In loving memory of our lost sherpas

1DorjeeKhatri
PhurThembaSherpa
3ThenDorjeeSherpa

Please help us support the families of our friends who were lost on April 18, 2014 in the Everest Khumbu Icefall tragedy, by contributing generously to The Juniper Fund.

The Juniper Fund

The Juniper Fund provides relief funds to families for childrens education, household expenses, and other unforeseen expenses normally provided by the head of the household that was engaged in work for the mountain-based adventure industry.

The Juniper Fund is a tax exempt 501©3 charitable organization.
Tax ID # 46-1491983.

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Everest 2014 Dispatches

Since the April 18th, 2014 tragedy that killed 16 Nepali mountain workers, many people have asked me if I plan to return to Everest. My answer is ‘yes absolutely’, as our team for the 2015 spring season on the Nepal side of Everest is nearly complete at this time. I enjoy the challenge and experience of climbing the mountain, and leading other climbers to the top. I realize this is dangerous, but I believe that this risk can be managed to an acceptable degree. In analyzing the accident on April 18th, 2014, and the subsequent shutdown of the climbing season I have a few thoughts:

  1. Within hours of the icefall accident the climbing route was moved approximately 100 meters to the center of the icefall, thus avoiding blocks of ice that might fall down from the west shoulder. This was an easy task and should have been done days earlier. There was also a broken ladder that climbers had to use to cross a wide crevasse, and this was very cumbersome. The ladder should have been replaced so that climbers could easily pass through this area. However, this was causing congestion and a crowd of mostly Sherpa climbers were trapped in an exposed area when the ice broke. Next season on Everest (spring 2015) I believe teams will be proactive in maintaining this portion of the climbing route, rather than relying on the SPCC. If climbers cannot easily pass through under the west shoulder I believe they will turn back rather than spend time exposed to this objective hazard. The group hired by the government of Nepal (SPCC Icefall doctors) is supposed to maintain this route. Climbers pay an additional fee on top of the climbing permit for this. In the future our team and others will work with the SPCC to make sure we agree the route is placed correctly, as well in maintaining it as necessary.
  2. As far as the political and labor situation on Everest is concerned, I believe it will be fine in 2015. I have spoken with many Sherpas since the accident and all of them want to return to climb and support foreign climbers on the peak, time has a way of healing us and rekindling our desires. Many climbers have lost confidence in Nepal, and will go to the North (Tibetan/Chinese) side to climb. Others who prefer to climb on the Nepalese (South) side will wait at least one year to see how things play out. There was a drop in the number of trekkers this autumn season, and the locals are worried this will continue into the next year as a worldwide perception that “Everest is closed” persists. I believe there will be a decrease in the number of climbers in 2015, and ultimately this will affect the families of the Khumbu. Less expeditions means less Sherpas are needed. Generally, a Sherpa usually makes 10 times the average income of a Nepalese person by working 2 months on Everest. This money is used to support his family. Without foreign climbers to support on the mountain, the alternative sources of income for these Sherpa who rely on expedition work is scarce.   My personal opinion is that we will return to climb in 2015 and have great success as we have had in the past.
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Everest Avalanche Tragedy Rescue Heli

Tomorrow night (May 4, 2014) at 9pm please watch the Discovery Channel special Everest Avalanche Tragedy to learn more about Mt. Everest, Nepal, and the amazing Sherpa people. I’m certain that the special will highlight the heroic and unselfish rescue and recovery efforts that brought together everyone in base camp which were all effected by this terrible act of Mother Nature and feature first hand accounts by Garrett Madison, the leader of one of the recovery teams.

As you watch the special, please provide your generous support to the Sherpa families of the fallen by donating to the charity of your choice such as American Himalayan Foundation Sherpa Family Fund or The Juniper Fund.

For me, I’m still stunned that the avalanche I witnessed in full outside the door of our comms tent took the lives of so many men. I had been up early on the morning of Friday, April 18th as we I agreed with our team the night before to start radio checkins at 6am as they ascended through the ice fall to the Western Cwm. I talked to the team around 6:20am and they decided to carry loads only up to Camp 1 (and not on to Camp 2) due “wind and traffic” on the route. At about 6:45am, we were talking with Dorjee Khatri, our sirdar, up on the mountain when we heard shouting and yelling over the radio and then absolute silence – the radio had gone dead. Almost at the same time, the sound of the start of the avalanche reached our tent and we ran out of the door, fearing the worst. Our greatest fears were quickly confirmed when we saw the ice calving off the West Shoulder directly onto the climbing route at the top of the Khumbu Ice Fall. Certainly not largest avalanche I’ve witnessed but definitely the wrong place at the wrong time. The rest of the day was consumed with working the radio running down the checklist of our team members on the mountain and hopefully waiting for all to be found safe – but it was not to be and, in the end, half of our team of six was lost.

