NEWSLETTERS - Everest South 2013

Newsletter #139 May 2013

Situation at base camp calm; rope fixing ongoing

This may be a belated statement on the incident that happened on the Lhotse Face and consequently at Camp 2 on Mount Everest on 27th April 2013, however, given all the media attention about the dispute between the rope fixing Sherpas and the Swiss climber Ueli Steck, the Italian mountaineer and helicopter pilot Simone Moro and the British photographer Jonathan Griffith, I feel it is my duty to give a clearer picture from my point of view of what has been happening at base camp since the incident.

Alex Txikon climbing towards the Nuptse ridge


Even though the media has portrayed that the relationship between the western leaders and the Sherpas have soured, I would like to emphasise that the work on the mountain has made good progress and the Sherpas and expedition leaders are working very well together.

We are right on schedule and the ropes on Mount Everest have been fixed all the way to the South Col at 7,900m while the ropes are only 150m short of the summit of Lhotse. The Himex Sherpas also used the low-wind-period and fixed the route on Nuptse all the way to 7,400m. The precise weather forecast from different sources, which the expedition leaders are sharing, enables us to make the work of the Sherpas as safe as possible.

The incident between the three western climbers and the Sherpas was unfortunate, however, there were a few rough words uttered by Simone Moro that were not appreciated by the Sherpas, and understandably made them angry. This was aggravated by the fact that at the time one of the rope fixing Sherpas was keying his microphone and Simone Moro’s comments were heard all around the mountain and by many at Camp 2.

On the other hand, the Sherpas’ response was certainly somewhat over the top and some of their reactions were probably unnecessary. However, it appears that the numbers involved in the dispute have been exaggerated in various reports that were circulated from base camp.

After news of the disagreement had reached base camp, the senior Sirdars of the big teams immediately got together with some of the liaison officers to discuss how to quickly settle this dispute. The Sirdars asked me to join them and mediate between the two parties. A dubious honour that I reluctantly accepted as our team was not involved, however, it was also important to me to resolve this problem quickly and efficiently.

A so-called ‘peace deal’ was drawn up and it stated that this matter would no longer be discussed, however, when the western climbers returned home they were inundated by the media, which they happily feed with information. The Sherpas, who are still working hard on the mountain and have probably not given more thought to the incident, do not have such an outlet. In fact, they seem to be happy to comply with their part of the agreement without discussing their side of the story in further detail.

Also part of the ‘peace deal’ that Sherpas and Sirdars as well as expedition leaders signed was that all teams would ensure that such an incident would not happen again in the future, which is a very important part of this agreement. The agreement was written in both Nepali and English and is filed with the local police and the Ministry of Tourism.

Rope Fixing

Even though the Himex Sherpas are very much involved in all stages of the rope fixing on all the mountains - namely Mount Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse - they had kept out of the trouble. However, as such a situation often affects more people than only those directly involved, considerable time and effort was invested to negotiate between the parties to find an amicable solution to this delicate situation.

The initial reaction was to stop the rope fixing work for one day to give the Sherpas a rest and let their heated emotions cool down. Later, it was decided that there must be a formal apology from both sides.

This formal apology did not only apply to the western climbers and Sherpas directly involved, it also affected all Sirdars and leaders of other teams, such as Himex, who had nothing to do with the dispute.

All this might seem like a simple solution from the outside, however, when you see senior Sirdars apologising for the behaviour of the younger Sherpas and being on the verge of tears while doing so, it carries a significant amount of weight to the Sherpa people. These emotions are hard to explain to an outsider sitting at home, but it is incredibly powerful, especially when it involves long-term staff and family members.

Exploiting Sherpas

Reading reports that western commercial operators have been exploiting Sherpas for many years is disappointing and sad, and I dare say that most of the time, it is the exact opposite. Of course, there are certainly problems with employment conditions, however, these are company matters and need to be resolved by the individual company.

Despite all this trouble on the mountain, we are pleased to report that we have a very good relationship with our staff. Our Sherpas are paid and looked after well; they are provided with good clothing and safety equipment, including helmets, radios, avalanche transceivers and they obviously appreciate this. They are paid good bonuses for their work and we have always had a good and open dialogue with every one of our employees, no matter whether they are kitchen staff, climbing Sherpa or Sirdar.

For this reason, we are also very proud to see our Sherpas work well together with other teams and lead the way in the rope fixing. During the most recent rope fixing meeting, our long-term Sirdar, Phurba Tashi, who has reached the summit of Mount Everest 19 times, was elected to be in charge of the rope fixing from the South Col to the summit, which once again reflects the accomplishment of our team.

In fact, the dispute between the western climbers and the Sherpas seems to have strengthened the relationship between the various Sherpa teams, who are involved in making progress on the mountain.

After all, some good has come out of this sad incident, but senior Sirdars and the major expedition leaders are still discussing how to avoid such a situation in the future.

I have been lucky enough to talk to many Sherpas, Sirdars and members of the Nepal Guides Association to hear their version of the story. All in all everyone seems concerned about the incident and wants to avoid a repetition.

In the meantime, we have been looking closely at the weather and there have been some changes. At the moment our Sherpas and the Sherpas of other teams are on their way to the South Col and to fix to the balcony today and finish fixing the rope to the summit on10th May. Also, four of our Sherpas are currently on their way to the summit of Nuptse to finish fixing the rope there.

After this short weather window, we are expecting a windy period for some time. For this reason, our Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse teams are staying at BC until we see a much more stable, warm and calm weather window.

Silly Hat Party

Despite some of the troublesome times and in order to make the waiting easier, Himex hosted yet another party in the infamous ‘White Pod’. The theme of the festivities, which were in honour to have successfully finished the second acclimatisation rotation on the mountain, was to wear a silly hat.

It was nice to see that our members and Sherpas as well as the leaders and members of other expeditions, such as Alpine Ascents, International Mountain Guides, Adventure Consultants, the Extreme Everest medical team and others made a real effort and showed up with some creative head gear.

We saw turbans, witches’ hats, underpants and bras converted to creative hats or onion and garlic dangling from a home-made sombrero. Of course, such effort had to be rewarded and our chef Bob managed to win the male prize, which was a bottle of gin donated by Dawa Steven Sherpa from Asian Trekking.

The winning team

Without wanting to prioritise the Himex team, we had no other choice than award our Swiss guide Suzanne with the best female hat, which she had compiled of some of her underwear.

The party went on until the early morning hours of Wednesday and it was good to see that Sherpas, members and guests from other expeditions were united and had a lot of fun together. Our Sherpa team left the party early as they had to get up at 1am to go through the icefall to reach Camp 2 in order to be ready for the last leg of rope fixing on 10th May.

Russell Brice at Everest Base Camp