Month: April 2014

An awful tragedy that has been sidetracked in to a different agenda.

As we trek out, rather disconsolately, I hear people say ‘never mind, the government have given a credit note that’s valid for 5 years – you can come back again.’
Well I’m afraid that that doesn’t cut the mustard for me. People don’t want a credit note they want a refund. In fact they don’t want a credit note, or a refund, they want a chance to climb this mountain this year.
The militant shop stewards who have denied the wannabe Everest summiteers their chance have also created a very awkward atmosphere for now and, I envisage, a few years to come. We all know that 16 Sherpas have died and it is a terrible loss … but the militant faction have hijacked the situation and held us to ransom. They have managed to create their own agenda which no longer revolves around the tragic accident.
For a project like Everest it’s not a spur of the moment decision. It’s an objective that might have been around since reading an article in National Geographic as a child (this applies to 2 of my friends who have summited who had both been inspired by the same article as kids). It might have been that a book, a television programme or a film sowed the seed. Or it might be that they are intrinsically an outdoor person and gradually the draw to climbing the highest that there is has crept under their skin. Whatever it is it is a very personal decision and sometimes can’t even be rationalised.
Either which way this is not a 2 week holiday that has been spoilt by the weather, an incomplete hotel building or a strike by the air traffic controllers and you can always come back next year with a partial credit note from the tour operator.
There are a number of things that have to get lined up for most people to attempt Everest. Yes, there is the training, fitness and general climbing and mountain proficiency that I personally advocate – but with due diligence this can be addressed in a few years. The more subjective issues revolve around having saved enough for the cost of the gear (a few £0,000) and the cost of the trip (quite a few more £00,000), having managed to get 2 months off work (a big ask), it being the right time in your life and career and asking your friends and family to put up with your obsessive training and dedication to the project for the months running up to it.
But one of the biggest asks is the moral support of your really close friends and, in particular, loved ones that they will give you their blessing to go away for 2 months whilst they stay at home, get the children to school, go to work, earn the money to pay the bills, fix the car, arrange child care during the Easter holidays, console the kids and generally get on with the mundanity of life.
Obviously some would say that this is intrinsically a selfish thing to do and how could you put a partner and family through all that turmoil. But I’m afraid there are many other things that other people do that are equally as selfish – it’s just that they are spread over a lifetime instead of being condensed in to a two month foray. What about the chap who plays golf every Sunday? The football fan who attends every Saturday match? It could be bridge club every Thursday evening or going to the motocross every Wednesday night. It could be fishing, bee keeping, stamp collecting, religiously tuning in to The Archers or any number of other activities that one person is passionate about but which their partner doesn’t quite hold in the same sense of awe.
The difference, as I said, is that this is all in one hit.
And having lined everything up for 2014 being told you can come back in the next 5 years and be on a permit for free just won’t work for many people. Plus there’s still the additional cost of the actual trip to find as well.
Someone tweeted to me saying that it was a long time coming and the Sherpas deserved more respect and pay. This is, I’m afraid, a view that is rather out of kilter with reality.
For many years now the Climbing Sherpas have been earning handsomely and the respect they have is absolute and well deserved. Every expedition I have been on in The Khumbu (in excess of 35 now) I have been utterly humbled by their approach to the job and I have been utterly in awe of their strength of mind as well as their physical prowess. I cannot imagine that any of the hundreds of clients I have taken along on my various trips has not been touched in some way by the experience, or left with a lifelong impression and fine memory of being with these fantastic people.
Not only that but I receive several e mails every year from previous clients who want to give something back in some way, or who have started to sponsor a child through school, or who have started a whip round following the illness of their summit Sherpa, or the hospitalisation of his wife or, in the latest instance, a charitable collection for the fallen Sherpas.
As for wages … I’m afraid that I will make due comparison between the country average (around US$500 to US$700 p.a. and a lot less in the very rural areas) and the Climbing Sherpa salary of around US$3,500 to US$5,000 plus tips for an Everest season. The Climbing Sherpas I work with may then also work on a Manaslu or Ama Dablam expedition in the autumn which will top up their wages appropriately.
If you look at a night view satellite picture of Nepal you’ll see Kathmandu, Pokhara and The Khumbu lit up. These are the 3 areas where there are lights at night. Kathmandu & Pokhara because they are the capital and 2nd largest city, The Khumbu because there’s a reasonable amount of money brought in by the 20,000 trekkers and hundreds of expeditioners who visit every year.
The militant guys who have brought Everest 2014 to its knees are literally biting the hand that feeds them. Yes it was an awful tragedy and indeed the worst single event by far in Everest history and yes it is only right that people have better working conditions and insurances. But to deny all these Westerners their dream, to effectively create a situation where the hundreds of Climbing Sherpas don’t get their season’s wages (plus tips), to rock the boat so violently that it might impact on the next few seasons and to ruin a great friendship is utterly, utterly selfish and misguided.
It is, by necessity, dangerous work. But bear in mind this is not a miner getting a diamond for your jewellery where the only risk to you is that it might get stolen. This is a route that all the climbers have to take as well. Admittedly the Climbing Sherpas do more journeys through the Khumbu Icefall but the members have to tread the same path too.
One last note … these folk are not rich Westerners. Yes, by comparison to the locals we are rich Westerners but then so, too, are you dear reader. The expression ‘rich Westetners’ is usually banded around because clients pay between US$35,000 up to US$85,000 to be here on Everest and the perception is that they have money to burn. Well most of them don’t. Yes there are the folk who are very comfortably well off but usually this has involved hard work, dedication and endless hours.
Most of the folk here are on average incomes (whatever that may mean). But they have decided not to have an upgraded car every 2 to 4 years, maybe they have forsaken holidays, small luxuries and new mod cons for the past 5 years.
So all these people have saved, worked extra shifts, forsaken the little luxuries and made do without to be here and it is entirely up to them how they spend their money.
The fact that upwards of US$10,000,000 is also pouring in to the local economy has got to be a positive aspect of an expedition season on Everest (and that’s before you start including the likes of Lhotse, Ama Dablam, Baruntse, Island and Mera Peak and other popular mountains).
I really hope that common sense prevails and that the relationship improves significantly very soon otherwise the fall out will be very far reaching and perhaps the lights in The Khumbu won’t be burning quite so bright in the future.

