Everest avalanche highlights harsh industry conditions

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First Posted: 4/28/2014

A recent tragedy on the world’s highest mountain has brought a lot of attention to Nepal. On April 18, a high-altitude avalanche crashed down on Mount Everest, killing 16 men and seriously wounding three more. On the morning of the tragic accident, a group of about 50 people, mostly Nepali Sherpas, were in the Khumbu Icefall area preparing ropes for a climbing route when the avalanche hit. The Khumbu Icefall is one of the most dangerous spots of the southern route to Everest’s summit.

Adrian Ballinger, a seasoned high-altitude mountain guide and founder of Alpenglow Expeditions, has summited Everest six times and was deeply saddened by the tragic accident.

“In many ways it’s (the Khumbu Icefall) the most difficult and most dangerous part of the entire climb,” Ballinger told CNN. “The Sherpa who work on Mount Everest are the best of the best; they are some of the strongest climbers in the world. This specific zone is an area where we all know there’s a lot of risk, but of course we hoped there would never be a major accident like this.”

While there are many uncertainties when climbing Everest, mountaineers and thrill seekers all over the world risk their lives every year just to reach the top. Sherpa guides, however, have a reason of their own to be on the mountain. Sherpa are a strong, proud people from the most mountainous region of Nepal. Since they were born high in the Himalayas, they are well-adjusted to the altitude and are the best climbers when it comes to Everest. Being a guide on Everest is an opportunity for these men to provide for not only their families, but for their communities as well.

This spring has been the busiest climbing season Everest has seen. Nepal’s tourism industry issued permits for over 300 foreign climbers who planned on scaling the world’s highest peek within the coming weeks. Because of the accident, many Everest climbing companies made the tough decision to cancel the 2014 season altogether, Ballinger’s team included.

“While as a business this was a hard decision,” Ballinger explained, “as a teammate and friend, there was no question.”

Ballinger, along with other expedition leaders, hope the Nepali government will begin to regulate Everest by requiring all climbers to have high altitude climbing experience. They also want to see a dramatic increase in pay for all mountain workers, including Sherpa guides.

“We must continue to try to increase the safety of our industry, and we must ensure support and regulation goes past our financially well-supported teams, and to the guides and high altitude workers of budget teams,” Ballinger shared on his Facebook page.

Unfortunately, the Nepali government did not meet these demands, so climbing teams and Sherpa guides decided it was best to close down the mountain for the 2014 season. Of course, the Nepali government wants to continue the season. However, the Sherpa rejected the idea since the government did not agree to their demands, including a request that a large portion of permit fees collected are given to the families of the Sherpa men who died.

While there have been deadly seasons on Everest in the past, this year’s tragedy was by far the worst. The 2014 season has changed things on Everest, and regular climbers fear it will no longer be the same.

Please consider donating to the families of the Sherpa who were lost by visiting sherpasfund.org.