I will be profoundly emotionally impacted by this event for the rest of my life – but in many ways you might not expect. The loss of so many people in one single event, several of which I was dancing, singing, and celebrating with just 18 hours before after our puja ceremony, and the lifelong hardship and impact on their families is rightly the strongest and deepest of these emotions. But at the same time, the valiant and heroic rescue efforts of those Sherpa on the scene who’s split-second dodge of a house sized block of ice by mere feet or inches saved their lives and provided the inner strength and resolve for them to then work for hours to save and recover others leaves me in a state of awe. The same can be said for those who also put their lives at risk to climb up the ice fall to the scene of the accident to provide assistance with absolutely no hesitation.

Overlaying all of this is the one thing that remains common about all expeditions and adventures, the one thing that keeps me coming back for more, and that is — the wonderful people that you meet and the amazing friendships that you form. That’s why I do this and why I love it so much.

Kurt Hunter
Madison Mountaineering
Everest Base Camp Manager 2014

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EBC Sunrise

We just spoke with our team via VHF radio as they were enjoying the views from the summit of Lobuche East (6105m)! They reported good route conditions with little to no wind and unobstructed views of the surrounding peaks, including Cholatse, Taboche, and Ama Dablam. They are making their descent to high camp and then on to the Lobuche lodge. Tomorrow they will hike back up to Everest Base Camp.

Currently in EBC there is a meeting taking place between a delegation from the Ministry and a representative group of Sherpas to discuss the requests being made to the government. It is a significant and unprecedented, perhaps even historical, event that a meeting such as this is being held at Everest Base Camp – fitting of the magnitude of the tragedy that occurred last Friday. While we wait to hear the outcome of this meeting, many of the major teams have already made their own decisions to end their expeditions for this season.

In other news, Garrett was interviewed by Discovery/NBC for a news special which will air in place of the Everest Jump Live show and also by a group of studio-backed documentary film makers producing a feature film on Nepal, the Sherpa, and the climbing industry.

GM and recovery sherpas
Photo: post-recovery at the “football field” in the ice fall. Garrett with the recovery team.

Today we returned from our short outing at Gorak Shep to the comforts of our Everest base camp, and we are all very happy to be back in our “home away from home”. The mood in base camp seems to be improving,

At 10 AM tomorrow morning we are going to partake in a Puja “aatma shanti” (peace of the soul) ceremony with all individuals in base camp. This event will be held at the SPCC camp and the purpose will be to pay respect to the men who lost their lives in the Khumbu Icefall on April 18th. We are very excited to participate in this ceremony as we feel this community gathering to recognize the importance of the life of all of these men is an essential piece of the grieving process. This ‘coming together’ in base camp has been a missing element the last few days and we hope will give solidarity to our climbing community on Everest.

After the ceremony our team will head down valley to Lobuche where we plan to spend the night. The next day we will climb to Lobuche high camp, and then the following day awake before dawn to climb the glaciated slopes of Lobuche East. After the climb we plan to stay in the Lobuche lodge and then return to Everest base camp the following day. We are very excited to be “going climbing” the next few days!

Recovery Recap:
I wanted to touch upon the recovery that occurred on April 18th & 19th. After the accident on the morning of April 18th, I climbed up to the accident site and worked for several hours with others who had also climbed up to assist such as Dave Hahn, Jeffrey Justman, Ben Jones and Andy Tyson. The following day on April 19th several of us flew up to the “football field” and then climbed up to the accident site and proceeded to finish our work in extricating the body of my Sirdar, Dorji Kartri, as well as search for a few of the missing Sherpas who are now buried under massive amounts of ice. The other recovery volunteers (Damien Benegas, Melissa Arnot, and several Sherpas) worked for several hours and in the end we flew off the body, then descended to base camp by helicopter. This recovery effort was a fine example of how foreign climbers and Nepali Sherpas can work together to accomplish a common goal, and I am very proud to have been part of this effort.

Today our team decided to hike down from base camp and enjoy the thicker air and lodge setting of Gorak Shep. After the tough day on the mountain and additional recovery efforts yesterday we were in need of a change of setting and some exercise. We had a nice hike down and just finished lunch. We are happy to be together and look forward to returning to base camp tomorrow.

Garrett Madison

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Rescue Recovery Team

Yesterday, after narrowly surviving the tragic avalanche, our Sherpa team on the mountain heroically worked for many hours at the site of the accident freeing many of the injured and the casualties. Our team can not even begin to express the depth of the respective and gratitude we have for these valiant men. It is an honor to be associated with all of them.

At this time (11:00am Nepali) the SBCC has closed the Khumbu Ice Fall to all traffic today to allow the recovery teams to complete their work. Three recovery teams are at or near the site of the accident. Garrett Madison is leading team 1 that is primarily working to extricate the body of our Sirdar from the ice. Team 1 also bravely includes our own Jangbu Sherpa who survived the avalanche yesterday. Our respect is unfathomable. Team 2 led by Damian Benegas, is sweeping the area searching for the missing victims and will attempt recovery of those found. Finally Team 3, headed by Melissa Arnot, is providing the incident command near the site. Russell Brice is coordinating the helicopters and base camp communications from the HRA heli pad in EBC.

To my knowledge the only team above is IMG. They are safe and were moving today from camp 1 to camp 2 to continue their acclimatization.

More details as we have them.

[UPDATE: 1:30pm – recovery team successfully extracted our Sirdar and his body has been flown to Kathmandu. No sign of the other missing Sherpa was found. Entire set of recovery teams are off the mountain and back in base camp]

The photo above, courtesy of AAI’s Andy Tyson, was taken yesterday near the site. Included in the photo are some of the rescue and recovery personnel (left to right): Ben Jones, Melissa Arnot, Dave Hahn, Damian Benegas, Rob Casserly, two unnamed Sherpa, and Jeffery Justman.

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Puja03

A terribly sad and tragic day on Mount Everest today. Spirits were very high yesterday after our puja, but today was perhaps the hardest day of my life.

Around 6:45am I was up and manning the radio in touch with our Sherpa team that was carrying loads up to camp 1 and camp 2 when an avalanche broke free off of the West Shoulder near the top of the Khumbu Ice Fall. Our radio transmission cut out and then we heard the terrible sound of the avalanche. Immediately we rushed out of the communications tent and witnessed the ice coming down on to the area of the route to camp 1 near the top of the Ice Fall.

It is with much sadness and grief that we must report that three of our Sherpa team, including our Sirdar, were among those Sherpa who lost their lives today. Our team will continue the recovery efforts tomorrow to bring down the body of our Sirdar, while the bodies of the other two Sherpa have already been flown down valley to their families.

We will be organizing a fund for the families of the men who lost their lives today. Please contact us if you would like to contribute.

We will spend a few days to regroup and assess. More information later. Thank you for your prayers and well wishes.

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Puja02

Today we had our Puja ceremony with our entire climbing team including six climbers on the Everest permit, three also on the Lhotse Permit, and all of our climbing Sherpa who will go with us to the summit.

We received blessing from the Buddhist Lama to begin our climb which starts with the Khumbu Ice Fall. Tomorrow our Sherpa climbing team will carry equipment and climbing supplies to our camp 2. The following day, the first of our climbers will begin their ascent to camps 1 and 2.

It was a very special day and great fun with dancing, singing, and plenty of good cheer!

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Ice Training

Pretty laid back day at EBC. The team ventured out on ice fall today for some training – dialing in their climbing systems: harnesses, ice axes, cramponing techniques, etc. Weather at EBC remains very consistent: sunny in the morning, clouds building around 11:30am, some afternoon snow, and then clear again in the evening.

Our camp 1 is getting well established as our Sherpa team made a load carry this morning and reported excellent route conditions through the Khumbu Ice Fall.

Everyone is excited for our Puja ceremony tomorrow where all of the climbers, Sherpa, and climbing gear are blessed for safe passage on the mountain. It’s also a quite a party with lots of dancing, singing and a bit of drinking. It will be good times. The Puja importantly opens the mountain for a Sherpa and climbing team to proceed up.

Our base camp systems are all working perfectly and everyone is healthy and having a good time.

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IMG_5232

Everyone has been enjoying the past two days settling into day-to-day life at EBC. Here is the entire team (minus two climbing Sherpa) assembled in our camp. Orders of the day have been sorting out gear, getting ready for ice training, making our tents organized for the many weeks we will live here, and just enjoying the many comforts provided by our excellent staff, including hot showers and incredibly delicious meals.

The team made a visit to the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) clinic today to meet the doctors and check out the facilities. We are fortunate to have membership with the HRA for all of our guides, climbers, staff, and base camp crew in the event we would need to make use of their services. HRA is a tremendous asset here at EBC.

Yesterday we enjoyed beautiful morning conditions, like today, and were able to fine tune our solar power system and our satellite internet access, both of which are now working excellently and providing plenty of power and access to our climbers and staff. These resources will allow us to stay in touch and stay entertained with high fidelity.

Our plans for movement up the mountain are starting to firm up and we are looking forward to training here in base camp and to our all important Puja ceremony to bless safe travel on the mountain later this week.