Intimidation, lies and deceit on Everest.

I’m not going to go in to the details of what happened, what a superb effort went in to the recovery and treatment of the injured, how the general feeling of despair increased as the death toll spiralled, how saddened everyone was or what lessons are to be carried away from this – that has all been reported (and misreported) already. I’m also not going to mention parallels with other dangerous jobs and activities where life is at risk because that would be inappropriate at this juncture.


Following on from the awful tragedy of the 18th April there was an immediate unwritten agreement from all parties that it was not appropriate to proceed with operations on the mountain. And rightly so. This became a 4 day no go zone which was increased to a 7 day period. Again, on the surface, this is totally understandable however it also became apparent that this 7 day period was connected with an ultimatum to the government (more later).


Within 2 days of the tragedy it became obvious that a couple of teams had been drastically affected by their Sherpas being injured or killed. Their remaining Sherpas were not willing to go on and so for a few teams the decision was made to pull their expeditions.


Meanwhile straight after the incident a lot of Sherpas were sent home for 4 days to be able to mourn the loss of their brothers, cousins, friends and family. We all bided our time and waited to see if, and how many, would return. Everyone stayed off the mountain and the atmosphere at Base Camp was understandable sombre.


Apart from the occasional misplaced tactless updates about wanting to get on the mountain, most people here realised that we weren’t sure what was going to happen and therefore had no plans for continuing, but at the same time there was no reason to pack up and go home just yet. Who knows what is the right timescale to start considering going, let alone stepping, back on to the mountain. If there had been fewer Sherpas involved would 4 days have been right? Maybe 2 days? Perhaps a week? If it had been solely Westerners involved then I’m sure that the situation would be different again. But we can’t hazard a guess or come up with a matrix that stipulates these kinds of things. What we have to do is be respectful of the situation we are presented with and tread what we consider to be the right path. Which is what we tried to do.


