Saturday, April 19, 2014

Experts blame mindless commercialisation for Mount Everest tragedy

Hours after news of the death of more than 12 sherpas owing to an avalanche between Base Camp and Camp 2 on the slopes of Mount Everest reached the mountaineering community in India, climbers in Indian expressed shock at what is termed as the worst disaster in the summit's history.
Col HS Sharma, chairman of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, felt that even though climbers ensure precautions, commercialisation of Nepal's mountaineering industry has led to a host of problems. "I am unsure of what must have happened; there could have been fresh snow the night before. In which case, climbers are advised to stay away from the route for 24-72 hours depending on the amount of snowfall. Or there could have been a pile of snow that must have accumulated. Today, Mt Everest has become a commercial entity. One just needs to cough up, say Rs 18 to 20 lakh, and climb. You don't need to fix your own route, lay the ropes etc.; you just need to acclimatise and then climb. The summit is over-crowded. Yet, with the amount of competition and technical help at hand, they must have taken all precautions," said Sharma, who has had climbing experience of 30 years and has been an instructor of the National Mountaineering Institute for 18 years.
Reports say that a group of sherpas had gone to fix the route and lay ropes for climbers between Base Camp and Camp 1 for climbers who were to follow them. But, right below Camp 2, at Khumbu icefall at a space called the 'popcorn field' which is 19,000 to 20,000 feet above sea level, the sherpas faced a massive avalanche, killing several of them. While 12 bodies have been recovered, three injured climbers were sent to Kathmandu. It is believed that about four climbers are missing.
DIG Prem, who had scaled Mt Everest from both the Nepal route and the China route and has been to the summit two more times, says that the Khumbu Pass is the toughest stretch at Mt Everest. "It is the most notorious icefall in the world. This part is known as the Western CWN, and has heavy snowfall between the two camps. When we scaled it, we had to put 52 ladders of 10-12 steps each on the various crevices that criss-cross the terrain. The crevices change due to the gravitational pull triggering avalanche. You cannot bypass Khumbu, and it is mostly your luck that will ensure that you don't meet an avalanche. This is the worst accident since 1996 when six Sherpas died," says Prem. The tricky terrain and shoddy commercial practices might have led to the unfortunate incident. "The terrain is such that above 35 to 40 degrees gradient, avalanches occur. At 90 degrees gradient, the snow does not stay, so there will be no avalanche. There is this new phenomena of ice doctors—experts who know the terrain like the back of their hand – who are hired to open the route for you. These sherpas must have been the ice doctors," says Prem.
Col Satish Sharma, who scared the summit last year, too feels that overcrowding and commercialisation are to blame. "Every year the number of climbers on the mountain increase. Last year, there were more than 300 climbers, which means there were more than 1000 people, if you take into account the staff. Khumbu is the fastest moving glacier in the world. As the glacier moves, it makes massive pillars that become unstable once the rays of the sun reaches them. Avalanches occur due to that, too," says Sharma.