As we made our way back to Kayhmandu, I wanted to share my last thoughts on the events that occurred after the tragic accident of April 18th.
2014 will likely be remembered as a dramatic and at the same time pivotal for Everest mountaineering in Nepal.
The awful avalanche of April 18th that caused 16 deaths profoundly hit the Sherpa community, undermining its confidence and raising an identity crisis within the Everest ecosystem.
The Sherpas’ decision not to support any further climbing of Everest this season (“it will be Everest black year”) eventually escalated to a negotiations with the government over a number of requests about insurance coverage, compensations to the victims families, labor rights and creation of a fund from the permit fees.
In fact the most dangerous operations on Everest (route setting on the icefall and on higher camps, carrying of equipment and food higher up on the mountain and support to clients) are performed by the Sherpas – the perception that such work isn’t always fully appreciated may have contributed to the radicalized tension that erupted last week.
It’s also relevant to notice that all climbing agencies (international and local) depend in their entirety on the work of the Sherpas and their strike costs about $3M in seasonal budget for at least three agencies. It’s important to know that the $4M of this season permit fees will be kept by the government.
The place where the avalanche occurred is notoriously one of the most dangerous on Everest and every year the movement of the glacier makes it worse. Sherpas are also very respectful about crossing the areas where brothers, relatives and friends lost their lives.
As we left base camp, it’s impressive to see how it has become the skeleton of the sparkling international atmosphere of just two weeks prior: the strike of the Sherpas basically shut the Everest spring season and most groups packed their gear, their tents and head back home.
It’s a mix of feelings for climbers: sadness for the tragedy that was lived in person, disappointment for having to postpone a dream that has been prepared for a long time, and bitterness for having been used by a sub-group for political reasons – moreover episodes of intimidation and threat not to break the strike have been reported.
Hard to tell where all this will lead to, but clearly without more transparent coordination and dialogue between the Nepalese government, the agencies and the Sherpas, the choice of climbing Everest from Nepal will be less obvious in the next future.