On the 22nd April all the Sherpas, Sirdars and Expedition Leaders were invited to a Puja (blessing) and it was a sombre affair. There was a mini snow slide towards the end of the ceremony as we were all chanting ‘Om Mani Padmi Um’ as if the mountain was shedding a tear. At the end there were a few speeches where various people were invited up to say a few words – influential Sherpas and Westerners alike. But gradually the tone started to change and the whole event was hijacked by a political agenda. We already knew that the Sherpas (or a few militant ones at any rate) had presented an accord with 13 demands to the government with a 7 day deadline . It was the perfect setting to get the already emotional crowd of Sherpas indoctrinated.


Various Westerners said their piece and generally speaking they referred to the fact that we are a climbing community, that we have been working alongside each other for decades, that we know their families, we sponsor their children, we have lobbied the government and Ministry of Tourism on their behalf to improve their insurance (around US$10,000) and to include helicopter rescue which previously wasn’t covered. Last year we had an immediate whip round and created a benevolent fund for the families of the Icefall Doctors. We are not a disparate group – we work together and we need each other. It was also pointed out that the business on Everest doesn’t only provide for the Climbing Sherpas and the Base Camp staff but it provides for the entire Khumbu community as we trek in and stay at the teahouses or employ thousands of porters to get the loads to Base Camp.


Unfortunately one got the feeling that by inviting Westerners to comment they were just paying lip service and it was a token gesture and I really don’t think that any of what was said was actually digested.


A few were there to politicise the event which they did for the next hour and a half. When asked about what would happen if the government did meet their demands, the reply was along the lines of ‘you need to know that we have 300 signatures and we feel very strongly about this and our problem is with the government and we want better working conditions.’ But there was no indication, one way or the other, whether the mountain would be opening again.


We went away feeling that the whole event had been rather inappropriately comandeered but at the same time we could see that there might be a bit of light at the end of the tunnel – we just weren’t sure how long the tunnel was. Equally we thought that 300 signatures wasn’t necessarily a fair representation because a lot of the Sherpas may well have felt obliged to sign when presented with a petition. Peer pressure can be incredibly divisive in a community like this.


Then the Sherpas who had been sent down to be with their families started to return …. or not. This was when a few more teams realised that perhaps their future was in jeopardy because they just didn’t have the manpower to continue due to absence, or that they had the manpower but the Sherpas didn’t have the desire to continue. The house of cards was still standing but was in danger of losing some of its structural integrity.


Maenwhile there was also a flurry of impromptu meetings along with a representation to the government by Russel Bryce and Phil Crampton. We received news from Kathmandu that all would be well and that the mountain was not, and would not, be closed. Obviously no government likes to be held to ransom so they were trying to present a strong front whilst acceding to some of the demands. Unfortunately although the government were telling us that the mountain was open this wasn’t with the blessing of the militant Sherpa wing.


Time and again the Sherpas have stated that their argument is not with the Westerners and there is no animosity towards us. Their beef is with the government. They are sorry that we are caught in this tangled web on the sidelines but at the same time we (and the mountain) are being used as political leverage to get what they want. Obviously everyone wants better working conditions for the Sherpas but by holding us to ransom they are controlling the situation.


Around the same time the Liaison Officers started to arrive (at long last). Their take is that this situation is between us and the Sherpas to sort out. The Sherpas state that the situation is between them and the government. The government are stating that the mountain is open for business. We are going round and round in circles.


The Icefall doctors have stated that the Khumbu Icefall is too dangerous whereas a number of guides (and Sherpas) who have been here many many times have said that it’s in as good a condition as it ever has been. Admittedly the Sherpas are very concerned that there are still 3 bodies unaccounted for and their souls will be lost in the icefall. This is very bad karma and they don’t want to be stepping over their lost brothers but they also accept that the icefall could be rerouted.


So what to do, what to do?


We primed our group that this might be the year when they are expected to carry loads up to Camps 1 and 2 to spread the burden and lessen the workload, and therefore the journeys through the icefall, for our Sherpas. It might be that we have to provide a lesser service on the hill and that the guides would assist the few remaining Sherpas with fixing. All in all, our group had accepted that things had changed and there was going to be more grunt work and, by inference, a lower success rate. Back to the 70’s.


