On 18 April 2014, an avalanche on Mount Everest near Everest Base Camp killed sixteen Nepalese guides. Some Sherpa guides were angered by the government’s small offer of compensation to victim’s families and threatened a “strong protest” or strike. In this feature, you find out more about the details.
Mount Everest (also known in Nepal as Sagarmatha and in Tibet as Chomolungma) is the Earth‘s highest mountain. Its peak is 8,848 metres (29,029 ft) above sea level and is the 5th furthest point from the centre of the Earth. Its massif includes neighboring peaks Lhotse, 8,516 m (27,940 ft); Nuptse, 7,855 m (25,771 ft) and Changtse, 7,580 m (24,870 ft).
In 1856, the Great Trigonometric Survey of India established the first published height of Everest, then known as Peak XV, at 29,002 ft (8,840 m). The current official height of 8,848 m (29,029 ft) as recognized by Nepal and China was established by a 1955 Indian survey and subsequently confirmed by a Chinese survey in 1975.
An Everest guide typically earns about US$125 per climb. Most come from climbing families, raised on stories of wealth from climbs, and have relatively few other economic opportunities. Between 350 and 450 guides, most of them Sherpas, work each year during the climbing season. A guide can earn up to $5,000 a year, compared to Nepal’s average annual salary of $700.
In the years leading up to the avalanche, foreigners began bringing their own guides, causing tension with locals. Eight people, including one of the more experienced Sherpa guides, died on Mount Everest in 2013.
There are several ways to prevent avalanches and lessen their power and destruction; active preventative measures reduce the likelihood and size of avalanches by disrupting the structure of the snowpack; passive measures reinforce and stabilize the snowpack in situ. The simplest active measure is by repeatedly traveling on a snowpack as snow accumulates; this can be by means of boot-packing, ski-cutting, or machine grooming.
Explosives are used extensively to prevent avalanches, by triggering smaller avalanches that break down instabilities in the snowpack, and removing over burden that can result in larger avalanches. Explosive charges are delivered by a number of methods including hand tossed charges, helicopter dropped bombs, Gazex concussion lines, and ballistic projectiles launched by air cannons and artillery.
Passive preventive systems such as Snow fences and light walls can be used to direct the placement of snow. Snow builds up around the fence, especially the side that faces the prevailing winds. Downwind of the fence, snow buildup is lessened. This is caused by the loss of snow at the fence that would have been deposited and the pickup of the snow that is already there by the wind, which was depleted of snow at the fence.
When there is a sufficient density of trees, they can greatly reduce the strength of avalanches. They hold snow in place and when there is an avalanche, the impact of the snow against the trees slows it down. Trees can either be planted or they can be conserved, such as in the building of a ski resort, to reduce the strength of avalanches.
When one of the worst disasters in the history of Mount Everest climbs occurred, Ken Kamler was the only doctor on the mountain. At TEDMED, he shares the incredible story of the climbers’ battle against extreme conditions and uses brain imaging technology to map the medical miracle of one man who survived roughly 36 hours buried in the snow.