Saturday April 18 2015 saw the first anniversary of the deadliest accident in the history of Mount Everest. 16 Sherpas were killed on the Khumbu Icefall slightly above Base Camp when an avalanche struck their group as they hauled gear up the mountain.
Around 250 people have died attempting to climb Everest, with 40 of those in the Khumbu Icefall.
The Khumbu Icefall is a half-mile-long river of ice that can move by six feet a day and is one of the first major obstacles for Everest climbers.
George Mallory, who participated in the first three expeditions to the mountain in the early 1920s and died there in 1924, turned away at this point, believing the icefall to be impassible.
Crossing it takes 12 hours. Crevasses can open or close in under a day. Ropes might snap and ladders break. Massive fragments of ice can break off at any moment, possibly sparking an avalanche, as was the case in the 2014 incident.
Climber and writer, Jon Krakauer, famously described negotiating the Khumbu as “a little like playing a round of Russian roulette.”
Adrian Ballinger, a guide who has climbed Everest six times and will be able to carve a seventh notch on his bedpost this year, declared, “It’s always something we fear.” The accident, he revealed, was no surprise: “We’ve been living on borrowed time.”
Another guide, 34-year-old Nima Sherpa, attested that the best way to deal with the icefall was “to get out of the area as fast as we can” and that foreign climbers were equally fearful. Hundreds of people pass through the icefall each year.
This disaster prompted Sherpas to accuse the government of impoverished Nepal of not repaying the favour of earning millions from Western mountaineers – expeditions cost over $75,000 per person.
After the accident, Sherpas refused to work on the mountain, causing the cancellation of the remainder of the climbing season. The climbing community was deeply shocked. The traditional climbing route to Everest’s peak, used since the first ascent in 1953, was altered to improve safety.
Additional doctors were deployed and weather forecasting systems upgraded.
Climbing was suspended for the day of the anniversary. A gathering took place at Base Camp, 19,000 feet up, and a moment of silence was observed. Gurkhas from the British Army were present – 2015 is the 200th anniversary of the founding of the regiment and a Gurkha is now attempting a climb.
A moving memorial service was held at the office of the Nepal Mountaineering Association in Kathmandu, which about 200 people attended, including relatives of victims. Flowers were offered, prayers said by monks and traditional music played.
One guide who was present at Base Camp at the time of the accident, Pasang Sherpa, commented, “My heart races when I look at the icefall. It is a sad day for us.” Tears in her eyes, the 20-year-old daughter of victim, Ang Kaji Sherpa, who is now the head of her family – she has four siblings – bewailed, “There is a vacuum in our family, no one to guide or scold us. We are on our own.”
Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of Nepal’s mountaineering association, remarked, “After the avalanche, many questions were raised about the safety and security of the guides that are the backbone of this industry.” He asked for donations from the mountaineering community.
That same day, the government announced that some of the permit fees would be employed in a welfare fund for people who work in the trekking industry. Money will be given to those who are injured and the families of those who are killed.
Trekkers pay $10 while mountaineers pay $20 for a Trekker’s Information Management System permit. 10 percent of this will be paid to the fund, which it was estimated would generate around $200,000 a year.
Sherpas have demanded that helicopters be used to carry equipment partway up the mountain to reduce the number of trips they undertake and tour operators don’t wish to oblige. 300 climbers are waiting to ascend to the summit and 4,000 have done so in the past.