The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Exploration

Everest: Without Passion, Why Climb?

It's been three weeks since the tragedy of April 18, when 16 Sherpa were killed while working on Everest. Many stories have been written, a documentary has been produced, rumors from the season continue to fly, and I have spent a large part of every day discussing, brainstorming, and processing the accident that took the lives of climbers we knew and cared for.

The awful side of this accident is clear and must not be forgotten—16 climbers lost their lives, and their families are without their husbands/fathers/primary breadwinners. The climbing community and the public have come together impressively, and raised many thousands of dollars for these families. I hope this money helps to support better lives for those left behind.

When my head Sherpa and good friend Nima was killed in a climbing accident with me in 2004, my team and company took our responsibility to his family very seriously. Nima loved his work and climbing. He loved the fact that he could afford to send his son Pemba Gelu to private school in Kathmandu, and that his son would have the opportunity to choose his future profession. This year, Pemba is about to graduate from one of the best schools in Kathmandu, supported not only financially, but also through letters, annual get-togethers, and phone calls from our guides and clients throughout the past decade. He now has options of where to continue his schooling, and he has the English skills, the education, and the finances to be successful. It does not replace losing a father. But he is proudly living his life, and running with the opportunities that he has been presented. 

I hope the support for the families of this year's tragedy continues. Financial help, and time and effort, are all important. Anyone who's interested, whether Everest climbers or not, can get involved through the Khumbu Climbing Center (KCC) and the Juniper Fund.

{%{"quote":"I believe the life I live, the experiences I have and share with others, are worth the risks—even the risk of death. I have so much passion for what I do that I cannot, for now, imagine life without it."}%}

Throughout the difficult past few weeks, the main question for me has been: Is it acceptable to expose our Sherpa to clear risk of death while working in the mountains? For that matter, is it okay to expose our Western guides and clients to the same risk? Every year around the world, American and European mountain guides are killed while working. I've lost climbing friends to accidents in Nepal, France, Alaska, and Peru. It is a constant reality of our jobs.

As a guide, my first priority is reducing risk. It is why Alpenglow decided two years ago to keep trips through the icefall to an absolute minimum—for clients, guides, and Sherpa. We got rid of all the heavy infrastructure teams usually bring to Camp 2 and above. We got rid of all our acclimatization on the mountain so as to reduce our need of food and comfort. And we dramatically increased the required experience and skills of our clients, so they can better partner with our Sherpa and guides. This means our Sherpas and guides aren't required to move as slowly and dangerously in the icefall and other exposed sections of the mountain. Our Sherpa planned on only 5 or so trips each through the icefall; Sherpa working for other teams will make 20 or more such trips.

But are we doing enough to manage the risk? There are some options under discussion, including flying helicopters to over the icefall to Camp 1 (hauling all equipment, staff, and climbers). We've also considered moving our expedition to the North Side, in Tibet, where the route is less exposed to ice- and rockfall.

Of course, flying helicopters to Camp 1 would dramatically change the character of the climb, removing what has historically been the most challenging and memorable—if deadly—obstacle. What's more, the reality of flying hundreds of trips over the icefall presents its own significant risks (even today's incredible helicopters and pilots are working at the absolute limit of safety when flying above 20,000 feet). How long will flying helicopters over the icefall be viable? Insurance companies may cover one heli crash while flying above 20,000 feet, but more than that? I don't believe this is a sustainable option.

Moving to the North Side also presents challenges: A colder and windier base camp; life at significantly higher altitudes (Advanced Base Camp, where climbers may spend up to two weeks, sits at more than 21,000 feet, instead of 17,500 feet on the Nepali side); and, currently, no options for a heli rescue in case of an accident. There is also the constant possibility that China will limit access to Tibet. We'll be considering all of these factors before making a decision about next season.

