Website- Peak Freak Expeditions

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Everest North compared to South

We've been getting a lot of people asking if we'd consider going back to the North side of Everest? Tibet has its issues too, they are not exempt. You'd think that if you're going to climb and be among nature you'd be able to leave all the political differences behind. That's not the case, climbers are a liability or target in a country when things go wrong and too often they do. The Chinese government is well known to close the border to climbers and turn everyone around or be selective without notice and they certainly don't like the press. 

We've been working with restrictions the past year and a half that required our Tibet overland tours to consist of a minimum of five people, all the same nationality. This was an attempt to keep journalists out and keep applicants true as tourists. Their logic was that it would be logistically too difficult to organize five journalist all the same nationality traveling together to dispatch news out of there. 

As for being targets, late June last year after the Everest season 10 climbers were shot in the head on Pakistans Nanga Parbat, the 9th highest mountain in the world by Taliban militants who were taking revenge on foreigners for drone attacks. It was terrifying news. Climbers used for revenge!! 

The North side of Everest in Tibet is a climbers climb. There's no ice fall to contend with and no Hillary Step, but there is a ladder to negotiate on the North East ridge that climbers have to wait out bottle necking on a busy day. The crux on the north side is the long traverse at extreme altitudes before descending to safer altitudes after your summit bid. It's long and you're tired and at risk of running out of steam or even oxygen if you move too slow. Climbers who died here aren't typically victims of avalanche or falls. Most who passed had sat down and never stood up again. 

Its cheaper on the north than the south, less people but it's harsh due to more wind and exposure than the south. There's no real sense of journey here, it lacks the beautiful Sherpa culture, village life and the friendships made along the way. There's no visitors allowed. Only climbers are permitted to the base area past Rhongphu Monastery. 

Unlike the Nepal government the Chinese government are very involved. Both having its good and its bad. You can't roam freely with the locals like you can in Nepal.  

China doesn't care much for mountaineers. They see things and get to places they'd prefer they didn't and they don't rely on the revenues from tourism to feed their people like Nepal does. They have no problem saying pack up and get out. 

It's truly a climbers climb in regards to availability of rescues. There aren't any, your pretty much on your own if you mess up. There's no helicopter service or cooperative rescue coordination among the teams due lack of resources. It's each man for himself here. 


We've been keeping an eye on the weather on Everest South this year even though no one is climbing it's still an important part of our annual observations to watch climate and the changes and effects it has on the route.

It's been very calm, little wind on the summit and lots of precipitation in the form of snow building up. There will be more avalanche activity as result on the Lhotse Face and the West Shoulder. Depending how long this systems lingers this could have been one of those seasons that no one got up due weather like the earlier years. We had a good go at the mountain for quite a spell. In the earlier years it was not uncommon for no one to get on top due weather. I think people were mistakingly starting to take the summit opportunity for granted on the south side. The north's snow issues are different due to more wind. 

Tim and team made it to Kathmandu. They opted for the helicopter to the village below Lukla named Phablu. From here they met their jeeps for bags and members that Tim organized for a 12 hour bumpy- washed out - mud road to Kathmandu. They were caravanning with a couple other jeeps doing the same. Epic to the end...

That's life in the Himalayas!

What's next for Peak Freaks?  This couldn't be even more important than now.

 Our "Triple Crown" Everest Training Climb. Helping people to become self-reliant climbers in moderate terrain at moderate elevations. Learning about yourself at altitude and leaving with the knowledge as to whether or not you can trust your own judgement climbing big mountains, or if you even like it before the big investment in time and money. Especially important for anyone considering climbing 8000m peaks.

Tim and Becky Rippel

Photo: Everest North Side - Tibet

Monday, 28 April 2014

Debriefing April 18th 2014' Everest Avalanche

Something was just brought to my attention in a phone call from Tim. At the moment, he is frantically following behind his team to make sure their expedition bags arrive in Kathmandu close to the same time as they do for their homeward journey—forever ticking off his responsibilities to his team to get them home safely.

