On 18 April 2014, an avalanche on Mount Everest near Everest Base Camp killed sixteen Nepalese guides. As of 20 April, thirteen bodies had been recovered. The search for the three remaining bodies was called off due to the difficulty and risk of retrieving them. Some Sherpa guides were angered by what they saw as the Nepalese government's meager offer of compensation to victims' families and threatened a "strong protest" or strike. On 22 April, the Sherpas announced they would not work on Everest for the remainder of 2014 as a mark of respect for the victims.
Guide employment on Mount Everest
A Mount Everest guide typically earns about US$125/day per climb. Most come from climbing families, are raised on stories of wealth from climbs, with relatively few other economic opportunities. Between 350 and 450 guides, most of them Sherpas, work each year's climbing season. A guide can earn up to $5,000 a year, compared with Nepal's average annual salary of $700.
In the years prior to the avalanche, foreigners began bringing their own guides, causing tension with locals. Eight people, including one of the most experienced Sherpa guides, died on Mount Everest in 2013.
Concerns over Khumbu Icefall route
Numerous unstable blocks of ice (or seracs) in and above the Khumbu Icefall mean climbers try to pass through as quickly as possible, usually in early morning before temperatures rise. In the spring of 2012 Russell Brice, who runs a successful guiding company called Himalayan Experience, called off guided ascents run by his company due to safety concerns. He was worried about the stability of a 300 metres (980Â ft) wide ice cliff, or ice bulge, on Mount Everest's western shoulder that could endanger the route through the Khumbu Icefall if it collapsed. "When I see around 50 people moving underneath the cliff at one time," he commented, "it scares me." However, Brice and Himalayan Experience returned to the south side of Everest for the 2014 climbing season. Mountaineer Alan Arnette reported that this ice bulge had been a known hazard for years and had discharged ice into the Khumbu Icefall almost every season. He added that "In 2012 it narrowly missed many climbers." According to writer and mountaineer Jon Krakauer, the 2014 avalanche was triggered when a block of ice "the size of a Beverly Hills mansion" broke off from the bulge.
Conditions change regularly with the shifting ice of the glacier, so climbing guides must find and maintain a new route through the icefall each season.
At approximately 06:45 local time (01:00 UTC), an avalanche occurred on the southern side of Mount Everest at an elevation of approximately 5,800 metres (19,000Â ft). Twenty-five men, mostly Sherpa guides, were buried in the avalanche. The group was fixing ropes and preparing the South Col route for fee-paying climbers during the upcoming climbing season. The accident zone, locally known as "the Golden Gate" or "Popcorn Field", lies within the Khumbu Icefall. It is below the traditional site of Camp II, on the route between Camp I and Camp II.
The avalanche was triggered by a large serac breaking off from an ice bulge on the slopes of Mount Everest's western shoulder above the icefall. The serac was estimated to have been 34.5 meters (113 ft) thick and to have had a mass of 14.3 million kilograms (31.5 million pounds). In the following days, further avalanches occurred near the accident site.
Sixteen people died in the avalanche. Thirteen bodies were recovered as of 20 April, when search and rescue operations were called off due to "too much risk". Three victims are still buried in roughly 80 to 100 metres (260 to 330Â ft) of snow and ice. Nine other guides were also injured, including three who required intensive-care hospitalisation.
Four fatalities were Sherpas from Nepal's Solukhumbu District. Five were working for Discovery Channel, preparing for an upcoming special in which Joby Ogwyn was planning to attempt a BASE jump from the mountain. No foreigners were killed. According to mountaineer Tim Rippel, the victims were moving slowly and carrying large "loads of equipment, tents, stoves, oxygen and so on up to stock camps" when the avalanche occurred. The guides had started out in early morning, but were delayed by poor climbing conditions. The second unit crew of disaster movie Everest were filming nearby but suffered no injuries or fatalities; Sherpas involved with the film's production gave assistance after the avalanche. In total, the search and rescue team included nine Sherpas and three foreigners.
The 2014 avalanche is the second-deadliest disaster in Everest's history, only superseded by avalanches that struck the southern side of the mountain the following year on 25 April 2015, which were triggered by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Nepal.
Rippel reported "everyone is shaken here at base camp". Some of the climbers immediately packed up their belongings and left.
In addition to mandatory insurance policies paying USD$10,000 to guides' families, the Nepalese government announced compensation of Nepali Rs. 40,000 ($400) each as immediate relief to the victims' next of kin. This government offering, which only covers funeral costs, angered Sherpas and was dismissed by the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA). The NMA announced they would stop work in seven days' time if compensation of US$10,000 were not paid to families of the dead, injured and missing. They further demanded a memorial to the dead, the doubling of insurance coverage to $20,000 and government payment of medical bills. According to unverified reports, 350 guides voted to suspend operations on Everest. Other reports said the guides agreed to unspecified "strong protests".
On 21 April, eight of the dead were ceremoniously driven through Kathmandu and then cremated in a Buddhist religious ceremony. On 22 April, the Sherpas announced they would not work on Everest for the rest of 2014 out of respect for the victims. Tulsi Gurung said: "We had a long meeting this afternoon and we decided to stop our climbing this year to honour our fallen brothers. All Sherpas are united in this." The fate of 334 climbing permits sold at $10,000 each is uncertain. By 24 April, almost all expeditions had decided to abandon their climbing plans; the 600 mountaineers who were at Base Camp before the avalanche was down to 40 or 50.
On 23 April, the Nepalese government announced it would give an additional 500,000 Nepali Rs. (approx. US$5,100) to the families of the dead climbers. Although these funds started to be paid in December 2014, it was reported in January 2015 that the bereaved Sherpa families were further angered because the money could only be obtained if they presented documentation in Kathmandu, which is impossible for many of those who live in the Khumbu region.
Discovery cancelled Ogwyn's planned BASE jump shortly after the avalanche struck, and announced it would broadcast a documentary about the tragedy. Entitled Everest Avalanche Tragedy, the 90-minute programme was shown on 4 May. The company also said it would make a donation to the American Himalayan Foundation Sherpa Family Fund, a charity supporting the families of those who died in the avalanche.
Following the accident, the NMA president Ang Tsering Sherpa proposed installing avalanche-prevention barriers similar to those found above European ski resorts. He said: "We shouldÂ ... adopt some precautionary measure â" learning from [how] mountains [are managed] in developed countries where they adopt measures to avoid avalanches by putting some kind of wood or some concrete so that it helps make it safe.â
Effects and aftermath
Post-avalanche ascents in 2014
The first post-avalanche ascent of Mount Everest via the South Col route was on 23 May 2014 by the Chinese businesswoman Wang Jing, together with five Sherpas who had never previously climbed the mountain. Her ascent sparked controversy as she bypassed the Khumbu Icefall by helicopter, which took her to 21,000 feet. Tamding Sherpa, the leader of the team that Wang was planning to use before her original expedition was called off as a result of the avalanche, stated that he considered her ascent to be "cheating".
Changes in 2015
As a result of the dangers of the normal route up the left-hand side of the icefall, the Nepali authorities announced in February 2015 that a new route up the centre of the icefall would be followed instead. According to the director of the Nepali governmentâs Department of Tourism, Tulasi Prasad Gautam, âIn response to the last yearâs avalanche we are trying to make Everest climbing a little safer by avoiding the old route.â
In addition, the insurance for each Sherpa in 2015 will be $15,000 rather than the previous $11,000.
- List of people who died climbing Mount Everest
- List of deaths on eight-thousanders
- EverestAvalancheTragedy.com is Discovery's site on avalanche tragedy and donations to victims of it.