An avalanche on Nepal’s Mount Everest has claimed yet another victim, but has spared a California man. The disaster, which happened on Friday, is the deadliest ever recorded and three mountaineers are yet to be found. As chance had it, the avalanche struck the most popular route for climbing the mountain, which is the tallest peak in the world.
The sherpas had been setting ropes and making other preparations for an eventual climb. One sherpa who survived, Wangdi Sherpa, 26, said that he witnessed a large piece of ice falling off of the mountainside. He and his assistant were able to hide behind another piece of ice and were shielded from the disaster. Jon Reiter and his Australian climbing partner, Marcus, was also spared the wrath of the avalanche. Reiter, 49, is a contractor in Kenwood, Calif. Blogging shortly after the event, Reiter said, “Marcus and I were each pushed down behind large blocks of ice by our Sherpas which shielded us from the brunt. These guys are truly amazing! We are shaken but ok.”
Though avalanches are always a concern when climbing snow-covered peaks, Everest climbers have so far avoided deadly encounters and avalanches have thus far claimed no victims. The last major deadly event to take place on the mountain occurred in May 1996 when a storm struck the mountain, killing 8 climbers and becoming the subject of the book, Into Thin Air. According to statistics taken to date, climbers face a one in 20 chance of perishing on a climb. While 5,000 people have climbed the mountain, only 249 have lost their lives. This recent tragedy brings that total to 262 and that number may yet increase if the missing persons are found to have been killed.
Everest has captured the public imagination since 1852, when The Great Trigonometric Survey of India determined that the peak was the highest in the world. Since then, wealthy explorers have sought to visit the ″roof of the world″ through an arduous physical trial which involves oxygen deprivation, extreme cold and rock-hard endurance. It was more than 100 years later, in 1953, when the peak was finally reached by a beekeeper from New Zealand and his sherpa. Edmund Hillary, the beekeeper, and Tenzing Norgay, the sherpa, were both hailed by their native cultures for their daring and tenacity.
The Sherpas are a distinct ethnic group who live on the Eastern side of Everest. They are a Buddhist people who practice their own sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Their diet is vegetarian and relies on potatoes, barley and buckwheat. They also eat green vegetables, which are cooked and then fermented to survive in the frigid environment they inhabit.
Since Norgay led Hillary up the mountain, a growing number of explorers have begun the pilgrimage to Nepal to face the challenge the mountain poses. They are all willing to pay dearly for a trip which may prove fatal, as this weekend’s event makes evident. However, they pay top dollar and a Sherpa can earn up to $30,000 for a trip to the top. Since the per capita income in Tibet is around $700, such an amount can forever change a guide’s life.
Even with so much at stake, wealthy daredevils will likely continue to pursue Everest’s challenges, avalanches and all, even if an avalanche can claim more than 13 victims in a day. Where there are wealthy daredevils, there will be Sherpas happy to cash their checks like so many lottery winners. It may all be worth it in the end, according to Reiter, the Californian survivor, who wrote on his blog, “I’m looking for an adventurous life. I want to see the whole world and all of its people. I want to lay in my death bed and know that I did and saw all that I wanted to in the time I spent spinning through space on this ball of mud. I want to know that I lived fully!”
By Hobie Anthony