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Sherpas leave Everest; some expeditions nix climbs

By Binaj Gurubacharya

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 23 2014 8:47 a.m. MDT

"Our father was the only one who earned in our family. We live in a rented apartment, our grandparents need regular medication, and all of us are still in school. We have no idea how we are going to support the family," said 17-year-old Phinjum, Kaji's second daughter.

Dali, 28, lost her husband Pen Tenji, 27, in the avalanche. His body is yet to be recovered.

She has a 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter and no other source of income to support them.

Friday's avalanche was triggered when a massive piece of glacier sheared away from the mountain along a section of constantly shifting ice and crevasses known as the Khumbu Icefall — a treacherous area where overhanging ice can be the size of office buildings.

The disaster has reignited a debate over the disproportionate risks the Sherpas take on Everest, where most climbers are well-heeled amateurs with little or no experience at high altitudes. That means Sherpas are needed to create miles (kilometers) of lines of fixed ropes, carve steps in the ice and snow and carry nearly all the equipment. At times, they are also "short-roped" directly to weak climbers to help them get up the mountain.

Because of their additional work, many have to pass through the Khumbu Icefall dozens of times, each time exposing themselves to the treacherous conditions there.

Nepal's government appeared to agree Tuesday to some of the Sherpas' demands, such as setting up a relief fund for those who are killed or injured in climbing accidents, but the proposed funding fell far short of the demands.

The government said it would stock the fund annually with 5 percent of its earnings from Everest climbing fees — well below the 30 percent the Sherpas are demanding. Nepal earns about $3.5 million annually in Everest climbing fees.

The insurance payout for those killed in the avalanche, which now stands at $10,400, will also be increased to $15,620, or 2 million rupees, the Ministry of Tourism said — far less than the Sherpas' demand for $20,800.

Nearly 30 climbers have died on the Icefall since 1963, most killed in avalanches or when they were crushed by huge chunks of ice.

More than 4,000 climbers have reached the top of the world's highest mountain since 1953, when it was first conquered by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. Hundreds of people have died trying.

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