The community of Everest base camp

Everest base camp is a unique environment in which people from all over the world come to try and summit the highest mountain in the world. Climbers, guide companies, sherpas and the volunteer doctors at the ER clinic co-habitate anywhere from 1-3 months in order to reach their goal. Another goal, especially that of the doctors, is to ensure that the mountain is safe in case an accident does occur. RMI has already gone to Camp 1 where rescue equipment such as a sked, oxygen and ropes has been stored.
The community of Everest base camp is distinct to that on Aconcagua. The government is not involved on Everest and therefore the companies work together to make sure that there is rescue equipment. They also promise to work together in any rescue situation that may come up. Thus far, the system has worked well, but will it forever?
Luanne Freer would like to organize a Search and Rescue team but other companies aren’t too keen on the idea. What do you think? Please leave your comments here.

The Puja ceremony

The Puja ceremony is when the Sherpas pay homage to the mountain deity, and it is done before all Everest expeditions.
A lama (a spiritual master) visits the camp in order to bless the expedition. Members of the expedition, including the climbers, the guides and all of the sherpas who will be assisting the expedition offer everything from cookies and popcorn to soda and beer in order to receive a blessing. The ceremony ends with Sherpas throwing tsampa (a roasted barley flour) on all of the members of the expedition while dancing together. The ceremony is a humble reminder to respect the mountain and that it is the journey that matters, not the summit.

I was invited to the Puja ceremony of the Benegas brothers, Willie and Damian, serious and respected mountaineers who also helped me last year in the efforts to install rescue caches on Aconcagua. The Benegas brothers work with conviction and I highly respect and appreciate their work ethic.

Donations

“Although mountains belong to the nation, mountains really belong to people who love them”–Mountain and Water Sutra, Dogan 13th century Zen master

I have been talking about my mission to implement an adequate rescue system on Aconcagua and potentially all of the seven summits with trekkers and climbers on the path to base camp. A woman named Carol, from Canada donated money to the foundation and my efforts. In addition, at Everest base camp, I visited RMI’s camp, the company that Federico Campanini used to work for. Dave Hahn and Matt Tucker were there as well as one of their clients, Bill, from Atlanta, Georgia who was there attempting to summit Everest with his 16-year old daughter. He also donated to the foundation’s efforts.
Thank you for your contributions and may we continue to work as an international climbing community.

The Himalayan Rescue Association

Pheriche, at 14,600 feet (approximately 4600 metres)is the location of the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA), one of the aid posts in this region of the non-profit organization which was founded in 1973 in order to help locals and foreigners receive health care in the Himalayas. The HRA also seeks to educate trekkers and climbers on the effects of altitude in order to prevent possible incidents. Every day one of the volunteer doctors holds an informal talk on high-altitude sickness and how individuals can prevent themselves from getting sick, therein being proactive. The clinic also offers health care assistance as well as evacuations when necessary. The HRA is a very effective system and some of the ideas, such as the daily talks on altitude sickness could be implemented into Aconcagua’s system. In addition, clients are charged for their services following a simple system in which individuals must pay for the services and therein must seek reimbursement from their insurance companies. What a revolutionary concept. Perhaps Aconcagua should follow such an example.

Aconcagua vs. Everest

While at the airport waiting for my flight to Lukla I ran into Willie Benegas. We met up in Namche Bazaar (the second day of the trek) and we talked about the differences between Aconcagua and Mt. Everest. Willie told me that the rescue system on Everest functions effectively for two main reasons. First, the government is not involved. Yes, the government takes the permit money and does whatever it wants with it, similar to what occurs on Aconcagua. But, the government is not physically present, there is no park service, or an official search and rescue team, and there aren’t any policies and regulations in effect for rescues. The main difference is that the companies on Everest work together to make sure that in the case of an emergency they will work together. The 15 companies that work on the mountain (the same number as that on Aconcagua) meet at the beginning of the season and exchange different radio frequencies so that all of them know each others frequencies in the case of an emergency. In addition, each company donates necessary rescue and medical equipment needed above base camp. And therein a system works, it is simple, but it works. For the past two years Everest has had zero fatalities. So, what to do with Aconcagua. The government, inevitably, has a strong presence in the workings on the mountain. Yet, I do believe that the guide companies, the park service, and the SAR can organize a system just as simple.

Let’s begin

April 3

I have spent the day in Kathmandu and it is lovely to be in a true mountain town. The narrow streets are covered in everything to prepare climbers and trekkers who are about to embark on their journey to the highest peak in the world. Yet, all dreams must be grounded in reality and my hope is that climbers and trekkers are aware of the realities that come with altitude,and therein will prepare themselves accordingly.
I leave tomorrow to trek to Everest base camp in order to observe the rescue efforts on this mountain. It will take eight days for me to arrive at base camp. Along the way, while of course enjoying being surrounded by the Himalayas, I hope to interview Sherpas, guides and other organizations involved in the efforts to make the highest mountain in the world equipped with a rescue system. As of now, there is not an official rescue system, or rescue equipment stored in caches above base camp.
I am also doing this to raise awareness for the need for such systems on all 7 summits. I encourage anyone to please leave comments or suggestions for these efforts here or on Facebook.

Off to see how the highest mountain is moving


April 2nd, 2011

How do other mountains and their rescue systems function in the rest of the world?
The end of the season on Aconcagua is nearing its end and even though the rescue caches have been very successful in assisting individuals who in life-threatening circumstances on the mountain, and therein preventing deaths, there is still a lot to be done for the mountain to reach an adequate rescue system. Most importantly at present is that of an emergency rescue protocol.
There are seven commercial summits in the world and therefore I believe that those seven summits should have effective rescue systems. So, why not start with the highest one.

Two hours ago, I arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal. I am planning on trekking to Everest base camp in order to see how the rescue system on the highest mountain in the world functions. I plan on discussing this system with the people who work on the mountain, talking with the Himalayan Rescue Association based in Kathmandu as well as talking to Luanne Freer, founder of the Everest base camp clinic. Our hope is to possibly collaborate on our efforts to make commercial mountains safer.