“The right decision at the right time on Mount Everest”

by Andrea Sherpa-Zimmermann

Why so little respect towards Chomolungma, “the Goddess Mother of the Earth,” and for the Sherpa people? 

Chomolungma is the Tibetan name of Mount Everest – and Sagarmatha is its Nepali name. 

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic situation, the Everest expedition season has started. And with it, its continuous critics and drama. How it comes that each year dramatic stories about the climb of the highest summit of the earth are repeated? 

Climbing Mount Everest is not like going to the supermarket and choose the cheapest products! Where has the respect gone towards the Goddess Chomolungma and the climbing Sherpa community? 

Indeed, the climbing sherpas have to survive. This a work that enables them to sustain their family for almost a year. But this does not mean at each price!

We are talking about the highest peak in the world. It is a business. But in extreme conditions. In the so-called death zone, where each decision is decisive. There must be a trust and respectful relationship among the stakeholders. There are too many tragic stories where the “sherpas are taken as ladders” as an image of the ladders installed every year by the “Ice Fall Doctor’s Team” in the famous Khumbu Ice Fall. 

As climbers, we have to bear some costs for the fantastic work done by the expedition sherpas in this hostile environment. It is not a “discount game” experience. They are lives, families, and health issues at stake. We have to recall that it is a PRIVILEGE to be part of such an Adventure and the Sherpa community. Such Adventure starts with the traditional “Puja” ceremony, the “right to ask permission for access to the mountain.” Such ritual is performed at Base Camp to “make contact” with the Goddess Chomolungma and pray for a safe expedition. The Puja is a moving experience and shows deep respect towards the Mountain.  

Five years ago, on 21 May 2016, I had personally the chance to stand on the summit of Mount Everest together with my husband for more than one-and-a-half hour with no one around us. It was just magical. There are no words to express the emotions you feel during such an experience. Everything went well from the start to the end. 

Why is it nowadays, despite the numerous critics, still possible to experience an Everest climb in perfect conditions? There is undoubtedly a part of chance. But the chance can be provoked to a certain extent too. One must take all aspects of the personal preparation for such a challenge seriously, not only physically but also technically. The time taken and optimized for the acclimatization period is of prime importance. But without doubt, the expertise in organizing such expeditions is essential and, if not one of the primary keys for success. What happens if, at above 8000m, there is a defect in our O2 device? We face a life-threatening situation for ourselves and the expedition Sherpa, who accompanies and dedicates his life to the client. Once again, physical preparation is of paramount importance, as an athlete would be ready for taking part in Olympic Games. At any time of such experience, one must bear in mind that one evolves in an extreme, hostile environment, where the slightest mistake can be fatal. It is neither a game nor a trophy hunt. 

Imagine being at 8300M above sea level (27,230ft), with less than 35% oxygen remaining in the atmosphere. There is a sudden change in weather. It starts to snow. You know that if you get blocked at such an altitude, it might become your final trap. Who besides your team and yourself can you at that moment rely upon? We had to face such a situation in 2016. A simple message on our satellite phone from our weatherman to make the right decision. Full confidence. A mutual trust. Great expertise. We climbed the final part to the summit under millions of stars illuminated by the full moon. We admired the most impressive sunrise standing alone on the top of the world for more than one-and-a-half hours. No queues, no “traffic jam,” no lack of preparation, no technical problem. The chance and privilege to be my husband and myself relying on our thorough preparation, expertise, and support team.

A magical memory.

Thank you

Tashi Delek    

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