Emil Guillermo: Sherpa fears Nepal earthquake could end climbing season on Mt. Everest (updated)
April 25, 2015 8:39 PM
Serap Jangbu Sherpa, 46, was hanging on every bit of communication from the base camp in the Himalayas -by text, online, Facebook--when I called him on Saturday.
It was like he was hanging on the side of the mountain he loved.
Serap is a premier climber who has scaled Mt. Everest three times. But it's tough to be a sherpa. Now he makes his living as a mountaineering consultant at a Manhattan sports store.
When the news broke that a 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal, Serap, the president of the U.S. Nepal Climbing Association, knew what that would mean.
There would be an avalanche resulting in injuries and lives lost, and maybe the loss of the climbing season itself.
"When I heard the news I was very shocked," he told me when I reached him at his home in Queens. "Oh my god. What's going on? Every year again and again. Very big shocking news."
He was hoping it wouldn't be like last April when an avalanche on the mountain killed 16 sherpa and ended the season.
By mid-morning on Saturday, the sad numbers continued to mount as the quake cut sharply through Nepal and could be felt into neighboring areas to the east and west.
Later, Nepalese officials confirmed to The New York Times that an avalanche slammed into a base camp, killing at least 10 climbers and injuring an untold number of others.
Nima Namgyal Sherpa, a tour guide also at the base camp, wrote on Facebook: "Many camps have been destroyed by the shake and wind from the avalanche," said Nima Sherpa, base camp manager for Asian Trekking. "All the doctors here are doing our best to treat and save lives."
Still, there was optimistic talk that the trekking could resume again.
Hard to believe, considering the earthquake's impact on the entire country.
And yet, for Nepal, the Himalayan expeditions are the lifeblood of the country. It is their industry, where visitors can pay as much as $100,000 each to scale Everest, with the government getting a huge percentage of that.
Nepal issues licenses for more than 1,000 trips a year. An earthquake at a key time in the climbing season only multiplies the devastation.
I asked Serap Jangbu Sherpa if the expeditions could just pick up and start again in spite of the quake.
"I don't think it's going to be closed," he said, but he added it would "take a little while" to create the support systems for climbs to resume.
"There's enough time to continue," Serap Sherpa said. "It's still April, and we have a month to go...[but] now everything is gone. I'm sure it's a big mess...You need enough food and supplies. Everything."
Serap Sherpa said he lost a team member during one climb he made, and he recommended they return home.
"I decided to cancel and come back next time," he said. But he said sherpas can't always tell clients "don't go up."
"Some people want to continue because they spend a lot of money," Serap Sherpa said. "So they want to keep climbing."
Still, that's hard to see happening after last year's tragic avalanche. In protest for better conditions, sherpas shut down the mountain until their compensation and working conditions improved.
But now an earthquake has the entire country scaling a different kind of Everest just to care for the dead and provide aid to the massive numbers of injured.
It's hard to imagine the country back to normal when life is difficult everywhere you look.
* * * Updated: Here's a video that was on YouTube and CNN of the avalanche hitting the base camp:
On Apr. 26, as of 3:30 pm ET, there have been 17 confirmed dead at Mt. Everest, and more than 2,500 confirmed dead in the the country of Nepal.
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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.