Mount Everest Climbs Cancelled, Sherpa Avalanche Victims Cremated

In the wake of the devastating avalanche that swept down Mount Everest Friday, killing at least 13 Sherpa climbing guides, the focus of this year's Everest climbing season has shifted dramatically, from summiting Everest (or jumping off the peak in a "wingsuit") to supporting the devastated Sherpa families.

Having climbed in the Himalayas, I've experienced first hand all that goes into trying to reach the summits of some of the world's highest peaks, and the Sherpa guides that make it possible. The Sherpa are the pulse of most any Himalaya climbing expedition.

Except for a very few that take on Himalayan peaks alone, most any other climber attempting a Himalayan summit such as Everest will be relying on Sherpa guides. Their expertise, hardiness and skill drive the Himalayan climbing industry that, in turn, supports their livelihoods.

Sherpa load
A Sherpa carries the load on Everest.

But the dark side of this arrangement is that the Sherpa are often in harm's way. They're responsible for doing the most dangerous work, such as hauling heavy loads of gear through treacherous areas like Mount Everest's Khumbu Icefall. But even more risky in an already inherently risky endeavor, is making first tracks, forging the trail and securing the ropes up mountains like Everest.

Sketchy crevasse crossing
Sherpa Climbing Guides make climbing Everest possible, paving the way with ropes, ladders and gear.

At some point, tragedies like the recent Everest avalanche that claimed the 13 Sherpa victims, are inevitable as long as climbing Everest remains a pursuit.

The bodies of those Sherpa guides that lost their lives were cremated today in a service in Kathmandu. People lined the streets as the remains were carried by trucks through the fabled Nepali capital city, according to news reports.

The Sherpa community, climbing companies and their clients, and film production expeditions have all been forced to reevaluate priorities. While injury and death in the world of climbing are accepted risks, particularly on the world's highest and most challenging peaks like Mount Everest, this latest tragedy has severed an unacceptable nerve.

One of those packing up their expeditions, is Gordon Janow, director of Alpine Ascents International which is based in Seattle. Five of the Sherpas that lost their lives in the Everest avalanche were working for Alpine Ascents.

Janow told his team of 12 climbers will leave the mountain Tuesday.

"With any kind of accident, there's things to review and perhaps things to change," Janow said. "There's a lot going on at base camp with how the future will be determined."

Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association told the Associated Press that there are about 400 foreign climbers that make up 39 expedition who, along with their Sherpa guides, are sitting in Mount Everest's base camp, not sure if they're still going to climb, or pack it in like Alpine Ascents.

Mount Everest: Site of tragic avalanche that took the lives of several Sherpa and continues to rock the climbing world.

According to Janow, he thinks it "unlikely" that a lot of climbers will continue up Everest at this point, but the decision is really up to the Sherpa community.

"I can't speak for every organization, but right now groups are at base camp kind of dealing with the rescue and the families," he said.

Hugo Searle of High Adventure Expeditions called Alpine's cancellation a "bold move", but says he "would be surprised if other teams leave", the exorbitant amount climbers pay making canceling Everest trips easier said than done.

"A lot of these clients pay $40, $50, $60,000 dollars each to go on these climbs. To tell people, 'Now we're not going to take you to the top' gets them a little upset. It makes that decision more complicated."

Searle also noted that if one team member calls it quits, the whole team is done.

"It's a group decision," he said.

For the Sherpa, it is also a group decision, as they consider boycotting this year's Everest efforts unless some demands are met. At the same time, the Sherpa community and Nepal are mostly just focused on rescue efforts and helping affected Sherpa families, according to Janow.

Which is as it should be. The Sherpa, like Mount Everest, demand respect; their intangible strengths and qualities are the only reason Everest was conquered in the first place.

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