NEWSLETTERS - Everest Spring 2010

Newsletter 347 June 2010

Reflections on Everest

After dozens of Everest teams had descended on Kathmandu and kept the town buzzing for a few days, it is now relatively quiet as more or less all climbers have gone back home to reflect on the last couple of months during which they climbed – successfully or unsuccessfully – the highest mountain in the world.

All members and most of the Himex staff have also returned to their respective countries and the Sherpas, who had been working so hard to make this expedition as successful as it was, have returned to their villages and are probably helping their wives working in the fields.

Russell and I sat down together and tried to reflect on this year’s Everest expedition and the first thing he said was that he was missing the good infrastructure at base camp. “We had 24 hours of electricity, communication was working a lot better than here in Kathmandu and nobody got sick from the food,” he said. However, once back in the capital, the expedition leader has been faced with hours of power cuts, guides and bloggers, who got food poisoning and Internet connections that did not work properly. “I was trying to send my emails and it took hours to get the system to do it.”

That shows that life in Kathmandu is different for the staff than for the clients, who usually get into relaxation mode once they left the mountain and are back in civilisation. “Most of our clients took the short way to Kathmandu and flew back in a helicopter,” Russell said.

“First of all the guides, Sherpas and our doctor stayed at base camp until the Sherpas had taken down all the gear from the various camps, and once we got to Kathmandu, there was lots more to do.” Barrels have to be collected and emptied, tents have to be cleaned and emails have to be caught up with - given the Internet works. But after having finished most of the work, some of our guides took some well-deserved time out too.

“We got a mini-break when Gnarly and I went to the Last Resort, which is a beautiful resort where you can bungee jump, raft, climb, mountain bike or just relax near the Tibetan border,” said Woody after his two-day break. But other than that short holiday, the guides were busy unpacking, and also packing for their next trip. “I have already organised my barrel for the Manaslu expedition in August,” Russell said.

Furthermore, Russell has to pay bonuses to the Sherpas, do the expedition debriefing with the Ministry of Tourism, claim the rubbish deposit back from the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC) and, of course, do the compulsory interview with Miss Elizabeth Hawley, the Himalayan archivist, who has been archiving all expeditions to expedition peaks since the early 60ies. “The meeting with Liz is an important part of my time in Kathmandu and I would not feel complete if I were not interrogated by Liz,” Russell said.

Politics

Russell is also spending his time in Kathmandu trying to organise and improve things for 2011. “We had a meeting with the Ministry of Tourism to see how we can make things better, but the problem is that nobody knows who will be in government in 2011. The people we are dealing with now might not be here next year.”

He also had meetings with the various helicopter companies to discuss the flight operations to Everest Base Camp, as an increasing number of helicopters landed at the helipad this year. “At the end of the season there was one day during which 11 helicopters landed at base camp,” he said.

The use of helicopters is a huge advantage for rescue missions in Nepal and with the collaboration of Fishtail Air and Air Zermatt from Switzerland, this year saw some amazing rescues on other 8,000m peaks. “Our most remarkable rescue was on Annapurna I, where we rescued three Spaniards from an altitude of about 6,800m using the long sling technique,” Gerold Biner, the Air Zermatt pilot, told me.

The Swiss pilot also landed the Fishtail B3 helicopter at Everest’s Camp 2 at 6,400m, which was probably the highest landing since 1996, when Beck Weathers was rescued from the Western Cwm, slightly below Camp 2. “We picked up the body of a Swiss climber, who died on Everest in 2007 and I think it was a good test for future rescue missions,” Biner said. “I am not worried that the increased helicopter flights will make Everest a ‘Disneyland’ like some critics have said. I believe that it is important to be able to fly there and save lives.”

Team spirit

All in all, Russell is very pleased with this year’s Himex expedition, during which 12 members, 17 Sherpas and four guides reached the top of the world on 22nd May.

However, what he seems most pleased with is the incredible team spirit that was shown by his staff. “We packed up the camp together and everyone was still at base camp when the Sherpas went through the icefall for the last time to collect the remaining gear from the mountain. We even had a slumber party in the White Pod the last night as all the tents had been taken down and we had to sleep there,” he said.

The guides, Sherpas, Monica, the doctor and Russell walked out to Kumjung in one day and stayed in Phurba Tashi’s lodge before they flew back from Lukla the next day.

After some good parties in Kathmandu, most of the guides have now left but Russell will stay here for a few more days to organise his next Himalayan trip, which will be to Manaslu in September. “I am looking forward to going to Manaslu as we will not only try to climb the mountain but we will also deliver aid to Samagoan, the main village in the region.”

Aid to Samagoan

Last year, Himex together with the World Food Programme (WFP), Smile High and Himalayan Health and Environmental Services provided some much-needed aid to the Manaslu area. During a weeklong mission in Samagaon, five dentists treated around 1,000 patients, extracted 300 teeth, and distributed about 1,000 toothbrushes and 800 toothpaste tubes.

"None of the children had ever seen a dentist, but their teeth were actually quite good. It is different in the Khumbu, as many kids have got into the habit of eating sugary western food," Dr Mingma observed. He is the co-founder of SmileHigh, a dental aid organisation he set up with friend and fellow dentist Julian Haszard in 2004 to bring dental health services to mountain communities.

So, stay tuned for Manaslu 2010, where I will try and provide you with valuable information not only about the climbing team but also about the people in the region, the aid project, the Sherpas and of course other interesting stories that will be happening around the eighth highest mountain in the world.