Killed by ice, saved by ice

Filed under the truth is stranger than fiction category: the only men who escaped the (ice) cannon balls of the avalanche were under protection of a big wall of ice.

This is symptomatic of larger problems which need resolution through long-term planning and action. While Himalayas earn a lot of foreign exchange for Nepal, the high volume of thrill seekers – even so far as to creating a traffic jam at 29000 feet –  does not do any good to either man or mountain. The relentless pressure to ease access – there is actually a mad plan to attach ladders on mountains to make climbing easier (see below) – may lead to larger disasters. And now 13 Sherpas are dead due to avalanche (and they will not be the last to be killed).

Photos: Exploring Mount Everest

Another Sherpa guide has died in Friday’s Mount Everest avalanche,
bringing the death toll to 13, a Nepalese government official said

It is the single
deadliest accident on Mount Everest, officials said. Three others are
missing, said Madhu Sudan Burlakoti of Nepal’s Tourism Ministry, and at
least half a dozen are injured.

A group of about 50
people, mostly Nepali Sherpas, were hit by the avalanche at more than
20,000 feet, said Tilak Ram Pandey of the ministry’s mountaineering

The avalanche took place just above base camp in the Khumbu Ice Fall.

Climbers and guides had
been setting the ropes for the route, acclimating and preparing the
camps along the route when the avalanche hit Friday, said Gordon Janow
with Alpine Ascents International in Seattle.

“A big piece of ice
suddenly came off the mountain. I did not think I would survive. I am
very happy to have survived,” said Wangdi, who has reached the
mountain’s summit three times before.

He and an assistant, who were attached to a safety rope, hid behind a piece of ice as the avalanche came tumbling down, he said.

“We could do that
because we were in the front,” he said. “Up to 12 of those behind us
survived, but the ones after them died. Those who had already crossed
ahead when the ice came off also survived.

It was the final obstacle, the 40 feet of technical climbing up a
near vertical rock face that pushed Sir Edmund Hillary to the limit.
Once climbed, the way to the summit of Mount Everest lay open.

almost exactly 60 years after the New Zealander and his rope-mate,
Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, stood on the highest point in the planet, a new
plan has been mooted to install a ladder on the famous Hillary Step, as
the crucial pitch at nearly 29,000ft has been known since it was first
ascended. The aim is to ease congestion.

“We are now discussing
putting a ladder on the Hillary Step but it is obviously controversial,”
said Dawa Steven Sherpa, who runs commercial expeditions on Everest and
is a senior member of the Expedition Operators Association in Nepal.

year, 520 climbers have reached the summit of Everest. On 19 May,
around 150 climbed the last 3,000ft of the peak from Camp IV within
hours of each other, causing lengthy delays as mountaineers queued to
descend or ascend harder sections.

“Most of the traffic jams are
at the Hillary Step because only one person can go up or down. If you
have people waiting two, three or even four hours that means lots of
exposure [to risk]. To make the climbing easier, that would be wrong.
But this is a safety feature,” said Sherpa, who co-ordinates the work to
prepare the traditional route up the mountain for clients who pay
between $45,000 and $75,000.

The plan has received some support from the world’s mountaineering authorities.
Vrijlandt, the president of the International Mountaineering and
Climbing Federation (UIAA), said the ladder could be a solution to the
increasing numbers of climbers on the mountain.

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