Three Mountaineers Assaulted On Mt. Everest By Sherpas

Sherpas on Everest attacked three climbers this weekendThe 2013 spring climbing season on Mt. Everest took a strange and unexpected turn this past weekend when a team of three climbers was assaulted by a mob of angry Sherpas. The incident first began at one of the mountain’s high camps, then reignited further down the slope when tempers flared up once again. If it weren’t for the brave intervention of other Western climbers, the conflict could have resulted in severe injury, or even the death, of the mountaineers involved.

This past Saturday, independent climbers Ueli Steck of Switzerland, Simone Moro of Italy and Jonathan Griffith of the U.K. were all climbing towards Camp 3, located at 7200 meters (23,622 feet), when they came across a team of Sherpas. The high altitude guides were busy fixing lines up the mountain that the commercial climbers will use as they scale it over the next few weeks. The Sherpas asked the Europeans to stay off the ropes while they were being worked on, as it was possible the climbers could dislodge debris and send it falling down on them while they worked. Steck, Moro and Griffith, who are each very accomplished climbers, agreed with the request and proceed up the slope using their own ropes that ran parallel to those the Sherpas were working on.

As they neared their campsite, the three climbers needed to cross the fixed ropes in order to get to their tents. As they carefully proceeded over the lines, the lead Sherpa, who was working above them at the time, rapidly descended and immediately began shouting at them to stay off the ropes. He accused the team of dislodging a chunk of ice, which struck and injured one of his workers below. Something the European climbers deny. The argument only escalated from there, culminating with the entire Sherpa team ceasing their work and descending to Camp 2 in a huff.Steck, Moro and Griffith then proceeded to their campsite to drop off several loads of gear and discuss what to do next. In an effort to extend an olive branch and show respect to the Sherpas for their efforts, Steck decided to help with the rope fixing himself, adding 260 additional meters to the work that had already been completed. But after spending some time mulling their options, they decided it was best to descend to Camp 2 just as the Sherpas had.

Sherpas on Everest attacked mountaineers this weekendUpon arriving there, they were immediately met with an angry mob. The team of 17 Sherpas that the climbers had confronted on the mountain slopes had grown to nearly 100. The group attacked the three men, punching and kicking them repeatedly. Some threw rocks at them in an effort to severely injure or even kill them. The incensed Sherpa contingent was clearly out for blood.

Fortunately, other Western climbers were on site and jumped in to serve as a buffer zone between the trio from Europe and their assailants. It took the better part of an hour, but things finally began to calm down. At that time, the Sherpas told Steck, Moro and Griffith that they had better get back down the mountain to Base Camp, because if they spent the night in C2, one of them would lose his life. They promised to see to the other two climbers as well.

Grabbing a few pieces of gear, the three men descended back to Base Camp, but out of fear for their lives they didn’t use any of the fixed ropes that are in place along the route. When they arrived in BC, Ueli Steck was immediately flown to a hospital in a nearby village for treatment. He had suffered a minor injury to his head when he was struck by a rock during the melee but doctors didn’t find any serious damage. After spending a night under observation, he was back in Base Camp the following day.

The team had been considering continuing the expedition. Steck and Moro are two of the best climbers of their generation and they don’t give up easily. But after meeting with authorities yesterday and members of the Sherpa association, the three European climbers have decided to call it quits for the season and head home.

In the aftermath of the violent incident, three of the Sherpas have been removed from the mountain, while the police and the Ministry of Tourism investigates what exactly happened. Everyone knows that this story won’t be good for Nepal’s image, which relies heavily on tourism dollars from climbers and trekkers to stay afloat.

[Photo Credits: Rupert Taylor-Price via Wikimedia, Jonathan Griffith]

Five trekking options for adventurers with bad backs

trekking with bad backIf you’ve got a bad back or neck–and many of us do–it can make certain aspects of travel challenging, especially if you’re otherwise healthy and active. Perhaps the most frustrating issue for adventure travelers such as myself is being limited to day hikes, unless there are overnight options that don’t involve humping a 50-pound-plus backpack into the wilderness.

I suffered a moderately severe back injury in 1994, which has been exacerbated over the years by my recreational/occupational pursuits and being a general spaz (a fall on ice led to months of physical therapy). While I travel with a 35-pound backpack, it’s always for relatively short distances. When it comes to trekking, I know my limit is about 10 pounds, in a daypack.

