NEWSLETTERS - Everest 2016

Everest Expedition #607 June 2016

Hi All

The Everest season has come and gone, well at least for most. We were lucky to have an early season and so now all members are back home and back to their normal day jobs. Mind you I am still at my day job, just still in Nepal.

That is apart from Takayasu Semba who has been back in Japan for a short respite before he heads of towards K2, along with Shinji Tamura and Rene Bergsma. Our small Himalayan Experience team is joining up with Garrett Madison and his 3 members for this climb in order to make a stronger and more comfortable expedition for all. We are also working alongside Kari Kobler and his team on K2, so these last few days I have been assembling the required equipment in Kathmandu to be air freighted to Islamabad. We look forward to a cooler season than last year, however a heavy monsoon season is predicted this year.

Everest

But back to Everest, we were fortunate to get all members out of BC by the 22nd May and all our loads on the mountain were back down to BC on the same day, so that was a great relief for me to now have nobody working in the Icefall or above. After I saw so many people going to the summit on the 19th I was not surprised to see the events that unfolded later in the season happen. Like one news article headlines, it was back to “Business as Usual on Everest” but I really wonder if we never learn from our past mistakes !!!

However, by finishing early gave me time to pack in a much more organised way than we have done in the past two years as we hastened to get out of BC and get our Sherpas back to their respective families. So after a couple of days dropping tents and dismantling the kitchen and the like at BC, all the Sherpas and I were then able to return to Gorak Shep where our main equipment store is. There we spent the next 5 days cleaning, stacking, repairing and painting before storing all our gear. This was a well overdue maintenance session so as to get my gear back up to good condition, this is not so easy to do in a remote village away from normal trades people. Now with nice newly painted tent poles, and there are so many of them, (and I now have more black paint on me than on most of the poles) we eventually managed to pack these tent skeletons away.

Table legs Tent poles

Tent poles & table legs

The weather seemed to co-operate with snow falls during the evening but with the sun coming out each day. But still we had long days as we struggled to get everything done as quickly as possible. Having finished our work, and feeling exhausted but proud of the job done at 6 in the evening, suddenly Phurba suggests that he and I should go down to Lobuche village to meet up with Jing Wang. So all of a sudden this old man is chasing after 21 Everest summiteer Phurba as we dash for one hour down to the next village aiming to get there before dark. Being such experienced travellers of course we both forgot to bring a head lamp !!! Upon arrival we find that some of Jing’s film crew are suffering from altitude sickness from coming up valley too fast. So after finding oxygen and medicine around the village we were able to at last relax….. Not for long though as we left Lobuche at 05.00 the following morning and then raced down to Pheriche where we have another store. A quick breakfast with guide Mike and BC manager Anthia from Adventure Consultants who were also walking out, and it was back to work in the store. This actually went very quickly and by mid afternoon I was fortunate enough to be able to helicopter hitch hike back to Lukla and then Kathmandu. Back in Ktm the maintenance and painting has continued for the last few days, as I still wait for various kit bags and barrels to return to the city from Base Camp.

But I started to tell you a bit about the rope fixing process in the last newsletter, then we got busy going to the summit and then getting out of BC so I never really finished the story. I think by now that you all understand that this is always a difficult and delicate job that is required every year. Over the years we at Himalayan Experience have been quite implemental in trying to improve this process and at the same time make it safer. But it requires the help of many teams and many Sherpas to be successful. In my earlier newsletter I have already mentioned that there are now many more new Nepal operators here, and we see that they have limited numbers of Sherpa staff, so often these teams are unable to offer any Sherpa support to get equipment up the hill or to actually fix ropes. To co-ordinate these efforts seems to take many walks around the greater base camp. However with the help of the helicopter support to get all the rope fixing material to C1, and with the help of several teams who did an in proportional amount of work we were able to get the rope fixed to the summit on the 11 May.

This has turned out to be an important day for Nepal and especially the climbing community. Some world media would like to suggest that the following day when the first Westerners reached the summit that this was the first time Everest had been climbed for 3 years, but let us not forget that it was actually 9 Sherpas from 9 different companies who were the first to climb Everest, and that these lads were very proud of this opportunity after spending 5 hours on the 10th to push the route from South Col to just below the Balcony, and then spent another 13 hours to continue the route to the summit. Not to mention that they were waist deep in snow as they progressed from South summit to the bottom of the Hillary Step. But in fact this deep snow made the ascent of the Hillary Step much easier than normal, and even on top of the step they knocked off a 1m deep avalanche. So many of the features that we normally see were well covered in snow. But even so, and with all this hard work, one team did not send a summit Sherpa as promised, and so they were still short of rope, and so the final 30m to the summit was not fixed.

