Mount Everest Climbing Season Ends Early for Sherpas

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On the heels of the deadliest day ever recorded on Mount Everest, Nepalese Sherpas are cutting the climbing season short, after 16 guides were killed during an avalanche on April 18th. Thirteen bodies have been recovered, while another three remain entombed in ice. More building-sized blocks of ice fell this week while the area was devoid of climbers, forcing the decision to cut the season short.

Though, Adrian Ballinger, leader of the Alpenglow climbing team, doesn't consider the slew of falling ice as a significant reason to cancel a season. "That's ridiculous," Ballinger said, adding "I would say only a very small percentage of teams canceled due to fear of increased danger in the icefall this season."

The Sherpas perished in the Khumbu Icefall, which is regarded as one of the most dangerous segments of the South Col route to Everest's summit. The Khumbu glacier that carries the icefall moves at such speed (up to 4 feet down Everest daily) that large crevasses open with little warning, often ejecting house-sized ice boulders in its wake.

Commenting on the avalanche-prone Khumbu Icefall, Ballinger said, "Small and large avalanches and collapses occur regularly. I have not seen myself, nor heard from any of my Sherpas, that there has been an increase in the frequency or severity of avalanches or icefalls this season - although obviously one slide had much greater than normal consequences."

Sherpas, native to the highlands of Nepal, are revered as elite mountaineers and experts of their local topography. The group was integral in the success of early Himilayan explorers from the West, and today the word "Sherpa" is sometimes used as slang to describe any person who serves as a mentor or guide in any capacity.

Here is a Nat Geo clip regarding how tourism has affected the lives of Sherpas:

Alan Arnette, an American Everest veteran renowned in the world of extreme climbing, commented that the Sherpas ended the Everest season due to safety, religious and economic reasons. With the Khumbu Icefall tragedy, some highly religious Sherpas believe that Everest is taking revenge on the climbers. Also, younger factions of Sherpas are attempting to compete with older, more experienced and well-paid outfits. The younger group wanted to show that it is able to shut down the south side of the mountain whenever they choose.

Three days ago, the Sherpas petitioned the Nepal Ministry of Tourism to make some reforms and adjust guide benefits.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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