Everest that you are in the heavens

With the analysis of Willie and Damián Benegas, and the journalist and mountaineer Stefan Nestler of Adventure Mountain

Alpinismonline Magazine | Redacción Alpinismonline Martes 11 de Junio de 2019 - 14:59 98 | 0


By Carlos Eduardo González | Alpinismonline Magazine
With the collaboration of Fernanda Insua | Alpinismonline Magazine

Special thanks for your testimonies to
Damián and Willie Benegas, from Benegas Brothers Expeditions
Stefan Nestler, mountaineer and German journalist of Adventure Mountain

Cover Photo: The Benegas Brothers Expeditions team near the summit of Mount Everest (Photo: Benegas Brothers Expeditions)

This year we have had to live the great campaign of the international media, which comes year after year intensifying and that for this date, logically, it is uncovered with a whole battery of condiments that leave everyone speechless, except those of us who are somewhat soaked with these things, like you, like us.

Is that we already know that this is not a matter of "now", this has been living for a few years now, with more or less condiments. Let´s take a look at the big picture. This year approximately the same number of people as in the previous year have attended the Collado Sur.

"The big difference we have had with last year, has been mainly that this year there were seven days of window against twelve of 2018," Damian Benegas tells us, director of Benegas Brothers Expeditions, trying to graph a little some of the differences that he interprets as responsible for what we have had to witness a few days ago.

At a certain moment, it is true, we, the informants, were astonished with the large number of fatal victims who were handing us, almost hours apart, the highest mountain in the world, as if plotting some kind of revenge against this parade inappropriate of impertinent people who wanted to reach the top in search of the classic "because it´s there".

A series of unfortunate events

The question of Everest is not something that can be resolved overnight. Not one year for the other, even more than that. Behind Everest there is a state and a town that in many cases subsists on the royalties that every month of April and May gives the great mountain. So, pretending to find a viable solution to this issue is inherently complex. There are many factors that must be taken into account when analyzing some type of viable solution.

But, as we can see throughout this note, the main source of the problem of what happens in Everest, and we are also going to project it to the rest of the eight-thousanders in Nepal, "is that there is no authority to enforce a regulation that It establishes what can or can not be done in these mountains. "- Willie Benegas tells us, concluding that each expedition pays a significant amount per season to a liaison officer, who is the official designated by the Ministry of Tourism of Nepal to enforce the regulation, but he is never. It only appears at the end of the season and not in the place where it should be.

In this way, each one does what he thinks, or what suits him as far as the money he has to carry out an expedition. The government itself gives permission to operate new emerging local companies, which are created by sherpas that previously served the traditional companies that work in Everest for more than twenty years.

One of the factors that have had great incidence according to Damián tells us is the large number of climbers of Indian and Chinese origin. "They are totally different cultures from ours, that of Westerners, that we do not accept certain situations that for them are absolutely normal." What do we mean by that? We refer that for them the risks are much higher than ours, the "stick" of them is higher and "fail to assimilate that this is dangerous" - notes Willie. Apart from not caring about anything other than the objective itself.

A very particular case that allows us to graph the latter is that of an Indian climber who came up with a local company and who at a certain moment was being "pushed" beyond her means, even mistreated, by her own sherpa with the sole objective of make a summit When he could not, he was just worried about getting a photo of the summit. The social and cultural pressure they suffer is shocking.

Willie and Damián Benegas at the summit of Mount Everest in 2017. Two of the main references of what happens in the highest mountain in the world, leave us things clear about what is really happening on the mountain (Photo Benegas Brothers Expeditions)

In this sense, we have seen this season the large number of mountaineers of those nationalities who have lost their lives on Everest. Of the eleven deceased, four are of Indian nationality.

But this does not end there, since their own actions cause problems to other people who have nothing to do, since any responsible operator will come to his aid neglecting part of their attention to their customers.

We then have to the issue of the appearance of new local businesses is one of the most important factors that have influenced the mass, within a conjuncture of lack of authority to enforce the current legislation.

It is like in all the orders of the life, when the objective is important, other characters begin to appear that offer more tempting offers, what allows more people to reach the objective, but in its majority it does not get to evaluate the possible consequences. In short, the level of climbers and service providers is lowered.