This was a very democratic decision to have 9 different teams being involved for summit rope fixing, but it was not efficient what so ever. It would have been better to have two or three companies involved with Sherpas who all know each other and who can work well together, and also who have one Sirdar or leader to follow the instructions from. This would mean that the rope fixing would be more efficient and subsequently would be done more quickly and therefore put the Sherpas in less danger. But of course many Sherpas want the extra bonus money that comes with this hard work, so many are plying to get this job. Although we did not know it at the time this year, the government actually paid each summit rope fixing Sherpa and extra $500 to mark this special occasion, on top of the $500 that the EOA pays. But I doubt that this will happen in the future.

It is always hard to keep a track of what is happening, however the below chart will give a bit of an idea about the numbers of teams (by permit) and the number of days teams did work. If you study well you will notice the disparity of shared work.

The lower part of the table deals with bonus payments that the EOA pay the various operators who then in turn pass this onto the respective Sherpas who did the work. But remember that each operator is still paying the days wages, insurance and are also looking after these Sherpas, so not all costs are covered from money collected by the EOA. And of course there is the actual cost of rope, ice screws, karabiners, pickets and the like, but this year the equipment was already paid for from funds two years before. But in the end EOA had just enough money to pay for all expenses, although in the past we have used any excess funds to pay for emergency equipment, like shovels, avalanche probes, stretches and the like. Unfortunately the last two years have seen the use of much of this equipment and also the subsequent loss of much of the stock of gear. We now need to replenish this safety equipment again in the future.

These are the Everest records, but what happened on Lhotse ?

Like for Everest there were various meetings at BC concerning Lhotse. It was quite apparent that the largest team for Lhotse was the Indian Army team with Arun Trek so it was mutually agreed that they would deal with the logistics. Many of the other Lhotse climbers were climbing Everest first and then going to attempt Lhotse, so there was very little enthusiasm from many teams. The rope, oxygen and equipment was already at C2 so part of the logistics were already in place. But for some reason it appears that there was constantly a lack of co-ordination with load carrying. Often Sherpas would turn up to carry loads at 02.00 in the morning to be told that Arun had changed their plan and were not working on that day. From a distance some of us were wondering why the rope and material was being accumulated at the Lhotse C4 but was not going any higher, and there did not seem to be a plan to combine all participating teams together for the summit fixing. As it turned out just a very few rope fixers turned up, and it seems that although these young lads were very keen, fit and strong, and had attended the Khumbu Climbing Centre courses in the past, so were technically good climbers, they however lacked rope fixing experience. So instead of fixing new rope and changing the anchors and associated tat, they just tied new rope onto old rope and climbed on that until it ran out and then tied new rope to fill the gap. As there was a lack of coordinated support it is not surprising that they ran out of rope well below the summit, but being keen and enthusiastic one young Sherpa started to pull old rope out of the snow. Remembering that this rope is now three years old as nobody has been on Lhotse for the past two years and the last rope to be fixed there was in 2013. Apparently, suddenly the old rope suddenly broke free and Ang Furba lost his balance and fell off, and not being clipped to the rope he fell the full length of Lhotse to his death to arrive just 20m away from the crampon point at the bottom of the Lhotse Face. Of course this has a devastating effect on others who witness the falling man and also have the unenviable job of collecting his body, so it is not surprising that there is a sudden lack of interest in summiting Lhotse. Besides now we know that the job has not been done well and so a totally new effort is required. I am sorry, but this is a totally needless death of a young and promising Sherpa lad, and also resulted in no Lhotse summits this year.

Name of Team Pax Agencies Name C1 - C2
Loads
C2 - C3
Fixing
C2 - C3
Loads
C3 - C4
Fixing
C2 - C4
Loads
C4 - B
Fixing
C4 - S
Fixing
Total
Days
International Mountain Guides 15 Beyul Adventure                
International Mountain Guides 10 Beyul Adventure                
International Mountain Guides 9 Beyul Adventure 5 5   5 1 1 1 18
High Adventure 7 Happy Feet Mountaineers 1   1   1     3
ASD 2 Makalu Adventure                
Armed Force UAE 15 Himalayan Holidays 1       1     2
UAE Desert Troop 2 Himalayan Holidays       1       1
NCC Girls India A 14 Himalayan Expedition               9
NCC Girls India B 5 Himalayan Expedition 4 2   1 1 1 1 10
Jagged Globe 7 Summit Nepal Trekking 2 2   1 1     6
Himalayan Experience 8 Mountain Experience 3 4   3 1 1 1 13
KKC 3 Senge Adventure                
Alpine Ascents International 3 Shangri la Nepal         1     1
SNT 5 Shangri la Nepal                
High Altitude Dream 7 High Altitude Dream 1             1
Assam 5 Arun Trek 1             1
Indian Army 14 Arun Trek 4     2 1 1 1 9
SST 15 Seven Summit Treks                

Russ