Unprecedented tragedy on the South Side of Mount Everest

Apr 19, 2014

Update from Alan Arnettes BLOG

Final update for a couple of days – Fund Established

It is after midnight on Everest now and hopefully everyone is resting as best they can. The tragic events of the last 24 hours are horrific in the mountaineering community by any standard. 13 are known to have lost their lives and another 4 are missing and will probably be presumed dead at some point, but the search continues tomorrow.

In a country where the per-capita income is $500/year, a Sherpa can make $5000 or  more working on Everest. This allows them to put their children through schools, build tea houses and pursue a better life for their families.

Many of the dead are related to other Everest Sherpas – fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, cousins. They are one large family. This is a human tragedy. This is a time to honor these men doing their jobs, working extraordinarily hard without complaint year after year. This is what they do.

I hope the Ministry of Tourism will take care of their families. I know the expedition companies will provide support. But in an event of such magnitude, a reaction of similar proportion is in oder by the Nepal government.

There will be no climbing for several days to honor the dead and to allow the route to be rebuilt. Those stranded in the Western Cwm are safe and will return to base camp as soon as the route is re-established.

IMG has announced they will continue their expedition but will understand if individuals choose to leave. I expect other expedition to follow suit but also many individual climbers to return home and a few expeditions to cancel altogether. But time is needed at this point.

The 2014 event was an ice release, (technically not an avalanche), not snow, and when the serac hovering off the west Shoulder of Everest collapsed, it sent house sized ice blocks all over the route. This is different than a traditional snow avalanche that can be triggered to release by explosives. With hanging ice it may stay there for decades or fall tomorrow, there is no way of knowing or predicting.

This will be a time of reflection and healing for everyone on Everest, even those on the north who are unaffected. Climbing is a tight community. If you have climbed long enough, you will know someone who falls.

My deep and sincere condolences to all the families, friends and teammates of the fallen Sherpa. I wish peace for those who fell yesterday and for their families for tomorrow.

The American Alpine Club has established a fund to help the Sherpa families. Click this link

Climb On!
Alan
Memories are Everything

Update and summary 6

Around 6:30 am, April 18th, an ice avalanche occurred off the West Shoulder of Everest hitting an area just below Camp 1 which is located at 19,500′ but near the top of the Icefall. The estimated altitude was 5800m or 19,038′.

At this point in the Everest season, only one commercial team, IMG’s Hybrid group, was in the Western CWM as they had climbed to Camp 1 the previous day. Many other teams with an estimated client base of 350 non-Sherpas had only recently arrived at EBC and were preparing to make the same climb today or tomorrow.Everest-2014-Avalanche

However, there were over 100 Sherpas from multiple teams ferrying loads to Camp 1 and Camp 2. Some had already completed their job and were returning to Everest Base Camp, some were still climbing higher. The avalanche released without warning and so suddenly that it was impossible to avoid the impact. The area of impact is heavily crevassed making rescues difficult.

An estimated 100 Sherpas or Westerners were estimated to be above the impact area and are cut-off from returning to base camp until a new route can be put in by the Icefall Doctors, a dedicated set of experts in route fixing within the Khumbu Icefall. This could take several days depending on the damage but these Sherpa are skilled and can do amazing work, plus they will get help for all the other Sherpa.

My best estimate is that the area that released was a large snow and ice serac located low on the West Shoulder of Everest. This serac has generated great concern for years and was one of the reasons Himex canceled their 2012 season for fear it would release. It has released three out of the last four years.

everest icefall popcorn

Khumbu Icefall Popcorn area in 2011

Immediately after the avalanche spray subsided, Sherpas searched the debris field and found 8 survivors. Eyewitnesses reported boots protruding through the snow. Many however were buried and their bodies recovered later. A person can suffocate within minutes when buried under heavy snow.

Avalanche beacons are rarely used by Everest climbers but have been used for several years by Himalayan Experience, aka Himex- Russell Brice. None of their Sherpas were involved in this incident so it is unclear if beacons would have aided in the recuse. Also, the search team must have had proper search equipment to use the beacons. This incident may change how teams view this valuable tool.

Helicopters were called in to take the bodies back to base camp using the long line technique where the body is attached to a line connected to the helicopter thus avoiding having the helicopter land on unstable terrain. Survivors were flown to Lukla or Kathmandu for further treatment.

http://www.alanarnette.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Everest-Avalanche-Overview-.gifThe Sherpas worked for seven different expeditions including the team filming the planned wingsuit jump by Joby Ogwyn from the summit on May 11.

The recently announced safety improvements such as dual lines, government officials at base camp and trash collection had no impact on this tragedy.

As of this post, Friday, April 19, 9:00pm in Nepal, it is unclear what will be the impact of the remaining season. IMG has announced they will continue with their expedition. and that various teams have agreed to stay out of the Icefall for two days to allow the icefall doctors time to get back up and rebuild the climbing route.

I want to express my deepest condolences to the Sherpa families for this loss.

