Everest is Falling to Pieces

Rockfalls jeopardize expeditions
Staff Writer

The sky is falling on Everest. Or, more accurately, rocks are falling because no snow will.

In one of the driest seasons on record, rocks from the Lhotse and Nuptse faces are showering the standard SE Ridge route—sometimes at a rate of 10 per minute—endangering climbers and putting the whole of the Everest season at risk.

It’s so bad, in fact, that some of the mountain’s most experienced Sherpas are refusing to climb, and Russell Bice, head guide for Himalayan Experience, one of the largest commercial operators, has pulled the plug on his company’s expedition. Greg Paul, a client on HIMEX’s Everest trip, sums up the decision on his blog:

“Russell explained that never in his life as an Everest operator had he seen worse conditions than this year. It was not just the dry, windy upper mountain, but especially the Khumba Icefall. The clincher for Russ was the fact that his experienced Sherpas were scared to death of the Icefall. In fact, in a rare display from folks who don't talk much and usually just follow instructions, three head Sherpas spoke up and expressed concern about the mountain and how dangerous it is this year. They were truly concerned about exposing their Sherpa team to further danger that taking more loads up the mountain would do. One of the most experienced Sherpas on Everest broke down in tears apologizing to us, but at the same time not backing off one iota from his concerns.”

That’s a rare display by Sherpas, and by Bice, who’s led Everest trips for nearly four decades. According to Paul, Bice is also concerned that a catastrophic accident is in the cards for the Khumbu Icefall, one of the most dangerous sections on the South Side of the mountain that's located between Base Camp and Camp I. The Icefall is a result of the Khumbu glacier breaking up as it moves down the valley. Each year, a new route must be built through that section by laying ladders across open chasms. Bice believes the route is on the verge of collapse at any time, stranding climbers on the mountain or, worse, killing climbers who are in the Icefall.

Higher up, the falling rocks have already taken a toll, with at least six strikes happening in the past 10 days, including one last Thursday that hit Sherpa Lhakpa Nuru in the side of the face. Nuru, who was working for Summit Climb, was Medevac’d from the mountain with a badly broken jaw and classic signs of traumatic brain injury. American climber Chad Kellogg, who’s working on a speed summit, narrowly dodged a suitcase-sized boulder that grazed his backpack on its way down from Lhotse.

A group of guides is putting in an alternate route from Camp II to Camp III (the route currently passes directly beneath Lhotse and Nuptse) to offer protection from the rockfall. The best protection, though, would be a fresh layer of snow on the mountain.

Via Outside and Rock & Ice.

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