The climbing season on the Nepalese side of Mount Everest may be over, according to those on the scene. On Friday, 16 Nepali mountaineers were killed in the the single deadliest accident on the mountain. (National Geographic News)
- Watch our video, “Avalanches 101,” above. It describes two types of avalanches: sluff and slab. Which one best describes the fatal avalanche on Everest? Why? (Read the section “A Dangerous Trek” in the NG News article for some help.)
- It was probably a slab avalanche. Sluff avalanches are slides of loose snow. Slab avalanches occur when huge “sections of a mountain’s snowpack crack off and crash down the slope.”
- The deadly avalanche on Mount Everest’s Khumbu Icefall was caused by the calving of one of the hanging glaciers 762 meters (2,500 feet) above the icefall. The “apartment-sized” block of ice crashed to the ground, setting of the avalanche.
- “Avalanches 101″ says most avalanches are the result of sudden snowfalls, strong winds, changes in temperature, or human activity. Which situation caused the avalanche on the Khumbu Icefall?
- Change in temperature. “On a hot day,” the NG News article says, “these hanging glaciers regularly calve, pouring apartment-size blocks of ice right down onto the route.” For this reason, most mountaineers climb the icefall in the freezing, early-morning hours.
- Whether or not the 2014 climbing season on Everest is canceled, the dangers to Sherpas and other mountaineers will remain. What are some actions Sherpas, climbers, tour operators, and the government could take to better ensure safety?
- establish alternate routes
- The NG News article discusses revisiting the 1990s route up the Khumbu Icefall, which avoids the most treacherous hanging glaciers. The 1990s route, however, is slower and more difficult—the route is beset by “gaping crevasses spanned by narrow aluminum ladders” and “a 100-foot vertical wall of ice.”
- Take the Tibetan route. The “South Col” route is just one way to summit Mount Everest, which spans the border between Nepal (“South Col” route) and the Chinese region of Tibet (“North Col” route). This terrific page compares the two routes.
- establish a helicopter cargo service from Base Camp to Camp 1, just above the Khumbu Icefall. “This would obviously reduce the number of trips Sherpas must make through the icefall, which would dramatically reduce the risk,” says an expert quoted in the NG News article. Establishing this infrastructure would be expensive and time-consuming, however.
- reduce the number of amateur climbers. Sherpas are responsible for the (literal) “heavy lifting” on Mount Everest, making the ascent more manageable for climbers who may not be experienced mountaineers. Making climbing permits even more expensive (from the government) or requiring proof of mountaineering ability (from tour operators) would reduce Everest’s famous traffic, as well as the stress on Sherpas, guides, and other mountaineers. This article about the costs and benefits of Everest traffic features the same mountaineer who wrote the NG News article!
- establish alternate routes
- The climbing season on Mount Everest may be over before it has started, according to the NG News article. Other articles say Sherpas may even go on strike. Would you cancel the Everest climbing season?
- If you were a Sherpa, what would you consider before canceling your season of work? (Read the Sherpa demands here—they mostly focus on providing greater insurance.)
- If you were a Western tour operator (the people who organize most Everest expeditions) what factors would you consider before canceling your season of work on Everest?
- If you were a mountaineer or “adventure tourist” (climbing Everest can cost more than $80,000), what factors would you consider before canceling your trek up the mountain?
- If you were the Nepalese government, what factors would you consider before closing the mountain, even briefly?