A deadly avalanche on Mount Everest killed 12 Sherpa guides and seriously wounded three other climbers on Friday. There are fears that several climbers are missing and might add to the death tally. According to local officials, this is the single worst accident in record to hit climbers of the highest peak in the world.
The avalanche occurred just above the Everest base camp in the Khumbu Ice Fall area. Ram Tilak Pandey, an official with the mountaineering department of the Nepalese tourism ministry said that the enormous snow slide, which started at more than 20,000 feet hit a group of 50 people, most of whom were Nepali Sherpas.
Sherpas are an ethnic group from the most mountainous region of Nepal, high in the Himalayas. They are skilled mountaineers and are known to be experts in their local terrain. Sherpas serve as guides to climbers and are hired for mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas. Today, the term is used exclusive of ethnicity for any guide, who is hired to help with mountain climbing in the area.
According to Pandey, rescue teams have been sent out to look for the missing Sherpas. Three helicopters have also been deployed as part of the search-and-rescue mission. Another ministry spokesperson, Mohan Krishna Sapkota, confirmed that all the climbers were Nepali and were at the location to prepare the route to the summit before the start of summer climbing season, later this month.
Sapkota said that the Sherpa guides were carrying equipment and other necessities for fee-paying climbers, when disaster struck at 6:45am (0100 GMT) at an altitude of about 19,000 feet in an area known as the “popcorn field”, which lies en route into the treacherous Khumbu Ice Fall.
This is not the first high casualty avalanche event on the 29,028 foot-high peak. Before this deadly Mount Everest avalanche that killed 12 climbers, many others have occurred. A notable loss occurred in May 1996, when eight climbers disappeared in a massive snow storm. The tragedy was the subject of mountaineering journalist Jon Krakauer’s bestselling novel Into Thin Air, which chronicled the doomed expedition. The unforgiving mountain has claimed more than 300 lives ever since the first successful summit by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.
The soaring Himalayas are a high-value destination for climbers all over the world. Nepal has eight of the world’s 14 peaks over 8,000 meters and they attract hundreds of mountaineering enthusiasts. The best window for scaling the highest mountain in the world is in spring season.
Approximately 334 foreign climbers have been given permits to climb the mountain over the next few months. An estimated 400 Sherpas will accompany them. However only a handful is likely to make summit. Since Hillary and Norgay’s successful climb, about 4000 people have managed to reach the “roof of the world.”
With increasing concerns about the high traffic and overcrowding in the area, the Nepali government announced that they were going to double the number of climbing ropes to assist the climbers and reduce the risks, especially near the summit. These safety steps are also meant to assist with rescue operations.
Irrespective of the measures taken, the hazards of climbing the peak are close to insurmountable and potentially life-threatening. The recent avalanche that struck Mount Everest and killed 12 people occurred in an area that is known to be one of the deadliest zones on Mount Everest. According to climbers, the glacier covering the path moves so rapidly that crevasses open up with almost no warning, and towers of ice shatter in chunks as large as houses. And this is one of many such perils that await climbers of this towering mountain. Yet each year, hundreds of people pay up to $50,000 to test themselves and their endurance.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay.