Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Extortion and the upstream consequences

May 29, 21:00hrs (NPT)       Everest, from Bad to Worse  

Highlights of fighting and a portrayal of an overcrowded tourist attraction may do the Sherpa community a big favor in the end.  

Extortion and the upstream consequences 

The ministry of Nepal demands every expedition pay a $4,000.00US garbage DEPOSIT.  Once you've gone through all the steps, paying several thousands in Sherpa wages to clean the mountain off of all oxygen bottles, bringing all the nylon in the form of tents and any food garbage off the mountain and human waste. You also pay thousands to have it carried down the valley on yaks and then the costs associated with disposal. We paid $2200.00 alone just on human waste disposal not counting everything else. Probably close to $10k per permit by the time you're done on top of the $4K. You do your bit to prove it with the procedures in place and when you're done, you get your documentation to show it and  you get your deposit back. Just the way it should be, and it worked once they got it all figured out that is. 

The problem in the past was the SPCC (Sagamartha Pollution Conservation Control) in Namche Bazaar didn't really do much to have an expedition prove anything, they'd just sign everyone off without having to prove taking anything off the mountains- or - something much worse and this is what we are concerned with.  Expeditions would come here and just build the $4k into their budget and assume it as a write-off and walk away from their garbage and call it a wrap at the end of the season without removing one darn thing. Nice and easy, this was done more often than not but it did stop once we started to make some noise about it.

We pushed hard here for better control in all our years. We even resorted to collect garbage from mountains like Pumori and was able to identify the team by the writing on their garbage, Tim caught up with SPCC and demanded they not signoff this expedition and brought it to the attention of the Ministry. They were listening then. We led by example about taking human waste off the upper mountains routes, and we can tell you before that none of them were on Everest. They were all throwing it into the crevasses in black garbage bags, thankfully that's now stopped - or at least we hope so.

For years we've fielded media request for headlines of things that to us just didn't make sense to be worthy of such attention. For quite a spell there was so much written about photos of old garbage on Everest but it was never really made clear that it was years past garbage that is melting out of the ice due global warming It was left behind in the day by old time expeditions like the Hillary one (not to let him off easy), even though these expeditions thought no one would ever follow in their footsteps. Today the medias lights are on crowds, records, death and now fighting putting a negative light on the beauty of climbing mountains and those who make it possible to maintain groups in a controlled fashion and that have a great interest in keeping their place of work clean and to be able to share it with rest of the world to those who aspire to do something healthy and appreciate our planets beauty, all while experiencing a new culture and not to disrupt it with debris.

The Himalayas is a mountaineering paradise and for this country it has brought much good to the people and economies, not only here, but other mountainous regions on all continents who are lucky enough to have them and the ability to create green employment. True renewable spin-off to local green economies instead of clear cutting forests and mining that outdoor enthusiasts are always in a tug-o-war with. The green industries always seem to lose in the end. Tree huggers always get pushed aside when there's things like financial drama and war in world, or similar press for Everest antics, gimmicks, and claims of heroism. 

Sherpa land and its people are going to be in a situation that will be out of their control. It's in the hands of the Ministry of Nepal in Kathmandu to do the right thing here. 

Sherpa land is going to get trashed and the villagers won't be able to keep up with what's coming. The ministers in the tourism office in Kathmandu are not giving back garbage deposits, they are getting lost in the pockets of corruption in their tourism office. They kept ours and other expeditions from last year with no explanation, once again this year we are being told it's in the mail kind of thing which means: don't expect it, which also means extortion. 

Corruption needs to be cleaned at the foothills of the Himalayas before the mountains will ever stay clean. When we used to climb Ama Dablam located nearby Everest in the early nineties, we made a fuss to the ministry that the base area of Ama Dablam couldn't sustain the human waste being covered over with dirt each season. The practice then was to make a hole and each expedition was to bring a toilet tent and erect it over the hole, when that hole was full, they'd just move and make a new one. Hundreds of expeditions were starting to come here and in no time at all they were digging into old toilet pits. Our first experience on Ama Dablam was in 1996, we explained loudly to the ministry that the base area is just too small and nothing breaks down at that altitude. We put pressure on the ministry to use some of the peak fee money and get some toilets constructed there to collect it and move it out and they did and it works. It's solid ground at Ama Dablam base camp as it is at CBC (Chinese Everest base camp) on the Tibetan north side of Everest so it's possible to do so. On the south it's a moving glacier and not possible. It's "suppose" to be collected, weighed and the team is responsible to pay porters to carry it in buckets down the valley where it's burned. 

Fortunately on Ama Dablam "in the day" the ministry was curious to learn on how to do things better and that worked out, but then the waste up above on the route started to be a more serious health concern. Our complaints and suggestions started to fall on deaf ears and that's why we don't climb there anymore. Nothing worse than digging into some snow to melt the much needed water, say no more. 

