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Everest update

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Climbing for the 2014 Mt Everest spring season now seems to be over. The final decision was neither a rule nor an exception, but a combination of factors that led to large commercial expeditions and their hired high altitude workers leaving Everest Base Camp on Sunday.

Mountaineer Alan Arnette tracks activity on Everest, and in a blog declared the mountain ‘functionally closed’ for the season. Arnette has been updating his website with a list of expeditions that are leaving. As of Monday morning, all large expeditions on the southern Nepali side of the mountains have abandoned their climbs. Expeditions from the northern Chinese side are proceeding as planned.

The Nepal government, for its part, says the mountain is still open. The Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation has urged expeditions to continue with their climbs. It has said it will not refund their climbing fees, but told climbers at Base Camp last week that their season’s permits will be valid for the next five years.

Large commercial expeditions, like Himalayan Experience and Asian Trekking, employ most of the Nepali high altitude workers who do most of the work setting ladders and fixed ropes, and ferrying loads to higher camps.

A commercial expedition cannot get through the Khumbu Icefall, and eventually to the Summit, without the help of high altitude workers (Extreme Everest, #704). Large expeditions will find it impossible to climb the mountain without high altitude workers. Smaller groups could still go, but without fixed ropes and ladders, they will find it much more difficult. The cost to set up the ladders and ropes is usually shared by all commercial expeditions, and the risk of climbing without high altitude Nepali staff is too high for small expeditions.

Nepali workers at Base Camp, most of them Sherpas, felt the avalanche was a bad omen and decided not to climb the mountain out of respect for their friends and family who are dead or missing. However, as anger rose at Base Camp, some younger Nepali staff of various expeditions ratcheted up their agenda and issued a 13-point list that included higher compensation and political demands for representation in parliament in Kathmandu.

Senior Editor at Outside Magazine Grayson Shaffer quoted Base Camp sources to say that a small but vocal group of Nepali workers had threatened anyone still wishing to climb. The mindset to call it quits for the season is not shared by everyone, but the threats and intimidation became too dangerous to ignore.

The last straw for western climbers still at Base Camp was a series of smaller avalanches that dropped on the same section of the Khumbu Icefall that was hit on 18 April killing 13 Nepalis. Three are still missing.

Among the other 13 demands from the Nepali expedition workers was that they receive their wages even if the season was called off. They conveyed that their pay and compensation was not commensurate with their risk. The government agreed to raise the insurance coverage of high altitude workers and support staff to Rs 1.5 million and medical coverage to Rs 400,000, but did not call off the spring season.

Matt Miller

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