The mountain will always be here

I heard disturbing piece of news today which has brought the whole ice fall thing back to the forefront of my thinking. I have vacillated at times about the extent of the danger posed. I have told myself on more than one occasion that the most dangerous section with the giant overhanging ice is only about 30 minutes up and 15 down. Less than an hour of elevated danger. That isn’t to say the whole mountain isn’t dangerous but much less so than this one section. I am so close I can taste it.

The piece of news I heard was that not only Himex Sherpas but many others were not wanting to continue to climb this season. One experienced Sherpa on our team told a team member that his wife did not want him to go up again. The advent of near universal cell phone service may be having a profound impact of Everest. The fact that a worried wife can pick up the phone and call her husband at base camp is having an impact on morale and even decision making at BC. When your wife is living in the same village with the newest Everest widow and has a cell phone I am convinced calls are being made – and will be listened too. If you think Sherpa men are tough you should meet some Sherpa women.

A typical climbing Sherpa earns his biggest compensation on a summit bid. Most teams pay a $1,500 climbing bonus and a $500 summit bonus in addition to paying for each load of supplies carried up the mountain. That may not sound like much but in Nepal the average annual income at one time was about $250. To be willing to fore go ten times the annual income of the average Nepali not to climb is a pretty strong statement. If the average wage in the US is $20,000 (and I have no idea) that would be the equivalent of someone saying the risk over the next three weeks isn’t worth $200,000.

That in itself is a strong indicator of what the true “experts” think. That is only half of the story for me though. The Sherpa are in this for money but I also know they love the climb as much or more that I do. They are very competitive about their climbing and want to summit as much as the next person. I took comfort in that fact we all, Sherpa and climber wanted to be here – wanted to climb. However when I found out there were members of our own team who are scared and are only going up because I and other team members still want that coveted summit attempt it puts everything in a different perspective. To think someone might feel like they are risking their life just to keep a coveted position as a climbing Sherpa doesn’t square with my sense of what is right.

I believe most Everest climbers are blissfully unaware of the fears and concerns of the Sherpa community this year. I think our expedition is a lot closer to the Sherpas because Asian Trekking, our logistics provider, is a Sherpa owned company and we are all independent climbers. There is much more interaction between climbers and Sherpa on a personal level with a team like ours. I have been in some of these guys homes. I have met wives and children. I have known several for years. Some of them are even on Facebook of goodness sake. I would have a very difficult time if something happen to one of these guys.

Someone once told me that you shouldn’t go to Everest if you aren’t prepared to go again. They meant you can not make clear decisions if you are there on a “once in a lifetime” expedition. I see that all around me this year. I can’t get the story out of my head of the Indian climber who took all of his families savings and came here this year. I think he stayed high too long in a mistaken effort to get all the acclimatization he could and had a stroke. There was no money to evacuate him right away. He spent a couple of days in KTM while his family raised the money to get him home. He died a few hours after arriving back in India.

Apa Sherpa, the man with the most summits of Everest, told me “The mountain will always be here.” I can afford to come back. I can’t afford not to come back. In the mean time I don’t want to be the reason some one else doesn’t come back.

This mountain is not going to be the death of me but it sure is starting to aggravate the Yak out of me.