After waiting four days and talking to various individuals at the Hillary breakfast celebration I learned that a couple of expeditions did get their garbage deposit back but not until some bribes were paid to certain folks in office. Very disappointing.  

At the end of the day all we can do is simply ask expeditions to continue to do above and beyond to keep the mountain clean with or without broken rules in a broken system.

That's the end of our rant. 

Tim and Becky Rippel  

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Last crux of Everest + Logging of a different kind.

May 25, 22:00hrs (NPT) Last crux of Everest + logging of a different kind.
Lukla- limited weather windows are here now with onset of the monsoon. Kaji Sherpa tells me just a couple flights got out this morning and then this window closed for the day and now it's raining. Sean, Patrick, Kevin and myself will wait it out for our reservation "first flight" tomorrow morning, give it the day to try and get in. If that fails we are on to Plan B. A new option not used yet, no it's not a helicopter! I'll let you in on it if we have to resort to it.

I loved the walk today from Namche to Lukla, I get to stop in and visit all our Sherpa friends along the way and get caught up on local gossip, develop and such. When walking today the trail was super quiet with tourist as was Namche, however there are quite a few now in Lukla now positioning themselves to get out to Kathmandu, but otherwise it was quiet, except for the train of porters working carrying trees up and down the trail. Big big trees, it takes 8 porters to a tree.

Two season ago a huge wind storm came through here knocking down some very large trees in the park. Though this is Sherpa land the ministry does have say what happens with the trees because it is a park. It took a while to decide but they've come up with a plan entitling the Sherpas to the timber but it has to be shared among them. So each tree is labeled with the owners name and are now being transported to their rightful owners.  With the dam project and the timber salvage there will be a lot of employment for porters and Sherpas in the off season this year in the Khumbu Valley. Progress being a good thing in these two scenarios. 

Fingers crossed for good weather tomorrow but if not, it's not. Life in the mountains! 

 Over and out... Tim

Friday, May 24, 2013

Light go out in Namche- plus- Summit Photos

May 24, 22:00hrs (NPT) Myself, Sean, Patrick and Kevin are still in Namche Bazaar tonight enjoying the ambience here. Interesting how quiet it is here, it's the end of the trekking season and typically the valley would be filled with hundreds of climbers this time of year all filtering through on their way home. It seems like many climbers put the "helicopter out" in their budget these days. We wonder if it will hurt the local economy of the lodge owners and porters in the future?.

I had a good talk with Tsedam tonight, owner and good friend of our favorite lodge in Namche. He tells me that the power is being shut off in Namche for 6 months or more on May 30th. The water project that was developed here in the mid nineties needs a new damn and system. The current one is allowing too much silt in it choking it off. It's going to be a huge project and if it's not completed by the beginning of autumn trekking and climbing season here will resort back to the old one during that time. Tsedam is busy stocking a water supply to carry his business over for the limited summer trek season as  this is his full-time home and he also runs a home for homeless children up here.. All the other lodges are boarding up and heading out elsewhere.

I also met with Simone today, he got the contract to work his helicopter during the project so he's pretty happy to be getting some bucks to help pay for his expensive machine. 

We've seen so many changes here and all over Nepal the past 23 years. It's interesting to have had this opportunity in a country where there are no roads allowing the appeal of this beautiful land be preserved for tourist to see and experience.  There aren't many places on the planet where a culture has been so nicely preserved in our life-time to watch it change ten fold

The people and the scenery are still the most rewarding experience that people take home from here. No matter what peaks you climb or aspire to, it's the intense sense of team that you get in Nepal. Everyone is in it together from the beginning to the end of each expedition, from the moment you step out of the airplane, to reaching your personal goal, or not, it's the journey and the people that you meet along the way that's infectious and stays with a person forever. It's not by any means just the tourist that take away great memories, the Sherpa people also carry their new friends and relations with them for a life-time and we should not forget that when returning to hectic lives abroad. They gave you their all and wait for the next season do it all over again for someone else. Pretty special.

Lukla tomorrow.. Over and out... Tim & Becky

Summit photos now on my Facebook...  New rules.... no face no summit credit by the Ministry of Tourism Nepal.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

NICE ENDING - and to all a good-night

May 22, 21:00hrs (NPT) Nice ending
....with our Sherpa crew and special guest and wine master, James Cluer who arrived just in time
to meet Sean, Patrick and Kevin before they hit the trail a day early. Kevin climbs down from Camp 2 and heads off down the valley below right away, good on him, go get some air.

So this leaves James and I and our crew. What a perfect ending. We moved into our Sherpas dinning tent and got into that case of wine. James managed to successfully do his high altitude wine tasting at the foot of the glacier and will do some more again tomorrow. It takes this very serious. It's not a lark like so many things are today here.