Yet I love few things more than backpacking and trekking. Over the years, I’ve found ways to circumvent my back issues, and in the process, have taken some truly mind-blowing trips (as well as excelled, physically). There are those who consider it cheating if you don’t carry your own gear, but I’m willing to bet they haven’t experienced the joys of a herniated disc, whiplash, or spinal stenosis. Ignore the naysayers, and look into these rewarding options. Happy trails!

Note: I don’t want to underplay the importance of being physically fit and well-conditioned for a trek. You need to be able to walk long distances, on often steep, difficult terrain at very high altitude (depending upon itinerary). Any reputable company will provide you with an outline on conditioning for your adventure. Please be honest (with yourself, and them) about your abilities.

Use a porter
Outfitters in many locales, such as the Inca Trail, the Himalayas, or Kilimanjaro rely on porters to haul gear; you’re responsible for your daypack (which may include weather-related gear). The altitude presents enough of a challenge for the average trekker, and porters are usually indigenous peoples who are genetically adapted to their harsh environment. There’s a reason Sherpas always accompany climbers on Everest and why the Quechua porters of the Andes are capable of sprinting uphill for miles, barefoot, with 100-pound loads on their backs.

%Gallery-125080%trekking with bad backThe first time I did a trip with porters, I was bothered by what I saw as a social injustice. But my Peruvian guide from Bio Bio Expeditions explained that there are strict guidelines in place (this may depend upon region, so please check with your outfitter or the local permitting office) about maximum weight loads. By employing the local people, porters receive a steady paycheck, supplemented by monetary tips from trekkers (please don’t overlook this; it’s part of their livelihood, and believe me, they earn it), and donated clothing items that go to their families.

Pack trips
While long days in the saddle can wreak havoc on tenderfoot thighs and butts, pack trips are the ideal way for the physically-compromised or older folks to explore remote wilderness regions, often at high altitude (day hikes are usually included during downtime; be sure to ask). Alternatively, if your back (or you) demand a bit more comfort at night, you can descend on muleback into the depths of the Grand Canyon, and stay in one of the Phantom Ranch’s rustic but comfy cabins; note that these trips book out at least a year in advance.

Bonus: Many outfitters now focus on food, so rest assured you won’t be eating freeze-dried beef Stroganoff. Other outfitters will teach you packing skills, such as how to tie a diamond-hitch and load a pack mule, or focus on fly-fishing, photography, or personalized trips, so look for the company that best suits your needs and interests. Tip: There’s no unified national packers association. Your best bet, says Dave Dohnel of California’s (very excellent) Frontier Pack Train, is to “ask for references–I always tell potential clients to call the regional office of the Forest Service. They’re the stewards of the land, so they’ll give you an unbiased opinion.” Also be sure to do some online research on the companies you’re considering.
trekking with bad back
Llama/goat packing
Having a furry friend haul your gear as you walk alongside is becoming more popular in the States. Llamas, of course, have been used as pack animals for hundreds of years in the Andes. They’re tough, have excellent footing, and are cute as the dickens, but they’re also tempermental. If you’d prefer to trek with an animal you can really bond with, goats are ideal, as they’re more dog-like and enjoy interacting with people.

There are only a handful of goat packers in the U.S. at this time, but it’s grown in popularity since it was pioneered in the 1980’s by former Forest Service employee John Mionczynski. A large goat can carry up to a quarter of its body weight with a pack frame, and their small hooves and grazing habits make them a lower impact option than horses or mules. The North American Packgoat Association (NAPgA) is for those who want to start packing with their own goats, but it’s still a great resource.

Destinations for both llama and goatpacking include the Rockies, Pacific Northwest, and Southwestern U.S.. There’s also the Pack Llama Festival in Silverton, Colorado, held September 22-25.

Day treks from a base camp
Many outfitters offer combination trips that enable experienced trekkers or climbers and beginners to travel together. Seattle-based Mountain Madness, historically a “hardcore” mountaineering outfitter, now offers a “Trek or Climb Program” that allows partners or families to enjoy the same trip–each participant has the option to climb or trek only, or a combo of the two–and reunite at a new base camp each night. For those with no experience wanting to get a “taste of climbing but not commit to it 100%,” this offers a great compromise. All trips include porters, so you only need to carry your daypack (they’ll even hire a porter to do that, if you’d like). Other companies, like Seattle’s Alpine Ascents, will hire porters to carry your gear on their international trips if you’re unable (they suggest you be able to handle a 50-pound pack).
trekking with bad back
For my first mountaineering attempt, I did a Mountain Madness trip to Ecuador’s Cotopaxi, the world’s highest active volcano (19,347 feet). Because we had to spend the night at a refugio located just above 15,000 feet in the acclimatization zone, it meant I only required a day pack for the ascent (which was unfortunately thwarted at 17,000 feet due to avalanche danger). But the point is, you can have the best of both worlds, bad back or not. And I still had a great time and felt I’d made a massive achievement.

