Newsletter 234 May 2010
Paving the way to the summit
After having spent one night at the dizzying heights of Camp 3, our high altitude team should now be well acclimatised and physically ready to go for the summit. However, before they will be pushing for the top of the world, they will be back at base camp, to rest, eat, sleep and wait for the weather window to arrive. They are currently all back at Camp 2, where they will spend another night before we can welcome them back here at base camp.
Three of the Himex Sherpas, together with Sherpas from two other operators are on their way to the South Col (8,000m) and, if the weather permits, they will be fixing the rope from there to the summit, opening the final summit ridge to the rest of the climbing community.
In the meantime, Shari, Eiko, Feng, Hiro and four of our climbing Sherpas have arrived at base camp and are enjoying the good food, the shower and the lower elevation to recover from the higher altitude and their individual colds. “I think I will have to rest and not move between camps for the next few days to completely recover from my cold,” Shari said. “It is great to be back here and have eggs on toast for breakfast,” she continued.
Finding the route
While clients and guides are either acclimatising or resting to get ready for the summit push, the Icefall Doctors are busy paving the climbers’ way through the Khumbu Icefall, the gateway to the foot of Everest. Without their hard work in the icefall, nobody would actually get to the higher elevations of the mountain. On one of my strolls through base camp, I met Ang Nima Sherpa, who has been an Icefall Doctor since 1975, and it was fascinating to find out more about their work. I have always wondered how they were able to find their way through this messy maze of huge ice blocks and seracs.
“This year we started looking for the route on 23 March and it took us about one week to find the right way and fix it with ropes and ladders,” the 57-year old said. When he saw the surprised look on my face, he continued: “I have been working in the icefall for 35 years and I know it like the back of my hand.”
The Doctors’ camp is right next to the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) clinic and it is marked with one of the many ladders that we come across in the icefall. “This year the icefall is not too bad. We only needed around 50 ladders and the longest one consists of three ladders that are tied together,” Ang Nima explained. In some years, the crevasses in the icefall are so big that the doctors have to tie five ladders together to cross them.
The team of Icefall Doctors consists of six Sherpas, who prepare the icefall every year and work in shifts. On a normal day, two people are working and four are resting. “As the ice is constantly changing, we have to go in almost every day and re-adjust the ropes and ladders,” Ang Nima continued.
Even though, being an Icefall Doctor is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, Ang Nima told me that in all these years only one Doctor died during his work. “Every morning before I go into the icefall, I pray that nothing will happen, and so far it has worked.”
Base camp manager
The Icefall Doctors are employed by the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), the organisation that is also in charge of rubbish disposal within the Sagarmatha National Park. “Every expedition pays the SPCC $ 200 per client and the doctors receive a salary for their work,” Tshering Tenzing, the Icefall Doctor’s base camp manager, explained.
Other than preparing the Khumbu icefall, the Doctors also watch out for climbers trying to climb a mountain without a permit (Note: Every expedition attempting a peak in Nepal needs to have a permit from the Nepal government). “This year, four Russians attempted to climb Nuptse without a permit, but we noticed them and they are currently on their way back to Kathmandu,” Tshering told me. The four illegal climbers will probably face a heavy fine and could be banned from traveling to Nepal for a number of years.
During various meetings with the Icefall Doctors, Russell discovered that the ‘Docs’ only had a single-bandwidth radio, which means that they can only contact each other but are unable to reach other expeditions in case of an emergency.
“This is not good as it is important for the Icefall Doctors to get in touch with us if there is an emergency,” Russell said. “Hopefully, we can get them other radios, so they can contact us, if needed.” During a clean-out, Russell found five radios, which he does not need at the moment and which he will lend to the Icefall Doctors for the rest of the season.
While the Doctors are busy maintaining the way through the Khumbu Icefall at the lower elevations, the nine climbing Sherpas are getting ready to fix the final stretch from the South Col to the summit. If the weather holds, the last bit of rope fixing could be finished on 5 May, which will then open the doors to many expeditions to head for the top of the world. Watch the space!