The practical considerations lead me to a second, and perhaps more significant, part of my thinking over the past few weeks, which, after nearly 20 years as a mountain guide, has to do with understanding why I'm willing to take certain risks to climb. For me, it is because I believe the life I live, the experiences I have and share with others, are worth those risks—even the risk of death. I have so much passion for what I do that I cannot, for now, imagine life without it.

For my Sherpa, and my guides, I see the same passion and love for the lives they have chosen—and I should stress that it is a choice. The most challenging days are the days we thrive on. Last year, working together with Sherpa, we established the routes on both Cho Oyu and Ama Dablam, in extremely difficult conditions where other Sherpa had been injured or taken big falls. And we loved it. We felt we could manage the risk, and we got to climb amazing terrain in full conditions, successfully guiding our clients through challenging conditions.

I believe this is true for many of those who work on Everest. We do everything we can to minimize risk for ourselves and our clients, and then, at the end of the day, we accept what risks remain. We do so happily, and willingly, because we love our work and believe in the importance of it for us and our clients. The experiences I have had on Everest guide me every day in my life and work. 

I didn't cancel our Everest Expedition this year because of politics, or because my Sherpa refused to work. I didn't cancel it because I felt the icefall was more dangerous in 2014 than in past years. I cancelled our climb because, in the wake of the devastating tragedy, the passion and love of what we do was gone and therefore the risk was no longer acceptable. 

Under those circumstances, risk can't be offset by money, regardless of the amount. The accident had left my Sherpa grieving and in fear of what their gods had taken. They believed, as did I, that the accident sent a clear message that the mountain should not be climbed this year—by Sherpa or Westerners. While my Sherpa would have climbed out of loyalty to me and my company, they no longer had the love and passion that I believe justify the risk.

We are a team, and our Sherpa are essential members of that team. As such, we don't take very real risks without having the buy-in and belief of our teammates. This idea is fundamental to climbing, and not just on Everest. This may be the tallest mountain in the world, and a proud accomplishment, and, yes, we are financially compensated for our climbing and risk-taking, but none of that should change the fundamentals of why and how we climb.

Adrian Ballinger is a 6-time Everest summiter, and the founder of Alpenglow Expeditions.

More Outside Everest Coverage:

 

Read More

8 Last-Minute Mother's Day Gifts

Raising children is a lifelong job that opens new frontiers of anxiety. Suddenly you have to worry about smoke-detector batteries, food safety, and running with scissors, all while guiding and nurturing kids so they grow strong and achieve their dreams.

And when those dreams include climbing Mount Everest, rafting the Grand Cayon, or BASE jumping El Capitan? This Sunday, show Mom how much you appreciate her cheering you across marathon finish lines, encouraging you to reach summits, or keeping you calm through emergency-room visits. But most important, thank her for giving you the drive, courage, and adventurous spirit that got you there.

These gifts will help her relax, recharge, and get ready for whatever’s next, whether it’s your bucket-list trek—or hers.

Read More

How Satellite Trackers Save Lives

In early May, Kevin Boniface was riding his new motorcycle in the Colorado Front Range, along an open off-road area not far from the site of infamous Haymen Fire. The ride was going great—until a friend, Tom, who was also riding that day, leaned too sharply, caught his handlebar, and went down.

When Boniface reached Tom, his friend was drooling and concussed, and possibly had broken ribs. “We had the same conversation over and over,” Boniface recalls. “‘How did I get here?’ What happened?’” They were 40 minutes from the nearest paved road, and had no cell-phone service. The injuries appeared quite serious.

Three years earlier, Boniface had invested in a SPOT tracker to have on hand during emergencies. Boniface had only ever used the locator’s “I’m okay” feature before the accident, a preset sending his wife his location at the click of a button. As Tom writhed in pain, Boniface decided now was the time to test his SPOT’s SOS beacon.

“(My SPOT tracker) was really helpful because I probably could have ridden to go get help, but it saved a lot of time,” Boniface says. About 35 minutes later, a sheriff was on site and Tom was in an ambulance.

