Thursday, June 05, 2014

Everest 2014: Russell Brice Shares His Thoughts on the Season

We all know that it was a strange and wild season once again on Everest. What began with a promising start, devolved into a disaster, both literally and figuratively. On April 18, a massive avalanche rolled down the mountain, just as teams of Sherpas were beginning to shuttle gear up to Camp 1 and 2. That avalanche claimed the lives of 16 men, and caused a stir throughout the Sherpa community, which eventually brought an end to the climbing season on the Nepali side of the mountain.

Since then, we've been trying to piece together what exactly happened that day, and the days that followed. Their have been a number of reports, some conflicting with one another, as to what occurred in Base Camp in the days following the avalanche. There have been hints of a vocal minority of Sherpas stirring up trouble, threats of violence, and talk of negligence on the part of the Nepali government. Now that the season is behind us, the real story is starting to emerge, and who better to tell it than Russell Brice, the owner of Himalayan Experience, one of the largest, and longest tenured, commercial climbing services on Everest.

Yesterday, Brice published the first of a five part series that will share his observations and experiences from the season, and as you would expect from the Himex boss, he doesn't pull any punches. It is a rather long blog post, but I would encourage anyone who follows the climbing season on Everest to read it. It is fascinating stuff, with Brice not afraid to call out those who he feels are personally responsible for the situation on Everest this spring, including the Minister of Culture, Tourism, and Aviation himself.

This first post provides readers with a lot of background information, both on climbing from the South Side, and the current political climate in Nepal. Brice shares his first hand experience with dealing with the bureaucrats in that country, saying that at various times there are some who are very much looking to be helpful and make changes, and while others are corrupt and completely unreliable. He feels we're currently in a period where the latter is the norm.

Case in point, Russell says that on the day of the avalanche, there were just three government appointed liaison officers in Base Camp, when there should have been 39. Each team pays $2500 plus expenses to have their own LO, but most of them never even show up to BC. As Brice points out, that is over $100,000 spend on liaison officers that are never on site. He asks "where does the money go?"

Worse yet, the Nepali government made a big show prior to the start of the season about how they would have three police officers, three military officers, and three other liaison officers in Base Camp this year to help keep the peace following the dispute that occurred last year between European climbers and Sherpas. This announcement was big news, being widely reported on many blogs and websites, including this one. None of those officers were in BC when the avalanche occurred. As a result, there weren't enough trained representatives there, creating further chaos, with no one to take charge of the situation.

Brice delves into the discord amongst the Sherpas as well, and touches on that situation as well. He says that following the avalanche, he asked his team if they were still willing to climb, and was told that they were. But, his lead Sherpa also told him that it would be unwise to do so. They had faced threats of having their legs broken if they did climb, and having their offices in Kathmandu firebombed. With those kinds of threats being bandied about, it is easy to see why teams made the tough decision to pull the plug on their expeditions this year.

Russell goes on to say that he sees the same faces amongst the Sherpas causing problems over the past few years. The ones that were creating a stir this year, were the same as those who stirred up violence against Simone Moro and Ueli Steck last year. Until those individuals are dealt with, it is likely that these situations will continue to occur.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for what Brice writes about, and the entire post should be read to fully understand the situation. He promises a second post will be coming soon, this time dealing with the day of the avalanche itself. Personally, I'm looking forward to reading what he has to say, as anyone who knows Russell, also knows that he'll be very candid about how he feels.

The Everest 2014 spring climbing season may be over, but the story of what happened there is just beginning I think.

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