KATHMANDU : An Australian mountaineer who narrowly escaped the deadliest accident ever on Mount Everest said Saturday some local guides and climbers were questioning whether to scrap their summit plans after 13 Nepalese were killed in an avalanche.
Gavin Turner was scaling the treacherous Khumbu Icefall with his sherpa guide early Friday when he saw the avalanche strike climbers just ahead of him, at an altitude of about 5,800 metres (19,000 feet). ‘We saw it approach... it was an extremely close call, a matter of minutes,’ Turner told AFP in a phone interview from Everest base camp. As news of the accident sent shockwaves among mountaineers, most of the sherpas on the mountain gathered their belongings and left, leaving the world’s highest peak deserted but for tents packed with western climbers stunned by the disaster.
The accident underscores the huge risks borne by local guides, who ascend the icy slopes of the 8,848-metre peak, often in pitch-dark and usually weighed down by tenting equipment, ropes and food supplies for their clients. The nature of their work means that sherpas will usually make many more trips up the mountain and expose themselves to far greater risk than foreign climbers who pay tens of thousands of dollars to summit the peak.
While rescue helicopters buzzed overhead, plucking snow-blanketed bodies out of the mountain to base camp using cables suspended from the aircraft, hundreds of sherpas said they wanted to take a break from the climb. Some said they would not come back at all this season. ‘My sherpa said he won’t be returning - he has a wife and a two-year-old son and the love of his family outweighed any financial reward,’ Turner said. The 38-year-old had set out for his first Everest summit just days ago, in a bid to raise funds for a children’s charity, but said the accident had left ‘many climbers asking themselves if they should go ahead’.
Turner’s thoughts were echoed in an account posted online by veteran mountaineer Tim Rippel, the Canadian owner of expedition company Peak Freaks. Four sherpas on Rippel’s team endured a close shave when the avalanche struck, two were trapped above the disaster area and two others dropped their loads and retreated to base camp only minutes before the accident occurred.
‘Everyone is shaken here at base camp,’ Rippel wrote on his blog late Friday. ‘Some climbers are packing up and calling it quits, they want nothing to do with this. Reality has set in,’ wrote Rippel, who reached the summit of Everest in 2008. ‘Everyone is in agreement that Everest 2014 is shaping up to be the worst season in history for complications and for deaths.’
Nepal’s Sherpas, an ethnic group thought to be of Tibetan origin who live mainly in the eastern Himalayas, served as guides and porters for some of the first expeditions in the Everest region. Among the most famous is Tenzing Norgay, who made the first summit of Everest with New Zealand mountaineer Edmund Hillary in 1953.