Friday, April 17, 2015

Himalaya Spring 2015: Puja Ceremonies and a Collapse in the Icefall

There as been another setback on Everest that is keeping the climbers in Base Camp today, despite the need to start their acclimatization rotations soon. Earlier in the week it was bad weather that prevented them from getting on the move, but now it is a collapse in the Khumbu Icefall that has delayed the start of the first rotations up the mountain.

Alan Arnette reports that more than 80 Sherpas were in the Icefall this morning as they continued their work to shuttle gear up to Camps 1 and 2. But the collapse of the ice along the route caused all of them to turn back. Apparently there was a traverse over a large crevasse that required four ladders to complete, and the entire thing came crumbling down. The Khumbu Ice Doctors will now have to search for an alternate route through the dangerous Icefall. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the collapse.

This is not uncommon, and is large part of why crossing through the Icefall is so dangerous. This portion of the mountain is incredibly unsteady, and the Ice Docs work all season long to keep the route safe and open. This sounds like it was a major collapse however, so it could take a day or two for them to find a new path. You may recall that this route was described as safer and shorter than the ones used in the past, and hopefully that won't change following this incident.

Alan also says that his team had its Puja ceremony a few days back. The Puja is an important step for any climbing expedition, as no one can start up the mountain until it is finished. During the Puja, a Buddhist monk brings the climbers and Sherpas together to ask permission from the mountain gods to safely pass up Everest, or what ever other mountain they are climbing. Traditionally, the monk will also bless their gear and ask the gods to keep the climbers safe. While it is taken very seriously by everyone, it is also a time to celebrate and have too.


With the Puja over, the teams are then ready to start the climb, but the unusually heavy snowfall continued on Everest over the past couple of days, preventing anyone from going higher than Base Camp. None of the commercial teams have passed through the Icefall as of yet, and no one other than the Sherpas have been up to Camp 1 or 2. Hopefully that will change shortly, as it is now time to begin acclimatizing for sure. In fact, some of the squads have actually gone off to other mountains to begin their acclimatization process. For instance, American climber Jim Davidson has moved over to Lobuche East where he'll go as high as 6118 meters (20,075 ft) on the summit. He hopes to wrap up that climb today, and head back to Everest BC.

Over on Annapurna, the teams continue to play the waiting game. The weather has remained bad there too, not allowing teams to make their summit pushes. Heavy snows have blanketed the upper slopes of the mountain in powder, making it extremely unsafe. Avalanches are common on Annapurna even in the best of conditions, but with so much snow falling on the mountain, breaking trail is incredibly difficult, and the risks of avalanche too high. For now, everyone must bide their time, and wait for things to improve.

ExWeb has posted a round-up of news from other 8000 meter peaks, and much of the news is the same. Poor weather continues across the Himalaya, including on Manaslu where Simone Moro and Tamara Lunger had hoped to make a spring attempt after their winter climb was thwarted. According to reports, the duo returned to the mountain in early April only to discover that more snow had fallen in their absence and they couldn't even locate their cached gear under all of the powder. They elected to pull the plug on the expedition altogether, and have now returned home.

The same story is being reported on Shishapangma, Cho Oyu, and Dhaulagiri, where ExWeb says a team of trekkers ran into serious trouble a few days back. Heavy snows caught the unprepared team off guard, and they were forced to take shelter in Base Camp where a climbing team offered them assistance. Apparently, whiteout conditions continue there now, making it very difficult for anyone to go anywhere.

Finally, tomorrow marks the one year anniversary since the massive avalanche claimed the lives of 16 porters on Everest. I'm sure it will be a solemn occasion on the mountain as the Sherpas and western climbers all think about that day. Many of the people on the mountain this spring were there last year too, so I expect there will be some memorial services and ceremonies held. I have no doubt that those who lost their lives will be on the minds of the climbers the next few days.


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