2013 Everest Report: A Curse, a Fight and the Aftermath


 

Mt. Everest showing (1) South Col/Southeast Ridge original route (Hillary-Tenzing Norgay, 1953). (2) Modern variation of the 1953 route favored by some for its decreased exposure to rockfall compared with the direct variation. (3) Modern direct variation fixed by commercial teams in 2013, favored by others for its efficiency and decreased exposure to serac fall. (4) Griffith/Steck/Moro's line of descent from Camp II. [A] (Not shown.) Everest summit (8848m). [B] Lhotse (8516m). [C] Nuptse (7864m). [D] South Col (7906m). [E] Geneva Spur. [F] Lhotse Face. [G] Western Cwm. [H] Khumbu Icefall. [I] 2013 Camp I (6100m). [J] 2013 Camp II (6500m). [K] Location of argument with fixing team (7100m). [L] 2013 Camp III (ca. 7500m). [M] 2013 Camp IV (7906m). CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. [Photo] Dick and Pip Smith/Hedgehoghouse.com

In late April 2012, continuous rockfall injured six people as they jugged the fixed ropes up the direct variation on the Lhotse Face. American climber Chad Kellogg was nearly killed by a large rock falling from high on Lhotse. Dr. Ashish Lohani of the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA; aka Everest ER) reported two broken arms, two hand injuries and a laceration from rockfall to Outside Magazine. Lakpa Nuru Sherpa sustained severe brain, jaw and eye injuries. Initially, his employers at Summit Climb hesitated to pay for the $15,000 helicopter rescue, Senior Editor Grayson Schaffer reported for Outside. Eventually, the company paid $11,000 of the total for the uninsured part of the rescue. Simone Moro piloted the helicopter evacuation. Soon afterward, teams switched to the more-circuitous route, though the day after it was fixed, some Sherpas continued to use the direct line.

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IN LIGHT OF THE PREVIOUS YEAR'S HAZARDOUS WARMING CONDITIONS, attendees of the 2013 fixing meeting in Camp I decided, after a lengthy discussion, that the team should try the circuitous 1953 line, with the direct line as Plan B. "We were not sure if we could get through the crevasses, but that we should at least look at this route first," says Russell Brice, owner and operator of HimEx. Ultimately, the climbers selected for the fixing team included three foreigners: Damian Benegas, Chad Kellogg and Rory Stark.

"It is an honor as a Westerner to be in front with the Sherpa rope-fixing. And it is good for our reputations," Alpenglow Expeditions owner and guide Adrian Ballinger said. "[Select Westerners have] been asked to assist in fixing in past years, especially when there is potentially difficult decision-making or complicated anchor replacement or bolting."

But, normally, Sherpas now make the fixing decisions, says Marty Schmidt of Peak Freaks, who has been guiding for thirty-eight years. "There is an understanding with the Sherpas and Western teams in the past that the Sherpas will [choose the fixing route], with the Westerners being involved with the organizing, getting the rope and gear, setting up the loads to be carried, etc."

View of Camp II and the Lhotse Face taken this 2013 season. Dry conditions on the face prompted commercial teams to retro-bolt parts of the original route in 2009 and 2012 to replace what used to be ice anchors. [Photo] Jonathan Griffith

An Ever-shifting Balance

WHILE THE MODERN FIXING TEAMS—often the most experienced and best-trained Sherpa climbers on Everest in a given season—have achieved some respect within the commercial guiding community, their status is the result of many years of evolving power structures in Himalayan mountaineering. Today, the word Sherpa is often used to refer to high-altitude mountain workers, but it also designates an ethnic group of eastern Tibetans who settled in the Solu Khumbu Valley hundreds of years ago, in a region that is now a district of modern Nepal. During the early twentieth century, the Scottish mountaineer Alexander Kellas began hiring Sherpas for his Himalayan explorations. His praise of their ability to climb at high elevations influenced other early British expedition leaders who employed them to assist climbers with the initial reconnaissance and attempts on Everest.

"In the 1920s, the partnerships between Sherpas and Westerners were relatively new," Peter Athans, who has participated in fifteen Everest expeditions and who serves as program director for the Khumbu Climbing Center (KCC), explained to Alpinist Editor Katie Ives. "How well the Sherpas could do, how committed they seemed—that was the best marketing [for them to get hired again]. They wanted to be spoken well of. But there was a heavy toll of Sherpas dying." Seven Sherpas were killed by a single avalanche during George Mallory's 1922 attempt. For subsequent generations, as Jamling Tenzing Norgay recounts in Touching My Father's Soul, expedition work often seemed like a kind of "mercenary military service"—a means of earning money that could help their families escape poverty, but that occasionally incurred a terrible cost.

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