I headed back to my home in Singapore with a heavy heart after an extraordinary last week, and month, in the Khumbu and on Everest. Following the tragedy, I and many other climbers made the decision to stay at Everest Base Camp. Our hope was that the global spotlight cast on Everest would allow us to draw attention to the broader issues between climbers, the Sherpa people, and the Nepalese government. However, after a chaotic week at Base Camp, it became clear on Thursday, after the Nepalese government flew up the Minister of Tourism to meet with the Sherpas at another rally, that the mountain was closed for the season. And most importantly, my fellow climbers and I needed to give the Sherpa community space to grieve, go home to their villages and be with families, and of course continue the dialogue with the government over the future. Though the rushed 40 mile trek out from Everest Base Camp down to Lukla airstrip helped me clear my mind a bit, my fellow climbers and I are all overcome by emotion as we leave Everest and the Khumbu Valley. My thoughts and prayers are above all with the Sherpa community as they process this massive loss and pursue much deserved changes in their position vis á vis the government and on the mountain.
As a Colorado native, I have had a lifelong fascination with mountains and have climbed peaks around the world. I have had an enormous awe of and respect for the Sherpa people. In travels across the Himalayas over the years, I am always struck by the work, ethnic traditions, and culture of high mountain people. The Sherpa community in the Khumbu Valley has benefitted enormously over the years from the climbing and trekking business around Everest and their income levels today, multiples of the average Nepali, reflect that progress. That being said, the profession of climbing Sherpa has been among the most dangerous in the world. At the memorial service last week, it became very clear that the Sherpa community is going through a very important, yet delicate and volatile, early-stage political process.
This tragedy has created a real rift between a group of younger Sherpa who are more militant and want their demands met, the mountain shut and all climbers out under threat of violence; and the more moderate senior Sherpa who also want the demands met by the government, but have a much more cooperative and mutually supportive relationship with the climbers and guides. The memorial services cum political rally, led by this younger Sherpa element, shows that the road to successful negotiations against the Nepali Government is potentially long. That is where the climbing community who were at Everest and far beyond can play a role. We can show our support for the moderate and constructive Sherpa, lobbying the government to come to the table, and raise global awareness of the current situation beyond the usual sensationalism in the press.
The last ten days are marked by the most intense peaks and valleys of emotion I have ever felt. From horror of watching the bodies long lined out of the ice fall on Good Friday, to the still burning desire to climb the mountain a couple of days later superseded by the realization of the bigger picture around the long term need for change for the Sherpa community. Finally, with the understanding that the drama of climbing Everest was over for now, and we began the long, hard and fast 40 mile hike out, things became clearer as the air thickened and Rhododendens bloomed in the lower elevations, we all I knew that it was time to go home. The spirit of the last two weeks has been one of teamwork and cooperation with some outstanding search, rescue, and medical efforts. Let's hope for mountain climbing in general, and Everest in particular, that once the mountain reopens, this season or beyond, that this spirit of cooperation holds and that valuable lessons from this tragedy become embedded in the culture of climbing this and other peaks.