Wellington: Guy Cotter was so concerned about the safety of Sherpa guides and porters through Mount Everest`s notorious Khumbu Icefall that he and another commercial guide operator hatched a plan: Before this year`s climbing season began, they would use helicopters to transport 4 tons of equipment above the icefall.
Nepal-based Simrik Air backed the plan and hired New Zealand pilot Jason Laing, an expert in hauling loads using long cables. But in January, the answer came back from Nepalese authorities: permit denied.
Three months later, Laing put his expertise to use. But not hauling gear. On April 18 came Everest`s worst disaster, in which 16 Sherpas were killed in an avalanche at the icefall. Laing made flight after flight that day, using his long cables to rescue four injured Sherpas and haul out 13 bodies. The three others are buried under heavy snow and ice.
"It was tough," Laing said. "I just had to get on with it."
Among those killed were three Sherpas hired by Cotter`s company, Adventure Consultants.
It`s not the first time that Nepal has rejected proposals to reduce the need for Sherpas to lug equipment up and down the icefall. But Cotter and other commercial operators say they hope the avalanche will prompt long-overdue safety improvements.
"It`s a shame it takes a major tragedy to get us to that point," Cotter said.
The Khumbu Icefall is considered the most dangerous terrain of the climb. It is a river of ice, a kilometer or so of constantly shifting glacier punctuated by deep crevasses and overhanging immensities of ice that can be as large as 10-story buildings. It can move two meters in just one day. Crossing it can take 12 hours. Ropes can be snapped by the moving ice, ladders broken.
Cotter, a New Zealander, is a well-known operator at Everest. He first climbed the mountain in 1992 and has owned and run Adventure Consultants since 1996. This year was typical: He had 10 clients from Britain, Japan, the US and Iceland, among other places, and employed 44 Sherpas as porters, guides and cooks. His company was one of several seasoned operators at the mountain.
Simrik Air Operations Manager Siddartha Gurung said that before the permit was denied, his company had been preparing to make about 30 flights to Base One, above the icefall, carrying enough weight to eliminate 300 Sherpa trips.