Responsibility is another factor that indirectly influences. In Nepal there is no civil liability. What does this mean? That each one is responsible for their own actions and is not transferable to third parties, that is, to the company that provides the service. If we see it from this point of view, companies that only care about billing, will take as many customers as possible without caring about the consequences.

The greater the available offer, the demand also grows and what has been happening has happened now, not for some years now. In this sense, Damian and Willie confirm that at this time the managers of the main operators are in contact with the Government of Nepal to try to focus on controls, targeting companies that provide the service.

Current regulations require that Everest must be brought up with a local intervening company. The promotion permits granted by the Government to local companies exclusively, with which foreign providers must request them. One of the highlights that Damián clarifies to our query is that there is no restriction of having to climb each climber with a sherpa, as has been stated in different media, but there is exclusive processing through a local company . But attention, this is not new, it was always like that.

And it is a huge problem because the local company, commercializes those permits without having an idea to who sells them. A permit, enables 7 (seven) climbers. But the company sells three to company A for example, two to B and the last two to C, with which, since the climbers´ data are not recorded, you do not have the slightest idea of ​​what permission each climber is framed. And in what do we fall again? In the absence of an authority that enforces the legislation that in this case must act on the company that markets the permit.

Faced with this situation, wanting to impose restrictions for climbers in the sense of imposing some previous experience, sounds like something secondary, when you first have to fix what governs all that before moving in that direction.

"There is a mistaken idea in the local environment that the foreign company mistreats the Sherpa" - emphasizes Willie Benegas.

Something that we are seeing as a trend is also the large number of customers that carry the expeditions. And here all enter, large, medium and small companies. "We believe that the ideal can not exceed twenty to twenty-five members per expedition. More is a complication "- explains Damián in his dialogue with Alpinismonline.

However, there was an expedition this season that brought almost 100% effectiveness to more than fifty Everest mountaineers. It was the American Mike Hamill, Climbing The Seven Summits. In this sense and according to what Damián says, here we would be facing a problem. However, Hamill, an experienced professional, led his clients in four groups. The last of them, precisely with Tomás Ceppi as one of the guides and the Argentine Ignacio Montesinos, made a summit on May 27, when everyone was already on the way home.

A similar type of strategy is used by International Mountain Guides, which in the season that ended led to three top teams with an interval of two or three days between one and another, as we have seen, they were moving along of the trekking to the base camp and then, already in the process of acclimatization, they also made individual rotations.

We are seeing that this is a new trend that at least the big and traditional teams are using.

There are other companies that massively carry climbers to different eight-thousanders, but apparently without this kind of prolixity. We have had a clear example in the Kangchenjunga this season, where a major company in Nepal, which has been doing a good pace of expeditions in recent years, has led a very large group to the third highest mountain in the world, including some problems with several teams in the base camp of Mount Everest, with the occasional incident that has involved the use of helicopters and put people´s lives at risk.

Another of the interesting topics that Damián mentioned is that of the coordination of the final push. Usually the main teams usually coordinate the summit day to avoid to a greater extent the bottleneck that we usually see in the news that the powerful media are responsible for putting on the front page, and let´s also say is a reality. What is usually done is to leave in groups with intervals of time between one and another, to avoid precisely these disadvantages.

Of course, with the advent of these small companies, the strategy is complicated, one thing is to coordinate between five or six large teams and another with all those who are ready to enter the stage. It is impractical.

The Benegas Brothers team very close to the summit of Mount Everest in 2017. Two of the main references of what happens in the highest mountain in the world, leave us things clear about what is really happening on the mountain ( Photo Benegas Brothers Expeditions)

There is a single ascending rope from the south hill, not an additional descending rope, as would be advisable except at some critical points, such as the Hillary step. This causes inconveniences. In this season, an American climber died precisely at that height and in the middle of the "bottleneck". This caused delays until it was removed from the site. It also causes delays the fact that there is only one route in the most delicate stretch of the entire route with so many people wanting to go up and down at the same time.

But well, all these are factors that makes Everest what it is today, a small uncontrolled world during two months of the year and an environment that suffers it for the remaining ten months, and that is what we are going to analyze now.