We also started to formulate a plan whereby we would have a low key trip in to the lower stretches of the icefall. Partly to do some training which we haven’t managed to do yet and partly to try and create some momentum and gradually get things back up and running again. There’s still plenty of time because if you recall in 2008 no one was allowed beyond Camp 2 until the 10th May because of the Chinese Olympics – and plenty of people still summited.


And then came the threats … insidious threats that have completely changed the nature of the demands and the situation. There was a veiled threat (or rumour of one) that if we go in the icefall we might not be safe. Our initial reaction wasn’t quite ‘bring it on’ but we certainly weren’t going to stop and, indeed, if the protagonists could be identified perhaps the rot could be removed.


But then it got worse. Sherpas are being told that if they go on the hill, well, ‘we know where you live.’ Sherpas are turning against Sherpas and in this country where these threats are sometimes carried out they are taken very, very seriously.


We have a full compliment of loyal Sherpas who we have worked with for years. They have all returned after the tragedy and even the ones who have lost brothers who were working for other teams are willing to continue. Or they were … until yesterday. Now they are categorical that if we go in the Icefall today they won’t be joining us. And then we realised that the worst could happen – we could go to the icefall and not be attacked but that we get back to a burning village. How can we, as a team, justify putting our Sherpas at risk?


And it’s not just our team of Sherpas who have been threatened. As a consequence of all these factors combined a number of teams announced yesterday that they are withdrawing from the hill. They have published statements with reasons for leaving, but we know that at least one of the larger teams have actually been threatened from a number of angles.


For a while it seemed that the Sherpa led teams were going to be allowed to stay and perhaps this was going to be the start of the new order that some Sherpas have been looking towards for years – Sherpa led expeditions with no Western Leaders involved. It would be the perfect season to see everyone else off the hill by threat and intimidation and leave their own Sherpa led teams and local companies to work the hill and summit, or not. And then we heard that it looks like Seven Summits have also been threatened so we aren’t so sure that even that is the case.

Our Sirdar and Sherpas think that it will be situation normal next year. But will it? This event cannot be undone. What has been said cannot be unsaid. People who are even remotely considering coming South next year will want assurances that probably aren’t worth the paper they are written on. Most of the costs involved on Everest are pretty much upfront and accounted for by the time a team arrives in Kathmandu. There is little, if any, refund available. We have decided that even if this folds we are going to pay our Sherpas because they at least are here and are willing to work (threats notwithstanding). But Shepras who have not returned, or are unwilling to work, may be in for a short sharp shock when they don’t get paid. If you or I were to go on strike we wouldn’t get paid – they may learn the hard way.


So we have now reached an impasse and we are not sure how, or even if, we should proceed. Indeed even if we do try or manage to succeed we have heard that we will not be well received in the villages further down the valley.


One of the stipulations to the government is that they (the militant wing) want the Sherpas to be paid even if they don’t work this season. They are trying to create a win-win situation but in the end everyone is going to be a loser. This is a classic Pyrrhic Victory.


Everest is a multi million dollar joint venture. Yes the government receives US$10,000 royalty per climber but this ‘only’ comes to around US$4,000,000 which pails in to comparison to the estimated US$10,000,000 to US$15,000,000 that is brought in to the area. Then there’s the summit bonuses of around US$300,000 as well. All cash, no taxes.


The loss to the Sherpa climbing community has now been tangled up in to a web of leverage, lies and threats and we in the climbing fraternity now finds their claims somewhat dubious. By wrecking this season the shop stewards have potentially reeked havoc on the local economy and our relationship with them for years to come. When we leave we will be leaving under sufferance and with a very bitter taste in our collective mouths.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Mosedale
+44 (0)17687 71050 (h)
+44 (0)7980 521079 (m)

Everest 2014 – the first fortnight.

