Mount Everest’s Nepal side was shut down as rescue and recovery continued for more than a dozen Sherpa guides who were killed in an early-morning avalanche on April 18 while bringing supplies up to a base camp in advance of climbing season.
About 50 people were among the group hit by the avalanche, which roared down the mountain about 20,000 feet up, said Tilak Ram Pandey, speaking to CNN on behalf of the mountaineering department of Nepal’s tourism ministry. Six people were injured, 12 were killed—all Sherpa guides—and four people remained missing. The accident occurred at 6:30 a.m. Nepal time on the south side of Everest.
Confirmed dead were guides Dorjee Sherpa, Ang Chiring Sherpa, Mingma Sherpa, Ningma Sherpa, Ang Kaji Sherpa, Pasang Karma Sherpa, Lakpa Tenzing Sherpa, Chiring Wankchu Sherpa, Wangele Sherpa, Khem Dorjee Sherpa, Furwa Temba Sherpa, and Aasamn Tamang Sherpa, National Geographic reported. Sherpas are one of the indigenous groups of Nepal, possessing many commonalities with Tibetans, just to the north, National Geographic explained.
The avalanche roared down the Khumbu Icefall, known as the most hazardous part of the climb.
"It came out of nowhere, this huge block of ice that fell from above, flying right at us," 22-year-old guide and survivor Dawa Tashi Sherpa told Agence France-Presse from a Kathmandu hospital. "I wanted to run but there was no time, we were just trapped.”
Some authorities are calling it the deadliest day in Everest history, outstripping the 1996 disappearance of eight people in a storm in a tragedy that prompted Jon Krakauer to write Into Thin Air. And it is saying a lot, given the treacherousness of what passes for the everyday on the slopes of the mighty mountain.
"It was just a matter of time," said renowned mountaineer Conrad Anker to National Geographic. "The Khumbu is probably the most dangerous single place in the climbing world. You can just sit at base camp during the day and watch avalanches roar down right over the climbing route. It scares everyone."
Climate change may be making the climb even more treacherous. Indigenous guides have expressed concern over the changing weather patterns and conditions in the snow and ice, as one of them told AFP in 2012.
"In 1989 when I first climbed Everest there was a lot of snow and ice, but now most of it has just become bare rock. That, as a result, is causing more rockfalls, which is a danger to the climbers," said Nepali climber Apa Sherpa, who had climbed Mount Everest a record 21 times at the time, told AFP. He described increasingly slippery conditions on rock laid bare by ice melt, among other dangers, as he prepared to trek across Nepal’s Great Himalayan Trail partly to view and “understand the impact of climate change on other people,” he told AFP.
A report last year found that Mount Everest’s glaciers, along with those of many other inland mountains, are melting just as the poles are.
"What will happen in the future I cannot say but this much I can say from my own experiences — it has changed a lot," Apa Sherpa told AFP, concerned that Everest may someday be unclimbable.