Last April, 16 Sherpa died in a large avalanche while working on the traditional Everest climbing route. It was the single deadliest day in Everest history. That horrible event triggered a Sherpa strike that shut down the Nepali side of the mountain for the season. No expeditions summited from Nepal last year.
The route that those Sherpa died on was the route that climbers have been using since the 1990s. A route that takes climbers, guides, and Sherpa into the climber’s left side of the Khumbu Icefall, where last year’s avalanche happened.
The new Everest route will take a more central route after leaving base camp completely avoiding left side of the Khumbu Icefall.
“We think the risk of avalanche in the left part of the Khumbu Icefall is growing and we are moving the route to the centre where there is almost no such danger.” – Ang Dorji Sherpa, chairman of the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, an organisation authorised to set the route of Everest expeditions
The Nepali government is making a push to improve safety on Everest after the tragedy of last year. The new route will be more difficult, but safer.
This “new” central route isn’t actually new at all. Over 20 years ago, this more central route was the common route. It was changed in the 1990s to the left of the Khumbu Icefall on a zone know as the “West Shoulder” because it was shorter and easier to climb. Easier was key for getting inexperienced mountaineers up Everest. They knew that the downside was that the avalanche danger was greater, but they knowingly took that risk.
“The route through the centre part will be difficult and time consuming but it will be relatively free from the risk of avalanche, as the ice cliffs and hanging glaciers [along the west shoulder] are comparatively far away from it.” – Ang Dorji Sherpa, chairman of the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee
Sherpa porters generally carry loads across the Khumbu Icefall 30 to 40 times per Everest season exposing themselves to the objective dangers of avalanches frequently. Too frequently for many.
During the protest last year, Sherpas negotiated for helicopters to drop load at Camp 1, above the Khumbu Icefall, to avoid so many trips through the icefall. Some agree with this idea, but think it wrong on an environmental level.
“Nepal’s law does not allow even rescue helicopters above base camp mainly because of the environmental fragility of the mountains and we agree with that provision.” – Tika Gurung, an executive member of the Expedition Operators’ Association of Nepal.
Since 1953, 250 people have died on Everest. 40 of them died in the Khumbu Icefall.