NEWSLETTERS - Everest 2014

The Daily Moraine - Everest 2014 #56 June 2014


Base Camp demands - The aftermath of the avalanche

by Russell Brice

Of course we were all shocked and stunned with the events from the previous two days, so when a four day ban on climbing out of respect was announced, all teams agreed. As my team members were all down on Lobuche Peak acclimatising I had few people at Base Camp, so I immediately offered for my Sherpa staff to go home, which they all accepted. I felt that it was only fair that they be allowed to talk to their families and also practically everyone of my Sherpa staff had lost relatives or close friends. Later on, the respect period was extended to seven days, but in fact I think that this was more of an arbitrary period that various people gave to allow the Ministry to agree to various demands. In any event I extended the period of time off for my staff from four to six days intending that they would help with the removal of fixed ropes and camps on Lobuche and the dismantling of the Lobuche Base Camp as the Sherpas came back up the valley to Everest BC. But by then I was already hearing of various threats and even that I had hid my Sirdar, Phurba Tashi away from BC so as he could still go up to the summit of Everest so as to be the person with the most ascents. Anyone who knows Phurba, well understands that this is not his main goal in life, but it was interesting to hear such comments which in my mind shows a certain amount of jealousy from other Sherpas. For the record Phurba has been to the summit of Everest 21 times and to the summit of 31 x 8,000m peaks.

It did not take long before there was a meeting called at the SPCC tent where various Western leaders and many vocal Sherpas started making demands from the government and subsequently a 13 part partition was drawn up. Two of the very vocal leaders at this meeting were Pasang Tenzing and Pasang Bhote. I am sure that both of these men have good intentions, but I somehow do not trust them. After the Manaslu avalanche the same two men lead about 50-60 Sherpas to my Manaslu Base Camp and demanded that I stop climbing. Pasang Tenzing is a new Nepal IFMGA mountain guide and he often uses this authority around himself, which is good, but not when it is not well directed. On Manaslu, I did point out that all of our team was actually at BC during the 5 days that it was snowing, and that after 40 years as a mountain guide and in consultation with my Sherpa staff that I would make my own decision as to whether to climb or not. Can I point out that my Sherpa staff were not part of this gathering where I felt in danger from this mob. And again last year when the fighting with Simone and Uli took place, Pasang Tenzing was not actually at C2 but all day long he had been making despairing comments over the radio to the rope fixing team, which I am sure did not help the situation on the hill though I do put this blame on Simone who really should know better. But again this year, I see the same faces causing problems.

At this meeting, in the SPCC tent, a brawl almost broke out between the Liaison Officers and some of the fired up Sherpas, and it took the efforts of the Western members present to calm things down. Pasang Bhote came with a long pre-written set of demands, several of which many of us did not think were reasonable, but after considerable discussion where the Western members often helped, we managed to put the demands from the Ministry into a concise document with 13 points.

Some of these points relevant to that moment in time were:
1. That a memorial be made for the 16 victims who died on the 18th, probably in Kathmandu.
2. That a remembrance day be set every year when there would be no climbing on Everest.
3. That the government increase insurance limit for injured up to $4,000.
4. That the government increase insurance for death up to $15,000.
5. That the government top up the cost of insurance for this rescue.
6. That there be discussions with SPCC about how to improve the route through the Icefall in the future.
7. That 30% of Permit Fees be dedicated to a fund for future climbing fatalities and injuries to local staff.
8. That equipment could be left at C2 this year.
9. That helicopters could be used to take Sherpa staff to C2 to pack equipment and to recover equipment from C1.
10. That it would be up to each expedition to make its own decision whether to continue with expedition or not this year.
11. That there would be no pressure put on any expedition to stop from others.
12. That the Sherpas would give the government 7 days to come up with answers to these demands otherwise they would go on strike.
13. That representatives from the Ministry should visit BC.

Of course, we all agree that the Ministry needs to do more to help the local staff, and for some of these things we have been asking for quite some time for rule changes so as to make the life as a Sherpa to be more secure.

Four days after the avalanche there was a very sincere and moving Puja at Base Camp. Practically everyone there attended, Sherpas, Nepalese and foreigners. The service was run by the 22 Lamas that were in Base Camp. The service went on for a considerable period which demonstrated the amount of respect that everyone felt for those who had died just a few days before. Then I felt sorry that this respectful service went directly into a political meeting, sorry, shocked and annoyed that this was happening. The same people Pasang Tenzing and Pasang Bhote, who had been involved in arranging the Puja immediately led us all into what was effectively a political meeting. Many of us were cajoled into making short speeches, some saying how we must all stop and all go home, and others who suggested that we should continue with the expeditions as this was so important for the future of the expedition and tourist business and the future income for so many of the staff that were in attendance. It was interesting to note that Bhote reproduced his original piece of paper and read out his original demands, not the 13 points that we had all agreed previously. Of course this was in Nepali so expedition members had no idea what was being said. But at this stage I could see that this was increasing the emotions of the Sherpas in attendance.

I left this Puja feeling very sad that in fact we are now going to experience mob rule at Base Camp. I was concerned enough to call for a meeting between several of the larger operators to discuss what we should be doing next. I was suggesting that we should send a delegation of expedition leaders to Kathmandu to make representation to the Ministry. Many leaders agreed, but most were too busy dealing with their own expedition logistics at BC. Another day went by and I could feel tensions building. A petition was now signed by something like 300–360 Sherpas. It appears that they all signed a blank piece of paper which did not state what they were actually signing for. It appears that many Sherpas went back to their camps still not knowing what they had signed for: was it to support the 13 point demand to the government, or was it to go on strike and close the mountain? To this day I do not think that many really know, and I am not even sure if many knew about the 13 point demand, rather they knew what Bhote had read out.

Part 4 follows shortly which covers the difficult decisions that had to be made.

Abbreviations: Expedition Operators Association (EOA), Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA), Khumbu Climbing Centre (KCC), Liaison Officers (LOs) Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), Nepal Mountain Guides Association (NMGA)Sagarmartha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), Trekking Agencies Association Nepal (TAAN).