Saturday, May 10, 2014
Recap Day 3 - 4/22 - The day the tragedy began....
Greetings again. I take up where I left off yesterday with day 3. Please note that I omit names in these stories until I get the individual's OK to post them. Do not expect dirt on anyone. I am telling my story and I intend to write from my perspective and to protect the rights of individuals - public personalities excluded. If you are a person who thinks you were mentioned in one of my posts and would like recognition, please contact me and I will change the pronouns to the first person. Thanks...and read on.
The day began with our usual breakfast fare followed by a call to arms. Dan Mazur notified us that a mandatory meeting for all climbers, guides, and Sherpa would be held at 9am outside the S.P.C.C. (Sagarmatha Polution Control Committee) tent. The meeting - we were told - was focused on honoring our fallen climbers. Sure enough, it looked like a wake at first with incense filling the air, chants coming from inside the tent, and people gathering around in silence.
As you can see from the picture above, the EBC inhabitants gladly followed orders and came out en masse. I suspect there were 400 people attending the ceremony.
What started out as a nice homage to our fallen brothers quickly turned into a series of speeches by those ill-suited for the task. One guy got up and forgot what he was going to say. Yes, he forgot. I guess the altitude and emotions mixed to form a potent amnestic agent. Enough sarcasm....at least for now. The speakers went up almost apologetically and many even said "I'm not a politician; I'm a climber" practically verbatim and on cue. Each one admitted their weaknesses in the area of politics and then went on to describe the tragedy for what it was - a tragedy. Many made impassioned pleas for welfare of the Sherpa and their families. These pleas made sense to me but I had no clue how they related to mourning these 16 Sherpa. Additionally, throughout the nearly 5-hour long "meeting," not one word was spoken about any of the individuals who perished. The speakers slowly chipped away at other problems that had nothing to do with these poor souls. We heard impassioned pleas for the government to "do something." One expedition leader even went so far as to tell the crowd he intended to go down to Kathmandu and demand the Ministry (i.e., the Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation) make some changes. I wondered why on earth would any of these things matter to the dead. We were at a wake, weren't we? I guess not.
The meeting kept pace - speaker after speaker came up to add their 2 cents to this already confusing tangle of events. Eventually, a slick-haired gentleman with large sunglasses stood before the crowd and announced that climbing should cease on Everest this year until the government meet their demands. He then went on to read, recount, describe, and decree about 18 demands that had nothing to do with the 16 lives lost. Well, perhaps that is a stretch. The demands were for more money and support for the Sherpa. Some of that money would be slated for the fallen 16 but most seemed for future years and expeditions.
From my perspective, the real tragedy took place on 4/20 and not on 4/18. Yes, 16 lives were lost on the latter date but today, the people standing before me turned a wake into a political opportunity. I was saddened by the day's events - not because I could sense the end of my expedition but rather because I heard loud and clear the voice of a small (and I mean small) minority of the Sherpa who decided that their fellow countrymen were not worth mourning. Instead, they found opportunity in their deaths and they would seize that opportunity by political grandstanding during a wake. The few who spoke for the many turned today into a story about them - not about the Sherpa who died two days ago. What made the day even sadder for me was that most of the outspoken even went so far as to admit that they would climb if the government met their demands. Sheesh! So, I guess they had a price for their sorrow. Truly a sad day.
We all left the meeting with mixed emotions. For most of us, we could sense something wrong with the crowd. I kept my hopes up for a quick resolution. Dan Mazur - our trusted leader - kept us optimistic by saying they were not going to close the mountain. I agreed with his outlook and kept my spirits up by reading my book, avoiding endless conversation about the events, and focusing on more positive things. It was obvious that our team felt the tension and it was starting to affect our group.
Staying positive was not easy. We had divisions within our own ranks. Some Sherpa wanted to climb while others were not sure or even said they preferred not to climb. We expedition members held no prejudice against any who chose not to climb. Afterall, climbing is dangerous and the Sherpa were free to choose their options. The Sherpa had been paid in advance for their services - not in full but they received their base pay without any summit bonuses or tips from climbers. These latter amounts almost double their pay for the expedition so the Sherpa would leave a fair sum on the table should they choose not to climb. Climbers would forfeit all their expedition fees. For many, that total would exceed $40,000 (US) and would set back many for years to come should they decided to come back for another try. Staying positive in light of these financial ramifications tested us all.
We also felt the interpersonal strain among our expedition team mates. Some felt it was wise to pack up and leave given these recent events while others wanted to stick it out and see what transpired. I came to climb and I had two months to make my attempt. Thus, I had no intention of packing it in early. I prepared for over 5 years, saved my money, and worked diligently to setup this climb. Leaving early without stepping onto the hill seemed preposterous. I would have none of it.....or so I thought.