After dealing with understandably disappointed clients and sharing their heartbreak for the past few days,Tim had a chance to look at the big picture while walking out of the valley quietly with Ang Karsung Sherpa's son, Sonam, the promising next generation for tourism in Nepal.

When Tim arrived in Namche Bazaar tonight (Nepal Time), he was caught off guard when lodge owner Tsedam Sherpa told him that the Sherpa community applaud him. We didn't even get into "for what?". Instead Tim told me something that what was upsetting him, the “what could have been”

I don't think this part of the story, the "what could have been", got the attention it should have. In an earlier post, we stated that there were more than 100 Sherpa guides who narrowly missed the avalanche. In one hit, the avalanche could have wiped out one third of the guiding Sherpas' population. Tim told me that had the avalanche been half an hour earlier, they would all be dead. When you consider it, this is a chilling fact. 
Thirty minutes earlier and more than 100 Sherpa guides would have died.

The scenario was that the route had just been completed by the icefall doctors with ladders and ropes through the difficult section, the ice fall. The teams were all gathered at base camp so the rush was on to do their work. All the equipment had arrived at base camp, this was the day for lots of movement on the route. Camp 2 is essentially another base camp, plus oxygen supplements and rope in addition to the normal provisions. This equipment is not moved by yaks, the manual labour at this stage of the climb is significant. The bulk of the loads had just been dropped off. Our Tashi and Palden Sherpa, who were turning to go back down, were very close to the avalanche path, so were more than100 others. 

In 2012, a similar scenario occured where a large avalanche came off Nuptse—the other side of the icefall from this one. As with this recent avalanche, more than 100 Sherpas and western climbers on the other side, at Camp 2, narrowly missed being struck by the avalanche. The impact of the 2012 avalanche blew a Sherpa into a crevasse. Thankfully he survived and was rescued. Tim recalls he was worried when the 2012 avalanche hit because one of our climbers, Travis McPhee from Canmore, was not feeling well and had turned around. Travis was just approaching his tent when the avalanche hit and managed to get inside to retreat from the big cloud that could have suffocated him. 

It is easy to get wrapped up in the hype and politics of a disaster but it is equally if not more important to reflect on what could have been and all that it means. It may not seem respectful to the victims of the avalanche, their families, or even the climbers whose dreams have been brought to such a sudden conclusion, that we were lucky, and yet, knowing what could have been, lucky is what we were. 

I told Tim this story needs told with a bit more bold. 

Becky & Tim Rippel

Friday, 25 April 2014

Everest Unofficial Closure and the Future

The SPCC (Sagamartha Pollution Control Commity) has thankfully given us permission to use helicopters to lift our 32 human loads of equipment from Camp 1 & 2 eliminating putting further life at risk on the glacier.

As a result of the base camp meet the government encouraged people to continue to climb if they want to. If they were to officially close Everest as so many Sherpas requested, they would have been up against demands to give permit fees back. Instead they've offered the current permits a validity of up to five years to be used for a future Everest climb.

There is one private team here that we are aware of that says they're going to make a go at climbing this spring. The ice fall doctors (team of Sherpas who fix the route on the glacier) say ladders they placed will have all been disassembled by force of nature, they'll be bent and broken if not maintained daily. The doctors haven't been back up since April 18 and they aren't planning on going up again this year.

Another chunk of ice broke off today causing another avalanche in the same area as April 18th. Avalanches are frequent and common all over the Himalayas this time of year, but problem areas we have to travel under we take seriously and especially with too many people moving slowly in an area will be conjested. If the Sherpas had to move slow in the area, the clients would be moving even slower once they started.  All western commercial operators are packing up to leave. We're not sure about one of the Nepalese operators. They've not made an announcement yet that we're aware of.

The future of Everest being safe is questionable. Yes there are too many people coming. Some teams have as many as 60 people on them. Everest has become a high altitude tour not a climb as we used to know it. Peak Freaks has often expressed this to the Ministry and aspiring applicants that team sizes and the number of permits they issue would be the death of their gem if not controlled. Seems that the more people are successful, the more the momentum builds compromising safety.  We feel this was irresponsible of the government to just look the other way. We never knew how many people were going to show up till we got here.