In short, we can list all these problems as causing the great catastrophe, but in short, we can not do much more, since the mountain is theirs and they can do whatever they want with it.

Garbage that you are in heaven

And since we are with Everest, I was surprised a few days ago when a newspaper - there were actually several - pointed out that eight tons of garbage and four bodies had been taken down from the fields. I was surprised because with eight hundred more people this season, I imagine they have to have another new eight tons of garbage now and maybe eleven new bodies, unfortunately.

GARBAGE YOU ARE IN THE HEAVENS Everest High camps South Col (Credit / Credit Benegas Brothers Expeditions)

In some newspaper we have seen that they talked about "walking between corpses". He walked among corpses because several people died on one of the summit days, but not as if it were something usual. And in this sense, Damián and Willie Benegas, who are some of those who know that part of the highest mountain in the world (Twenty summits Everest between them, thirteen for Willie, seven for Damián), they clarify what it is precisely this: "For twenty years we have known where each and every body is up there, it is nothing new. Nor are all those who are said to be. Even is not that you can not download them, in fact, they are usually downloaded. There are few, in fact, that remain in sight, in the mountains. "

GARBAGE YOU ARE IN THE HEAVENS Everest High camps South Col (Credit / Credit Benegas Brothers Expeditions)

One of the cases that he points out is that of Scott Fischer that the family has exclusively asked to remain on the mountain. In fact, there are only two corpses from the nineties that are semi-visible. One is Fischer and the other is a Sherpa. Most of the rest have been lowered or disappeared, possibly falling down the east or west wall, including Rob Hall. Those that remain then, in their great majority are not in sight and in no way walk among corpses.

GARBAGE THAT YOU ARE IN THE HEAVENS Chocolates and sweets papers in the south col of Mount Everest. Leaving garbage lying is not a matter of oxygen problems and supreme effort. It is a question of culture that has no borders. (Credit / Credit Benegas Brothers Expeditions)

It´s more ... that same local company that we mentioned earlier that has brought a huge group to Kangchenjunga this season and that works at pleasure and pleasure in Everest base camp, takes you to the summit for fifty thousand dollars and if you had the bad Luck to stay on the mountain, your family if you want to get off, you can pay one hundred and fifty thousand and your body go down. Round business.

GARBAGE YOU ARE IN THE HEAVENS Everest High camps South Col (Credit / Credit Benegas Brothers Expeditions)

But taking up the issue of garbage, perhaps if something more convenient can be done, especially with the issue of fecal matter, which, above the South Col, where everything remains forever frozen, we can find them in the same place twenty years later, or more, mummified like corpses.

In this sense, Damián tells us that in Benegas Brothers Expeditions they use special biodegradable bags that are in charge of conveniently disposing of waste and debris, which would be very good for the clients of each of the companies.

GARBAGE YOU ARE IN THE HEAVENS Everest High camps South Col (Credit / Credit Benegas Brothers Expeditions)

"The problem is very serious," says Willie Benegas, "the companies leave everything there, and everything involves waste, fecal matter, tents and material, since it is cheaper for them to buy new ones than to lower them. But this is not all, in other eight thousand is much worse, do not even take the job of downloading absolutely nothing. Everything is up there. "

Willie also points out that Camp 2 of the South Everest Hill is saturated with fecal matter. Consulted on the attitude that the main teams take especially Benegas Brothers, confirms that they are responsible for lowering everything they produce.

GARBAGE YOU ARE IN THE HEAVENS Everest High camps South Col (Credit / Credit Benegas Brothers Expeditions)

One thing that Willie highlights and that he makes sure to highlight to mention, is the Asian Trekking attitude of Ang Tsering Sherpa and the team of Eco Everest Expedition, who every year perform a huge task cleaning and lowering everything they can from the fields of height (They are those of the eight tons of trash lowered and four corpses). If everyone took care to do the minimum necessary, that is to take care of all their waste, Everest would not be suffering what today suffers from the deterioration of the environment in such an extreme way as it happens at the moment.

