The April 18th avalanche on Everest that took the lives of 13 Sherpas occurred on the same part of the mountain that claimed four lives during the Canadian Everest Expedition in 1982. In his multi-touch illustrated ebook, Everest: High Expectations, summiteer Pat Morrow recalls getting swept into the collapsing snow and ice — and surviving.
Frantic digging after the avalanche. 1982.
On the morning of August 31, I set out from Base Camp with Rusty and two lightly loaded Sherpas to break a trail through snow that had fallen the previous evening.
By the time we reached the Traverse, the snow was boot-deep. More troublesome, however, was the strength of the wind. Whatever snow had accumulated would be wind-deposited and thus prone to avalanching.
I thought of turning back and decided to do so if I came to a slope where my feet disturbed the surface of the snow enough to release its bond with the glacier and trigger a slide. I rested in the darkness, eating a chocolate bar and drinking water, trying to get a feel for the situation. It was still early, still cold. We had worked in fresh snow for the past two weeks, but nothing we had passed through so far had been avalanche-prone. Since our arrival, the disconcerting roar of big avalanches high up on Everest seemed to go on regardless of the time of day or the weather.
I decided to press on but only got 30 paces before being enveloped in a tremendous Continue reading →
Pat Morrow, friend and author of Bungalo Books’ Everest: High Expectations, contacted me early today to say that up to 13 Sherpas died yesterday while preparing this spring’s commercial route up Everest’s South Face. Early morning sun seems to have triggered an avalanche just above the Ice Fall. As he noted, this was where his team was struck during their 1982 ascent — an accident that killed three Sherpas (Ang Tsultim, 20, Dawa Dorje, 40, and Pasang Sona, 40). Team videographer Blair Griffith, 32, was killed a day later in the same area when a serac collapsed on him.
Climbers search for three missing Sherpas. 1982.
During the Canadian Expedition’s accident 32 years ago, there were about a dozen Sherpas and a half dozen Canadians carrying supplies up to Camp One. Yesterday, there were about 100 Sherpas on the route — numbers that are required to prepare adequately for the large scale assault next month by about 500 paying customers. Sadly, the high number also means high casualties when accidents happen.
My only link to Everest and mountain climbing in general is through my friendship with Pat Morrow so I do not fully understand the allure of high summits. But working on High Expectations with him two years ago, I did come to believe that Everest’s current easy access has undermined the spirit of the mountaineering he and his colleagues pursue. Money — a desperately needed commodity in Nepal’s back country — has changed the nature of the classic Himalayan adventure from accomplishment to big-ticket thrill for the participants.
This weekend’s accident could perhaps be described as a workplace accident. If it happened in North America — at a tourist destination like Disneyland or on a commercial white water rafting route — the government would shut it down. The loss of 13 lives to give several hundred tourists their thrill of a lifetime would be too high a cost.
But that is not how Everest works.
My thoughts today are with the families of the working Sherpas who died.
Adventure photographer Pat Morrow, a B.C. native, doesn’t like what he sees happening on Mount Everest lately — referring to the crowds snaking their way to the top as “a conga line.”
Morrow, who has spent his life in the mountains, was the second Canadian to summit Mount Everest in 1982 and later became the first person to climb the highest mountain on each continent.
Photo by Da Kusang Sherpa
Writing in his latest book, Everest: High Expectations, he says, “Nobody can honestly claim to “climb” Everest these days — at least not those who follow the wildly popular South Col route. At best, one can say they survived the hazards of the ‘conga line’ that forms at the beginning of every spring season.”
Recalling a time when solitude and technical challenges drew climbers to the mountain, he is now concerned that adventure-tourists Continue reading →