Everest is not a walk in the park, dangers are real, mountains kill people. Clients need to accept more responsibility, they should be self-reliant climbers and question what if something were to happen to my Sherpa guide?, would I be able to help him?

Everest does not only have wind issues, the shifting tectonic plates continue to push Everest upward, along with the whole Himalaya mountain range, at 1.6 to 3.9 inches (4 to 10 centimetres) per year. Compounded with the glacier being pulled downward due to global warming, there's a lot of friction between the two. We can't say that Everest will or will not be safe on a particular day. We can only predict with our years of experience working here combined with our tools and skills we've learned as guides who actively work in the mountains, and with our Sherpa guides wisdom and their spiritual insight.

As an operator, we also have work to do. Peak Freaks will continue to train people in safer areas on smaller peaks in the beautiful Himalayas. Sherpa culture is a beautiful thing. There is much we can learn from them.

Everest? The government of Nepal has work to do. 

Om mani padme hum

Tim & Becky Rippel

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Safety first- we pull the pin.

Peak Freaks Everest 2014' is cancelled due to safety concerns, firstly the route in my professional opinion is NOT safe and providing guidance through our expertise in safety is what we are paid for.  We've cancelled expeditions before to save lives, this is not new to us. Nothing in mountaineering is absolute, we have to be flexible and move with the mountains, there are no guarantees.  As I give this dispatch I hear an avalanche. Earlier today I listened to another coming from the same direction off the western shoulder that killed 16 Sherpas on April 17th. 

What I am seeing here is exactly why we no longer climb on adjacent Ama Dablam 6856m and later Mount Pumori at 7145. We no longer climb those mountains due to global warming, the ice is melting, the glue that holds them together.

Secondly there is too much riff to consider safely moving forward as the political environment here is getting more complex and anger is developing. There is talk of retaliation on Sherpas who want to continue and I'm not about to be part of this or put any of my staff or clients in danger. There seems to be two tribes forming and this makes for a dangerous situation in an already unstable mountainous environment. If we care about our Sherpa families as so many say they do, then we must give peace a chance. 

Tomorrow the Nepalese army and police are expected at base camp to try to talk to the Sherpas who do not want to climb into doing it for a few select operators that are putting pressure on them. This is not how we climb mountains!!

The ice-fall doctors who put the ladders and routes in through the ice-fall have made their decision that the glacier is not safe. Why wouldn't we listen to them?  In addition 300+ Sherpas have put their names on an organized protest to not climb in respect of the recent deaths, why wouldn't we listen to them? 

It's gotten too messy, we hung in here to see if we could learn from all of this and be of assistance in anyway through this crisis, but now that we have an army, police and angry Sherpas staging at base camp, it's time to go home. 

What's next?

We have 32 loads of equipment up at Camp 2. We are organizing jointly with Alpine Ascents and Adventure Consultants a helicopter to take up 3 Sherpas, one from each team, to organize the loads to be flown down to base camp avoiding the glacier all together. 

Some of our clients have organized helicopter lifts to Kathmandu while others are walking out effective tomorrow morning. 

We've been in the Sherpa community for 24 years as partners in tourism and have seen so much good come from it to a country that was once the 5th poorest in the world. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been generated here from mountaineering. 

We will continue to climb on smaller mountains in Nepal and do what we can to keep the industry alive in Nepal,  but we will tread softly on future plans with Everest. 

Over and out

Everest 2009 taken from Mount Pumori

Everest this week 2014' 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Safety First

The Ministry of Nepal has met most of the demands but there are other serious problems at hand.

Since the avalanche many Sherpa guides left camp for a break or quit all together. Even after offering our guides full pay if they wanted to leave, they did not. They are all here with us as we work out the fate of Everest 2014 together. They are brave and wise men and I have an enormous amount of responsibility to them and their families.

 The fate of this climb is not just a political decision, it's Mother Nature who calls the shots and that's why we are having this conversation in the first place.