Alan

Update 5: 12 bodies recovered, 1 sighted but not recovered. 8 were rescued. 4 still missing. Around 25 were hit by the avalanche

Teams involved: Alpine Ascent, Summit Nepal, Himalayan Guides, Beuyl, and 5 from Shangr-la Shangri-la Nepal Trek

Occurred at 5800m, 19,028′ near top of Icefall

Bodies were transported to Everest Base Camp using long lines from helicopters. Injured were flown to Lukla or Kathmandu

13 Confirmed deaths, 4 missing

  1. Mingma Nuru Sherpa, , Shangrila Nepal on NBC Everest Expedition, died from avalanche into Khumbu Icefall
  2. Dorji Sherpa, Shangrila Nepal on NBC Everest Expedition, died from avalanche into Khumbu Icefall
  3. Ang Tshiri Sherpa, Shangrila Nepal on AAI Everest Expedition, died from avalanche into Khumbu Icefall
  4. Nima Sherpa, Shangrila Nepal on AAI Everest Expedition,  died from avalanche into Khumbu Icefall
  5. Phurba Ongyal Sherpa, Adventure Consultants, died from avalanche into Khumbu Icefall
  6. Lakpa Tenjing Sherpa, Adventure Consultants, died from avalanche into Khumbu Icefall
  7. Chhiring Ongchu Sherpa, Adventure Consultants, died from avalanche into Khumbu Icefall
  8. Dorjee Khatri, Adventurist Everest, died from avalanche into Khumbu Icefall
  9. Dorjee Sherpa, Adventurist Everest, died from avalanche into Khumbu Icefall
  10. Phur Temba Sherpa, Adventurist Everest, died from avalanche into Khumbu Icefall
  11. Pasang Karma Sherpa from Juving Solukhumbu, Jagged Globe,died from avalanche into Khumbu Icefall
  12. Asman Tamang, Himalayan Ecstasy Lhotse,  died from avalanche into Khumbu Icefall

Missing

  1. Tenzing Chottar Sherpa from Yelajung, Shangrila Nepal on AAI Everest Expedition,  from avalanche into Khumbu Icefall
  2. Ankaji Sherpa, Everest Chinese Dream Expedition, from avalanche into Khumbu Icefall
  3. Pem Tenji Sherpa, Everest Chinese Dream Expedition, from avalanche into Khumbu Icefall
  4. Ash Bahadur Gurung, Everest Chinese Dream Expedition,  from avalanche into Khumbu Icefall

source: Nepal Ministry of Tourism via Himalayan Times

Update 4:

Over 100 Sherpas and climbers trapped above avalanche. All climbing stopped on Everest. Helicopters bringing bodies back to base camp

Update 3: (updated)

Western teams reporting in:

  • IMG: 1 Sherpa hurt, not seriously, no members or guides
  • Peak Freaks: none involved
  • Alpine Ascents: some Sherpa involved, no members or guides
  • Adventure Consultants: some Sherpa involved, no members or guides
  • Altitude Junkies: none involved
  • Jagged Globe: 1 Sherpa died, 6 Sherpa involved, no members or guides
  • Himex: none involved
  • Tim Mosedale: none involved, not at base camp yet
  • Alpenglow: none involved, not at base camp yet
  • SummitClimb: none
  • RMI: none
  • Exploradus: none

Update 2: prepare for casualty count increasing: 13 died 3+ missing

Update 1: IMG reports 1 of their Sherpa slightly injured rest OK. Important as they were only western team in the area at the time, I believe.

Original Report

Early Friday morning, April 18th, an avalanche off the West Shoulder of Everest has buried climbers, mostly if not all were Sherpa, working to carry loads to Camps 1 and 2. At least two Sherpa are confirmed killed in avalanche and at least two have been rescued but many more are missing.

Reports of over 100 people, mainly Sherpa trapped in Western Cwm after avalanche damaged ladders in the Icefall

Remember that early report are always wrong so please consider this as an early report. However, I have eyewitness reports.

Rescue is underway and helicopters have been called. All climbing has stopped for the day.

The avalanche hit just below Camp 1 and above the top of the Khumbu Icefall according to eyewitness reports.

This area is known for avalanches. In 2010 an avalanche actually hit Camp 1, destroying many tents and causing some injuries. Camp 1 was moved further away from Everest and more towards Nuptse as a result. In 2012, an avalanche released off Nuptse and into the Western CWM near Camp 1 and one Sherpa cook was swept into a crevasse but was rescued and taken back to Kathmandu with back injuries. Another released in 2013 with no serious impact.

The most Sherpa killed on Everest thus far was in 1922 when an avalanche on the North Col killed 7 Sherpa. There have been 86 Sherpa deaths on Everest since 1922 with 27 deaths from avalanches and 12 from a collapse in the Khumbu Icefall.

The largest number of deaths in any single season was in 1996 when 15 died on both sides including 3 Sherpa. 8 died in one day on the South side on May 10/11.

I will update this post as I get reliable, confirmed information.

My sincere condolences to all the families, friends and teammates

Alan

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