Specialty trips
Mountain Madness also offers a Mt. Baker “Slow Boat” beginner summit climb in the Cascades (FYI, a lot of outfitters are based in Seattle, an outdoor industry Mecca). This is a four-day trek–usually, it’s done in three–created specifically for those who need a little more time for whatever reason (you still need to be able to carry 35 pounds). Ask outfitters what options they offer if you have limitations; many companies will create personalized itineraries for two or more clients.

Have back problems and a trek or outfitter you want to rave about? Let us know!

[Photo credits: pack train, Flickr user Mouldy17; all other photos, Laurel Miller]

Yoga: Postures to Help Relieve Back Pain

Apa Sherpa summits Everest for record 21st time

Apa Sherpa has reached the summit of Everest for a record 21st time.Legendary mountain guide Apa Sherpa successfully reached the summit of Mt. Everest yesterday, extending his own record for the person who has accomplished that feat the most often. For Apa, this was his 21st time standing on top of the world’s highest mountain.

The Nepali native, who now makes his home in Utah, reached the top of the 29,029-foot mountain at 9:15 AM local time yesterday morning. He was joined by six other climbers, who took advantage of good weather conditions to top out on Everest. The team began the ascent earlier in the week in hopes of completing their climb before the crowds of other commercial climbers start heading to the top. “Summit Day” for those teams is expected to take place today and tomorrow, with a string of other climbers delaying their start into next week.

With the summit out of the way, Apa and his team will now turn towards their other mission – cleaning up the mountain. For the past four years, he has climbed as part of the Eco-Everest Expedition, a team of high altitude Sherpas who not only lead paying clients up the mountain, but also work to protect the environment there as well. Apa and the other members of this crew have quite literally taken tons of trash, left behind by other expeditions, off of Everest, where it can be disposed of properly. These Sherpas also work as educators, spreading the word about the impact of climate change on Everest and the effect it has on the surrounding countryside.

For most mountaineers, standing on top of Everest even once is a dream come true. For Apa, it is just another climb. After 21 successful trips to the top, it is difficult to say when he’ll call it quits and hang up his crampons for good, but for now, he seems to still be enjoying the challenge, while still doing positive work for his home country.

[Photo courtesy Asian Trekking]

First summits of the year on Everest

The first summits of Everest for 2011 took place yesterdayThe first successful summits of Mt. Everest for the 2011 spring climbing season took place yesterday, and as you might guess, they were accomplished by a group of Sherpas. The six-man team stood on the highest point on the planet after fixing the ropes to the summit, the same ropes that will now be used by the foreign climbers who will soon begin the long, challenging climb for themselves.

Each year, dozens of climber travel to Everest, the tallest mountain on the planet at 29,029-feet, in an attempt to scale that iconic peak. They spend upwards of two months, and $50,000, for the chance to stand on top of the mountain for just a few brief moments. Over the course of those two months, they climb up and down portions of the mountain several times, allowing their bodies to acclimatize to the extreme altitude, in preparation for the final push to the summit.

While those visiting climbers slowly adapt to the altitude, the indigenous Sherpas prepare the route to the top of the mountain. Using thousands of feet of rope, they put into place the lines that the climbing teams that follow will use to safely move higher on Everest. They’ll also establish a series of high altitude camps, four in all, which the mountaineers use as rest stops while acclimatizing and on their way to the top. This is difficult and draining work that only these unsung heroes of the Himalaya can complete in a safe and timely manner.

With the route to the summit now finished, the commercial climbing teams will now look for a weather window that will allow them to climb to the summit as well. Most are finishing their final acclimatization rotation over the next few days, after which they’ll return to Base Camp for a brief rest. All eyes will then be on the weather forecast, as the climbers look for an extended period of good conditions that will allow them to safely climb up the mountain. They may have to wait awhile however, as the weather on Everest this season has been unusual. Climbers report colder and windier conditions when compared to previous years, with more snow as well.

If all goes as planned however, there will be a spate of summits in about a week or so. Traditionally, most of the summits take place around the middle of May, before the seasonal monsoons set in in early June.