Sorry not to have Blogged earlier but we’ve been pretty busy trekking and  it’s been easier to Tweet (timmosedale) and update FaceBook (tim.mosedale) – whereas this morning I’ve been up and about for a while and have managed to create a bit of spare time.
I know it’s cheating a bit, but for the time being I’m copying across a few updates that I posted on FaceBook so if you have been following progress there I wouldn’t bother reading much further.
But if you haven’t then I hope you enjoy this post. In afraid that the bandwidth at Dingboche isn’t coping with photos so I’ll have to post those at another time.
So pull up a pew and I hope you enjoy the read.
Update from 3rd April:
Sadly, having typed an update for about 30 minutes, it hasn’t made it to the ether (Dear FaceBook – if posts don’t send from the iPhone App can you please put them in a drafts folder?).
Unfortunately I haven’t got the time & inclination to do the whole thing again so here’s a précis:
Flew to Lukla (a bit bumpy with crosswinds),
Breakfast at Paradise Lodge with Dawa Putti & Ang Pasang,
Bags all accounted for,
Porters hired,
Had a drink,
Had lunch (at Everest Summiteer Lodge run by my friends Phendan and Sonam Sherpa),
Trekked and had a drink at Phak Ding,
Continued on to Monjo to stay at Top Hill Lodge run by Pasang Dawa Sherpa,
Had afternoon tea,
Had dinner,
Went to bed.
Up the next morning,
Packed bags so the porters could hit the trail,
Had breakfast,
Went through National Park Entrance formalities,
Crossed the main river a few times on suspension bridges,
Up the zig zags to Namche.
Coffee & doughnuts, WiFi, lunch, more coffee, more WiFi, then hit the trail again.
Arrived at Ama Dablam View Lodge (no view) to stay with Tashi & Lakpa who visited my B&B in January,
Looked at their photos from their visit to the UK including the private audience we all had with HRH Prince Charles,
Had dinner,
Went to bed.
Up this morning,
Enjoyed the view,
Visited Tashi’s amazing prayer room,
Trekked to Mong La up the hidden staircase,
Had a drink,
Had a chat about altitude, acclimatisation and altitude related issues,
Had lunch,
Departed Mong La with snow in the air,
Arrived Tashi’s with snow on the ground,
Had a drink,
And a cheese & onion toastie,
Wrote an update,
Lost the update when signal dropped out,
Rewrote update,
About to copy and save (just in case),
And then read The Saturday Times that Ellis delivered a couple of days ago when he arrived in Kathmandu.
Then we’ll have dinner.
Tomorrow we’re trekking to Thame (via Khumjung (photos), Syangboche (tea) and Thamo (lunch)) where we’ll stay for a couple of nights before heading up the Thame Valley and over the Renjo La to Gokyo.
Probably out of reception for a few days so that’s all for now.
Update from 9th April:
We’ve been on the trail for just over a week now and, well, all is good. There was a small dumpette of snow when we came down from Mong La to Tashi’s where we had our second night and then we had blue skies over to Thame where we stayed for another 2 nights.
After visiting the monastery and having our very own private puja we moved up the Thame valley to Marylung and stayed at River View Lodge (you had to walk 75 metres or so to actually see the river but we won’t hold that against them). I’ve stayed here a few times and it’s a great little spot. Rustic and basic, especially compared to Kyanjuma and Thame, but welcoming and comfortable (enough).
The lodge is run by Ang Chutin Sherpa and her mother and considering just how remote it is and how few people come this way I am continually flabbergasted by Ang Chutin’s command of English. We got chatting and I assumed she had studied English at school (no) or learnt in Kathmandu (no) and she told me that she has learnt English from trekkers! I could understand this to be the case if she had a basic way of communicating about the menu, the rooms etc but she has full on conversational English. Amazing! And here am I with 15 years of coming to Nepal and a bunch of expeditions under my belt and all I can do is count to 10, tell the time (by the hour and half hour) and say that a meal was tasty! How pathetic.
It gets better – it turns out that Ang Chutin recently climbed Lobuche East and did some ice climbing at Phortse, back in 2004 she and her sister won the Everest Sky Race and she carries loads for overladen trekkers from Marylung to the top of the Renjo La in under 4 hours.
Anyway enough of my amazement and bewilderment. We left Marylung and had a short trek to Lungde which is the final settlement below the Renjo La where we stayed the night and crossed the pass and are now ensconced in Gokyo. Despite crossing the pass at 5,350m it’s one of the gentlest acclimatisation treks going and we are all fit, healthy and raring to go.
The views from the pass we’re absolutely spectacular and we were blessed with a trouble free crossing. In fact they were the best views I’ve had crossing the pass and, slow WiFi connection permitting, I’ll try and post some photos later.