Meanwhile at the Sherpa party I made them aware of just how expensive this wine is. The bottles were worth between $500 and $700US. Now if that didn't get some big eyes and laughs from them. They'd take a sip, laugh and say "200 rupees" take another sip and say it again and again. Good party...knocked everyone out pretty good tonight. LOL 

It was great fun for James to be part of our Sherpa party, the stories, the laughs of the going on's here each season. It's all just one big comic relief at the end when you start to look back at some of the well.... I must say, "entertaining" reason's people climb Everest. Met a Canadian- Nepalese today that came to introduce himself. He had no arms and summited Everest, apparently from Calgary, good for him I guess. This is the part had me shaking by head,  he was taken off the mountain at C2 by long-line. Makes me wonder if this is going to be a new thing. Climb up, fly down. Oh man... Never say never.

Speaking of flying- Murad, Lee and Marty did not make it to Kathmandu by helicopter. Instead they had to do a weather stop in a field between Lukla and Kathmandu and are there for the night. Hopefully the weather will improve to pop them out tomorrow morning. 

That's it.... for base camp as of tomorrow morning but the adventure still continues to get everyone out of the Khumbu. This can be a huge and epic challenge this time of year. 

Becky and I want to give a big thank you out to all the families of climbers at home for trusting us with your loved ones. We always say we ever lose a client in the mountains we won't do this anymore, 23 years later, we're still here. 

Over and out.. TIm

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

We did it! Everest 2013'

May 21, 23:10hrs (NPT)  EBC Celebrations minus Kevin & Tashi
Late check-in today as the Chinese satellite was kicking the Thuraya Satellite off this evening. Everyone is down minus Kevin and Tashi who are at Camp 2. The glacier is super hot in the heat of the day and it's not necessary since we have Camp 2 and Kami Sherpa there waiting to accommodate them. They're going to come down first light when it's cooler. 

The ice-fall doesn't have any obvious hazards near the route but it is certainly getting quite slushy during the day and the heat is unbearable. 

Tomorrow morning at around 09:00hrs Lee, Murad and Marty are flying out to Kathmandu by helicopter (weather pending of course). The rest of us will have one more night waiting for Kevin, then we'll be out of here at 08:00hrs May 23rd for the great walk back to Lukla, and then (fingers crossed) pending weather we would like to be in Kathmandu on May 26th if all works out.

Our Sherpa crew will make one last trip up the ice-fall tomorrow to bring down camp supplies from there and then they go home to their families and celebrations will get underway there. We stop in and see many of them along the way and catch up on their lives and all things new while they were away. 

There were quite a few summits this morning but complaints of how cold it was, it's even colder here at base camp tonight. It will be nice to back to the land of living after 2 months on this glacier. Personally I'm looking forward to playing with grandkids on the sailboat before it's back to the Himalayas in the autumn for more mountain adventures. 

Everyone else has similar wishes on their list of things they learned to appreciate more back home. Funny how that happens after being here on a major expedition in such a hostile environment for such a long duration. We miss everyone we meet after a climb and we miss everyone at home while on a climb. 

Thank you everyone for your social internet interactions on the tools we are given today. It's really great to get so many people involved on so many levels. 

Over and out.. Tim
Photo: Sean Mooney on the summit. First to summit-first to get a photo out holding his soccer ball. 
Top-Tim and Marty.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Lhotse update

May 21, 09:00hrs (NPT) Lhose update
Kevin Farebrother has turned back due to route conditions that he was not comfortable with. Tashi agrees.  They are now just above Camp 3, planning to make it to Camp 2 where they will decide to stay a night or climb down to EBC.

Childem Sherpa one of our two Camp 2 cooks just arrived back at EBC after 2 full months living up there. He's sooooo happy to be at EBC where it's warmer. Kami Sherpa is still up there and will wait for Kevin's decisions before packing up to come down.  Now you know why we love these guys so much. What would be do without them?

Tim says the Sherpas just pulled into camp with all our empty oxygen cylinders so he ended the call to help them pack them up.

All the teams human waste and other garbage is weighed, we pay to have it taken down the valley sorted and burned. After it's all accounted for we get our hefty garbage deposit back. Our food supplies are fresh and local so scraps are saved and given to the yaks.  Nice and clean when we get through. 

Over  ... Becky

Camp 2 update- Kevin C4 Lhotse

May 20, 21:30hrs (NPT) Camp 2 update
Sorry for the late reply, since Tim's check- in I've been frantically answering to families and media requests. 

THEY ARE SAFE at Camp 2..Tim says the team is hysterical at this point with their achievement. They are all feeling wonderful, tired and had a smooth down climb from the South Col. 
Sean is at base camp already and Kevin is now sleeping at Camp 4 on Lhotse. Everything going to plan. 

Marty, Lee, Murad, Patrick will be at base camp just in time for lunch tomorrow.  Base camp is 80% packed up and everyone will begin their trek back to Lukla on the 23rd. 

How cool is that?  

Over... Becky

Photo: Team Peak Freaks on the summit in 2008- taken by Dominque Gilbert from Quebec.