Boniface didn't realize at the time that he would be part of a company milestone: the rescue was the 3,000th that utilized SPOT's GPS technology. 

Globalstar, the sat phone company which owns Spot, launched their tracker in 2007, and usage of the devices has been climbing ever since. SPOT products can be programmed to send GPS coordinates via stationary low-earth satellites to emergency responders— at $170 for a tracker and $499 for a phone. Most satellite phones run between $1000 and $2000, not counting service fees.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/top-five-rescue-spot_fe.jpg"}%}

Search and rescue teams traditionally depend on mobile networks, sometimes radio networks, to locate lost adventurers. But according to Globalstar CEO Jay Monroe, 75 percent of the planet's land surface is out of network; you’d be hard-pressed to find a cluster of cellphone towers in Aniakchak National Monument, for instance. Satellite phones and trackers transcend this problem. SPOT's trackers, called SPOT Gen3, and SPOT Global Phones can access low-earth satellites from anywhere in the world.

“Wherever it is in whichever country, the capability of the unit is such that it really takes the search out of search and rescue,” says Monroe. “You know exactly where the person is and all you have to do is go get ‘em.”

When someone presses an SOS beacon, a signal with his or her coordinates goes out to an international dispatch center manned by emergency response company GEOS. GEOS alerts the relevant protective body—here, the sheriff—but also the emergency contact of whoever owns the SPOT, to double-check the owner’s last known coordinates.

“The truth is, about one time a day, we get an emergency rescue and often times it’s life or death,” says Monroe. “If it wasn’t out there—there would be some number of people in my backyard of Colorado who wouldn’t be at this year’s Fourth of July barbeque.”

In Boniface’s case, a county dispatch reporting error sent his wife in a panic to the hospital.

“After the sheriff showed up, I figured I should probably make sure she knew I was okay, so I pressed the okay button,” Boniface says. “She and Tom’s wife saw each other in the emergency room and started putting stuff together.”

Tom, had sustained four fractures to his collarbone, and broke seven ribs, but was expected to make a full recovery.

“He’s definitely gonna buy a SPOT,” Boniface says.

Read More

8 Rugged All-Terrain Vehicles for Mud Season

Mudding is as much about getting in touch with nature (literally) as it is about exploring the backcountry. And whether you hate ‘em or love ‘em, the vehicles can be a lot of fun—both to drive and to drool over. Take the following eight off-road machines, all of which offer techie features that go beyond massive rubber tires, rock-defying suspension, and the standard roll cage.

Read More

Free Newsletters

Dispatch This week's featured articles, reviews, and videos. Sent twice weekly.
News From the Field The most important breaking news from around the Web. Sent daily.
Outside GOOur hottest adventure-travel tips and trips. Sent occasionally.
Outside Partners Outside-approved deals and special offers from select partners. Sent occasionally.

Subscribe
to Outside
Save Over
70%

Magazine Cover

iPad Outside+ App Access Now Included!

Categories

Authors

Advertisement

$ad.smallDesc

$ad.smallDesc

$ad.smallDesc

Previous Posts

2014

2013

2012

Blog Roll

Current Issue Outside Magazine

Subscribe and get a great deal! Two free Buyer's Guides plus a free GoLite Sport Bottle. Monthly delivery of Outside—your ultimate resource for today's active lifestyle. All that and big savings!

Free Newsletters

Dispatch This week's featured articles, reviews, and videos. Sent twice weekly.
News From the Field The most important breaking news from around the Web. Sent daily.
Gear of the Day The latest products, reviews, and editors' picks. Coming soon.
Outside Partners Outside-approved deals and special offers from select partners. Sent occasionally.

Ask a Question

Our gear experts await your outdoor-gear-related questions. Go ahead, ask them anything.

* We might edit your question for length or clarity. If it's not about gear, we'll just ignore it.