More to follow.
Update from this morning:
It’s 06:30 and the first helicopter of the day has just flown past going up the valley. In truth it’s very quiet on the trail (notwithstanding the fact that we have trekked a little off the beaten track) and there hasn’t been much helicopter action. A lot of the lodge owners have commented how few folk there have been visiting and passing through. Perhaps it’s related to the dates for Easter and there’s a wave of people en route as we speak? Perhaps the Lukla closures have made trekkers divert to another area. I’m really not sure.
After we arrived yesterday and fitted our bags and rooms we popped up to the bakery and chilled for the afternoon drinking coffee, eating cake and playing cards. All in all quite an easy day and certainly a relaxing one.
I’m up and about and sharing a cup of sweet milk tea in Sheeta’s kitchen. I always like to be in the kitchen first thing. Partly, first thing, it’s the slightly warmer room in the building but it’s also where the activity is starting for the day ahead with water being heated and flasks filled in readiness for breakfast and the visitors who will stop for tea throughout the morning whilst trekking.
At Base Camp I like to be in the kitchen every morning before breakfast and having a chat over a cup of tea because I’m not in to the ‘client and staff’ mentality. Obviously we mustn’t get in their way but no two ways about it the kitchen crew are an integral part of the team and we couldn’t be here without them. People associate with the Climbing Sherpas, but often neglect to build a relationship with the kitchen crew (or the porters), which is a bit if a shame.
In the teahouse breakfast is being prepared for folk coming down in half an hour or so as well as general tidying up, sweeping, arranging furniture in the dining room etc etc. It’s a veritable hive of activity.
Sheeta has very kindly given me a knotted red cord that has been blessed by the lama for me to wear (a ‘Sunndy’) and some stuff that I need to eat every so often called Chellup. It looks like a tiny seed but I’m not quite sure what it is – answers on a postcard to:
What exactly is Chellup (and what is the proper spelling),
c/o Tim Mosedale
43rd tent on the left
Everest Base Camp
The Khumbu
Perhaps your card will be delivered by helicopter at 06:30 one morning.
Today it’s a blue sky day and we’re trekking to Dingboche – a beautiful village nestled at the start of the Imja (Island Peak) valley with a mixture of old and new tea houses overlooking a network of fields that will be planted with potatoes very soon.
Yesterday was very hazy and whilst the trekking was brilliant, and we saw no one, we also had no views. And after we arrived at Pangboche it started snowing.
This morning, by contrast, is a blue sky day and I can see Ama Dablam in all its glory overlooking Pangboche and further down there’s Kangtega and Thamesurku with Kongde Ri filling the bottom of the valley.
I’m pretty sure we will be stopping at the bakery (7 minutes’ trekking from here) where they not only have coffee, chocolate cake and WiFi but also the last proper view we will have of Everest until we get in to The Western Cwm (unless we decide on a side trip to Kala Pattar or Pumori Camp 1).
I’m often asked about the difficulty of trekking in Nepal and my stock answer is that if you can walk in The Lakes you can walk in Nepal. The trails are as good, and often better, than our best paths and the main difference is that there’s the rarified atmosphere to deal with. There’s obviously the cultural shock of arriving in Kathmandu which is pretty crazy. Then there’s the amazing sightseeing venues of Boudhanath (Massive Stupa) and Pashupatinath (Hindu temple and burning Ghats) you can go to. And then there’s the Lukla flight (small plane whizzing towards a small runway on a hillside) followed by the comparative quiet of being on the trail accompanied by the sound of Yak bells. There’s the mani stones (carved rocks) and mani walls (carved ’tiles’ of stone that are arranged along the line of the trail to make a wall that you pass to the left), the amazing people, the teahouses, the massive loads that the porters carry, the views, the prayer flags, the huge suspension bridges over deep gorges, the breathtakingly amazing mountain vista, the, sometimes, more basic toilets to contend with, the cold evenings, the wafer thin walls in the teahouses, the smell of juniper or incense in the mornings and the noise of first helicopter of the day flying past at 06:30.
But apart from that it’s just like hill walking in The Lakes.
Until we arrive at Everest Base Camp, that is, and start preparing for our time on the big mountain. Then the emphasis changes quite dramatically, but I’ll save that for another day.