end this year’s climbing season. Gyanendra Shrestha, an official at Nepal’s Mountaineering Department, said the Sherpas informed the office on Monday that they were not going to rebuild the route because of safety and time reasons. It would be the second consecutive year that the climbing season has been called off because of deaths on the world’s highest peak. The season was canceled last year after an avalanche killed 16 Sherpa guides. Actually among the big teams attempting the summit this year, almost all have already called off. Around 350 foreign climbers, and double the number of local guides, were on the mountain when its worst ever disaster struck. The avalanche blasted snow, ice and rocks through base camp’s tents, splitting skulls, breaking limbs and hurling people up to 200 metres.
Mountaineering teams have until the end of this month to climb the peak, but without the route being fixed it is not possible for them. The Sherpas play a crucial role by bringing the ladders, ropes and equipment needed to clear the trail. Kapindra Rai of the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, which controls the Icefall Doctors, as the Sherpas who prepare the route are called, said the area is too dangerous and there is not much time left in the season before it begins to get warmer and melting ice and monsoon rains bring bad conditions. “It is just not possible to rebuild the route in time for climbers to attempt to scale the peak,” Rai said.
The Nepal government has not formally canceled the season and climbing permits are valid until the end of May. Government has said that there is no additional risk for the climbers and they can go ahead if they wish. Climbers and Sherpas attempting to reach the summit from the north face of the mountain in Tibet have already packed their gear and left after Chinese authorities closed all climbing for the spring season. The Sherpas are paid daily wages, but will also lose the big bonuses they generally receive from the teams after successful climbs to the peak. The April 25 earthquake has already killed more than 7,200 people in Nepal, flattened mountain villages and destroyed buildings and archaeological sites in Kathmandu.
Just a few days back, a separate drama had unfolded high above them on Mount Everest where the hopes of a few rich climbers and some of their sherpas have also vanished. After a week of high emotion and harsh words at Everest Base Camp, climbing firm Himalayan Experience finally decided on last Friday to abandon its ascent of the world’s highest peak, becoming the last big team to do so. Its clients included names as millionaire Texas realtor David McGrain. McGrain, a former weightlifter and self-styled “adrenaline philanthropist” who has a tattooed chest and wears a gold nose-ring, was in a minority of one when he quit his party of at least 10 climbers, all clients of Himalayan Experience. Another climber, Nick Cienski, speaking from the ruins of base camp where he helped recover bodies and gather the broken remains of victims, initially agonised over whether to give up.
It is a question that also haunted Everest veteran Russell Brice, who runs Himalayan Experience. He made the decision to quit and bring the rest of his group off the mountain. Brice, 63, a stocky, weather-beaten New Zealander, changed his mind after being stung by suggestions that he was putting the interests of his business, some of his climbers and the vanity of summiteering above all else. Nepal’s tourism department said on last Thursday that climbers faced “no additional risk” after the quake and could resume their expeditions. Brice agreed that had his decision been based on climber safety alone, an ascent would have been possible. “Physically, our team could still continue and get there,” he said on Friday. Dennis Broadwell, who owns the U.S. company Mountain Gurus, also canceled his firm’s Everest climb. “If this happened in America, they would not be playing a ball game the next day,” he said. “I told my clients, this is a national disaster, these sherpas just want to go back to their families.”
Last year Phurba Namgyal Sherpa helped dig out the bodies of 16 sherpas buried by an avalanche. That disaster caused the cancellation of the Everest season.He said he survived this year’s one, and helped save his American client, Afghan war veteran Benjamin Breckheimer, by covering their mouths and noses to stop them filling with snow. Breckheimer, injured by a bomb blast in 2009, wanted to become the first wounded U.S. army veteran to climb Everest. Now heading home to see his family, Phurba said the government’s decision to reopen Everest was irresponsible. It was “too dangerous” to climb, he said.
But for many other sherpas, economics will compel them back to the mountain. In Lukla, Rinjen Sherpa, 49, lay on a stretcher in a room by the town’s helipad alongside four corpses. He arrived there on Tuesday with a serious back injury and gashes on his head and arm. He had been standing outside a kitchen at base camp when the avalanche lifted him off his feet. His face scrunched against the pain, Rinjen said he would return to work if he can. “What else will I do? There is no other work,” he whispered. “I have to work.” Rinjen, who was also at base camp during last year’s avalanche, earns $7.50 a day. Jon Reiter, a Californian building contractor, has climbed six of the seven highest summits on all the world’s continents, with only Everest left to conquer. He was at base camp when the quake hit, having been there for last year’s avalanche as well. “This is not the year to climb Everest,” he said in Kathmandu after leaving the mountain. “It’s the year to hope to God these people get through this.”
(with inputs from AP, AFP, Reuters)