NEWSLETTERS - Everest 2014

The Daily Moraine - Everest 2014 #68 June 2014


Difficult decisions

Should we carry on or go home?

by Russell Brice

Now I was receiving information that it was looking like the mountain would be closed, so I, along with Phil Crampton, managed to call for a helicopter to pick us up and take us back to Kathmandu. That evening we met with EOA, NMA, TAAN, SPCC and various others who were concerned about the situation at BC.

Also that afternoon the government agreed to many of the demands that we had requested from BC. Some of these demands could be met immediately, but others needed to be taken to parliament, so no immediate decision could be made. I was also able to read about this in the local newspapers.

The following morning Phil, Guy Cotter and I meet with the Ministry including Sushil Ghimire the Secretary of Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, along with EOA, NMA, TAAN, SPCC, NMGA, and several of the larger local operators. I was asked to submit a full report of what had been happening at BC. I supported the demands being made by the Sherpas, but also conceded that several of these demands had already been met according to public media. This the Secretary agreed had been done. The three foreign operators also asked for clarification from the Ministry about how our expeditions stood at that time, and we were asking for assurance that our members’ investment of time, money and effort were secure. I personally was very critical to the Under Secretary for having made an announcement that there would be dedicated Liaison Officers at the BC, but these had never arrived. I was critical about the way that the LOs had not informed the Ministry of events on the day of the avalanche, which resulted in the mess up with the MI17 helicopter. We all expressed the tension that was building at the BC, and we were asking for the Ministry to do something positive. But really they did not know what to do. As the Sherpas had already asked for the Ministry to send representatives to the Base Camp, I suggested that this is what they should do. I also suggested to the Ministry that they make a very formal presentation with a declaration of the points that they had already agreed to, not just a piece of paper.

So it was decide that the Secretary and Under Secretary of the Ministry, the presidents of NMA, EOA, SPCC, NMGA, TAAN would all fly by helicopter to BC the following day. Can I say that it was the later organisations that paid for these flights as these people are concerned about the reputation of Nepal as a tourist destination, not just as a mountaineering destination. Of course the Ministry did not contribute whatsoever. Phil and I also flew back to BC but we both paid for our own flights from BC and return.

On our return, I was warned not to go to the meeting that had been arranged with the officials at Base Camp as by now the Sherpas were very angry with me for going to the Ministry, even if I was trying to help push their demands, but it was my responsibility to also represent my expedition members. In the event I heard that the meeting turned quite ugly with the Sherpas turning off the oxygen that the Secretary was using, some threw stones and others tried to stop the helicopters from landing when they were to arrive to take the officials away. In the event we could have done with the security, or at least the officials could have benefited from this.

Now my Sherpa staff had finished packing our equipment on Lobuche Peak and had returned to Everest Base Camp. I talked with Phurba Tashi and asked if the Sherpas were still prepared to climb on Everest and Lhotse. He told me that they all were, but advised that it would be unwise for Himalayan Experience to continue with the expedition as word was around that other Sherpas would break the legs of our staff and would firebomb our Kathmandu offices if we continued. It was with deep concern and reluctance that I eventually decided that it was best to cancel our expeditions.

I wondered if I had done the right thing to send my Sherpa staff home during this period. I thought that it was the right thing to do, so as my staff could discuss these matters with their families but also so that they could pay respects to other families and friends who had died in the avalanche. But, I wondered if our Sherpas and those from IMG and some of the other companies who employ local Khumbu staff had stayed, if there might have been a more balanced thought process between the various Sherpas teams. But then I also wondered if in fact there might have been fighting between the teams.

I researched both Buddhist and Hindi religions to see if there was in fact a specific period of time that one must pay respect to the dead, but found that there was no reason that the mountain needed to be closed out of respect, so those who are using this as a reason to close the mountain are not really being reasonable. For many years climbers have been climbing around bodies that we know of and do not know of. Besides, the route through the Icefall could be changed so as not to be walking directly in this area.

The Government reacted quite quickly and agreed to most of the points that the Sherpas were asking on day five, so I saw no reason for strike action and certainly there should not have been strike action before day seven in any case.

And I see that the Sherpas did not respect the two points concerning each team making its own decision to climb or not, and that there should not be pressure put on teams. For this I have totally lost the respect of that particular Sherpa community that pushed these events through and hijacked the Everest season. I totally respect those teams that lost many Sherpa staff, and if I had lost my Sherpas I would also have stopped my expedition.

In event we made a timely departure from BC with some members electing to fly out and others walking. Of course our Sherpa staff were left for another few days to take down the Base Camp that they had spent almost one month preparing for our members. As it was, most of our members only spent a few days in the camp and never even put one foot in the Icefall.

Several of the operators met to plan how to pack and store equipment at C2 and remove equipment from C1. We had been given an assurance from SPCC and the Ministry that we would be allowed to get permission to use helicopter support for this endeavour. I presented a detailed flight plan to EOA with the names of staff that would fly to C1 and C2, and an approximate weight estimation of equipment that would be brought back down from the respective camps. The EOA then requested the correct permission to do this work so as equipment would not be left all over the mountain. This turned out to be a slick operation with most teams dealing with their equipment at C1 and C2 in a very responsible manner. Even sugar and rice was being flown back off the hill at considerable cost to those teams, when it would have been so easy to just throw this into a crevasse. The accounting for this has been complicated, however I undertook to organise this whole operation so as to look after the environment.

What is now of much concern to me is the lack of honour from the Ministry. For all their verbal agreements, what they do in practice is very different as they now say that we did not have permission for these flights.

Part 5 follows shortly which covers what followed in Kathmandu

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).