Avalanche Kills 13 Sherpa in Khumbu Icefall on Mount Everest
I’ve always marveled at the Sherpa and other Nepali tribes who make their living on the slopes of Everest. By-in-large, they’re incredibly strong, they’re generally cheerful, and they spend an inordinate amount of time in one of the most dangerous places in the world. They often pay a heavy price, too, with an estimated death toll of 72 Sherpa killed on Mount Everest…until today. (See Grayson Schaffer’s excellent article in Outside Magazine: The Disposable Man: A Western History of Sherpas on Everest.
Early Friday morning, Nepal time, a huge icefall came off the West Shoulder ice cliffs, located near the top of the Khumbu Icefall, just below Camp I. No foreign climbers were there at the time; it was only Sherpa, working hard in the early morning hours, carrying heavy loads through the broken terrain. Details are still slim, but judging from reports on Alan Arnette’s excellent website and elsewhere, it sounds like it was the massive ice cliffs of the West Shoulder, just above the “Popcorn” and “Football Field” and below Camp I, where the avalanche originated.
This is a dangerous place, where the route by terrain-based necessity comes close to the ice cliffs, which calve huge pieces of ice with regularity. If a slide comes when you’re in the area, there’s almost nothing you can do: you’re in the barrel of a gun. And, with the heavy loads carried by the Sherpa through the Icefall (and elsewhere), this aspect is only magnified; no matter how strong, how experienced, how ready-for-anything, it would be nearly impossible to shed a load and run out of the way.
And so it happened early this morning, a huge slide killing at least 13 Sherpa in the Icefall, with 3 more climbers missing and some 100 Sherpa trapped above Camp I. It’s a tragic day on Everest, and my heart goes out to all the families and friends of those involved.
If you want to help the families of deceased Sherpa, I suggest you make a donation to The Juniper Fund, founded by David Morton and Melissa Arnot. And, to help Sherpa learn, train, and become better climbers and guides, please consider a donation to the Khumbu Climbing School, founded by Conrad Anker and Jenny Lowe-Anker.