As a professional member of the Canadian Avalanche Association I have my educated concerns. The mountain has been deteriorating rapidly the past three years due global warming and the breakdown in the Khumbu ice-fall is dramatic, especially at the upper icefall. We need to learn more about what is going on up there. Each day we sit and listen to the groaning and crashing of the glacier. Political grievances aside, we are not here to kill people.

We have more work to do.

Stay tuned!

Tim Rippel

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Tension Growing on Everest

The press releases are starting to filter out now with various versions and perspectives of what's going on here so I felt it's important to make this statement now. 

As we suggested in a previous post the Sherpa guides are heating up, emotions are running wild and demands are being made to the government to share the wealth with the Sherpa people are on the table.

Now that there are more Sherpa operators today on Everest, they've come to learn just how much the government of Nepal makes in revenues from Everest expeditions and they are asking for a share. This is their time and under very unfortunate circumstances. 

There were three meetings yesterday with Sherpa guides and expedition leaders. Their 13 demands of the government are mostly thought to be reasonable and a few we feel may need more thought.  Western leaders including ourselves have been asked to help present the Sherpas demands to the government with and for them. In any case things are getting very complicated and there is a lot of tension here and it's growing. Safety of our members is always our number one priority. 

Peak Freaks is in support of the Sherpa people any which way it goes.  They are our family, our brothers and sisters and the muscle on Everest. We follow their lead, we are guests here.

Tim and Becky Rippel

Friday, 18 April 2014

Avalanche update #3 - Soul Searching - 4 days off

There is a lot of soul searching going on right now at Everest Base Camp in light of the recent avalanche that has so far claimed 12 lives and 4 are still missing. The search for the 4 will continue tomorrow morning.

 I sat and counted 13 helicopter lifts, 12 were dead bodies flying overhead suspended by long-line from a helicopter. Everyone is shaken here at base camp. Some climbers from various teams are packing up and calling it quits, they want nothing to do with this. Reality has set in. We had a meeting with our Sherpa crew and I gave all of them permission to go home and call it a season if they wanted with full pay, they all want to stay and even a couple of them after coming very close to being victims themselves.

We had a couple Sherpa climbers with loads trapped in a conjested area due to slow movement of Sherpas in the popcorn field below Camp 1, it was tough going which caused the delays. Their feet started to get cold so they dropped their loads, tied them off on the rope and retreated to base camp just 5 mintues before the avalanche let loose.

Two other Peak Freak guides, Tashi and Paulden Sherpa were above the avalanche just starting to make their way down from Camp 1 when it happened. They were trapped for a bit and had to remake the route and fix ladders to get down.

The press has been reporting that the Sherpas were fixing the route with rope as released by the Ministry of Tourism Nepal,  the reality is that the route had already been fixed to Camp 1 and Sherpas were just starting to haul the mountainous loads of upper mountain rope, equipment like tents, stoves, oxygen, fuel and so on up to stock camps. This was why they were moving so slowly.

There was a meeting today at base camp with leaders and some out-spoken Sherpas. They are heating up. They are not impressed with the Ministry of Nepal that gains over 100 million a year revenue from Everest and the amount alloted for the familes when something goes wrong does not make sense. The ministry did put some officials at camp this year in light of the conflict last year, but at this meeting they were nowhere to found. Even after Sherpas were yelling out one officials name that they knew well - there was no response.  The Sherpas are covered by insurance that all operators pay as required by the government of Nepal, this amount was increased by 10x for this season. It is possible the Sherpas are just concerned and just want to make sure they get all of it.

A time of healing and re-thinking has been asked for. One Sherpa taking the stance as a spokesperson for the group has asked for 4 days of no climbing. We will whole heartedly respect that. 

Below is a video of the last avalanche in 2009 from the same aspect, the west shoulder of Everest. You can see the ice chunks above and how when they come off with daytime heating it's directly above the route. The route to the east is even worse so this is the safest side.

Time for sleep and try to digest all that has gone on today. Everyone is in agreement that Everest 2014 is shaping up to be the worst season in history for complications and for deaths, it's already surpased previous records in one event.

Over and out

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