Everest, the highest peak in the world and a hugely commercialized climbing destination; standing at 29, 029 ft. tall, the mountain has seen over 8,000 climbers reach it’s summit since the first successful attempt by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa in 1953, however, in 2015 no one summited Mount Everest, and the entire climbing season was canceled. Here’s why:
The Catastrophic 2015 Everest Earthquake
Nepal, one of the entryways to the mountain, was devastated by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that killed over 8,000 people in the country in April 2015. The quake claimed the lives of 16 sherpas near the Everest Base Camp while the teams were actively fixing ladders in the infamous Khumbu Icefall.
The devastation ultimately lead to the injury of over 21,000 Nepalese natives and provoked a strike by Sherpas who were demanding better benefits for their loved ones in the event another natural disaster or mountaineering accident claimed their lives in the future. While most of the fame and glory of summitting 8,000-meter peaks is given to westerners and foreign climbers, many forget that Sherpas make up a resilient group of native climbers that act as the gears for many expeditions, climbing and carrying what would be impossible weights of equipment to most climbers to and from camps.
The quake and the strike contributed to the cancellation of the 2015 spring Everest climbing season; the unstable nature of the mountain also contributed.
Who Are Sherpas & Why Did They Strike in 2015?
Sherpas, quite simply put, are the “people of the mountains,” a native Nepalese race of remote village people who have, over time, moved their settlements to elevated locations near the base of the Himalayan Mountains. They serve as guides on Himalayan expeditions and as porters, transporting the equipment of climbers and expedition groups up to the mountains from the village.
Sherpas are divided into two categories: high-altitude sherpas and porters; porters simply carry the equipment of climbers from the nearer villages, like Lobuche, to the mountains where high-altitude sherpas then carry the equipment up the mountains, setting up camps. Without sherpas, the Himalayan climbing industry would not exist, as they do everything from setting up camps for expedition groups to preparing meals and even serve as climbing guides for expedition companies on a contract basis. Sherpas also set up the climbing routes for commercial expeditions each season, setting ladders through the Khumbu Icefall and fixed ropes through the most treacherous parts of the climbing routes. It was during the fixing of ladders within the Khumbu Icefall that the magnitude 7.8 earthquake killed 16 Sherpas.
After the 2015 Nepal Earthquake, Sherpas and their families commenced a strike, mainly due to the fact that the majority of those killed during the earthquake on the mountain that day were Sherpas who were risking their lives to set ladders for western expeditions in the icefall. Their strike was a aimed at the Nepalese Government, which makes the majority of its revenue from Himalayan expedition permits from foreign commercial guiding tours and individual climbers and teams. The Sherpa’s main concern was the recognition of their roles in the prosperity of Himalayan mountaineering and ensuring that they secure better benefits for their dependents if they should perish while participating in the country’s most profitable “industry.”
The Nepalese Government did not meet the demands of the Sherpas, but they did offer them a lower sum of monetary gains for their families and better benefits. In the end, the Sherpas accepted the offer, effectively ending the strike, but by then, the season was considered over.
2015 Everest Spring Climbing Season Cancelled
After assessing the damage done to the mountain, which included the leveling of the Everest Base Camp, Sherpas concluded that the routes were far too damaged and unstable to pursue a climbing season. Without sherpa support and the possibility of ladder routes and fixed rope routes being unstable, the Nepalese Government suspended the season.
Although they aired on the side of caution, much criticism fell upon the Nepalese Government for their efforts to save 160 climbers that were stuck at Camp 1 and were unable to make it through the treacherous Khumbu Icefall and into Everest Base Camp on their own. The Government dispatched helicopters to transport the climbers, which many say was an irresponsible use of resources that could have been used to aid the 21,000 injured by the quake throughout the country’s most affected areas. However, with Everest and Himalayan expeditions earning the bulk of the country’s revenue, it was probably a decision that fell upon the conservation of the country’s livelihood.
This is the story behind the most devastating event on Everest to pass and why the 2015 season was canceled.