GARBAGE YOU ARE IN THE HEAVENS Everest High camps South Col (Credit / Credit Benegas Brothers Expeditions)

Willie emphasizes that studies are being carried out on water in the region that are not exactly giving the results they should in a habitat that would have to be totally oblivious to the pollution that has been suffering much of the planet. This is because the fecal matter that each season is collected in the base camp of Mount Everest, is accumulated in a certain place in the vicinity of Gorak Shep, without any treatment. Garbage on the other hand is classified by type and is downloaded to Namche. But in defintiva All this is also part of the lack of control that we have been talking since the beginning of the note.

GARBAGE YOU ARE IN THE HEAVENS Everest High camps South Col (Credit / Credit Benegas Brothers Expeditions)

Everest of miracles

What to do then with Everest? Or rather, can you do something better with Everest? First of all, mountain people who understand these things, should not be too surprised with the big headlines of newspapers and general information newspapers that pretend to stage a premiere that actually already has several functions on their backs. More people than there is is practically impossible to take her there in a span of no more than fifteen days of window to climb the highest mountain in the world.

Maybe it would be good to focus on one of the concepts that Damián and Willie Benegas have pointed out to us, in the sense of coordinating greater controls in the providers, enforcing the legislation for that purpose, but this would only point to them, there are other factors that affect in the big problem and that escape this concept. The issue of the great business that this means for the country itself.

High mountain tourism leaves important royalties to the government of Nepal, but as you can imagine, it is not just this, there is a whole universe that revolves around Mount Everest. Families of local people, call sherpas to mention the best known, local merchants, who live from the generated in each season for two months a year or much less in the months of September to November. And that is an enormous cause that justifies all this hellish display in which this mountain has become.

There are those who yearn for old epics, times of conquest where we only found a handful of human beings helped by a group of Sherpas who tried the great mountain. No, that does not exist anymore. Get it out of your head. The times now lead us to another scenario. That can be found in some mountain lost there, there are some six thousand unnamed, or seven thousand maybe virgin, but not in these great mountains that summon year after year to the parade of all those who want to raise them for their own satisfaction.

But always remember that behind the big business is ... business of all, there is not one that is excluded. Government, settlers, service providers, and even old and big climbers who tend to tear their clothes about what happens on Everest and are horrified. But they also were and are responsible for what is happening, because they were there, were the first and then sold stories made books and filled their pockets with the benefits that Everest indirectly gave them in gratitude for having won.

And then, independently of the entire business, Everest gives us other components that go far beyond the mountain itself. It leaves us tons of text, scriptures, opinions, notes, how are you! We are also responsible for what happens in Everest because with this simple note we are spreading an activity in an emblematic mountain.

And there are also the people, who consume it, because instead of being impressed by a new direct route to the Chamlang of 7300m made a few days ago by the Czechs Márek Holeček and Zdeněk Hák, who has gone absolutely unnoticed, they rejoice devouring everything that comes of Everest and its tragedies, but at the same time he yearns for those epics that were performed in silence, with no other presence than that of its protagonists, such as Holeček and Hák.

There are also other mountaineers, those who maybe can not or do not want to do Everest, but are responsible for demeaning the achievements of others. They question the methods, if they come up with oxygen, if they go up without it, if they come up with sherpas or if they go up without them. Here I stop. Everyone goes up with sherpas. For the simple fact that the fixed ropes of both sides are placed by them and all use them to a greater or lesser extent.

So. Where are we standing? What really interests us? We desperately consume the Everest news. Those who inform, we make them known as quickly as possible. The operators, who are in the business try to take as many customers as possible. Some are even conditioning the base camp in a way very close to a five-star hotel.

And the customers. They do not care about anything, whether they are trained or not, they just want to get to the top, whatever. They go once, if they do not succeed they will try again. The government only thinks about generating more and more permits. If they increase their cost it would not matter, people will pay anyway. The local people depend on Everest. The Chinese and Indians care little if they can reach their summit.

Stefan Nestler, mountaineer and German journalist of Adventure Mountain

So ... Can something be done? Let´s see what our colleague and great climber tells us, a man who knows a lot about this: Stefan Nestler.

What do you think Stefan are the factors that you think have influenced this season with respect to the issue of massification that is spoken in all media in the world?

Considering the number of permits issued by the Nepalese government, it was not an exceptional season. It reached a "record" level in Everest (381), but it was not much above the levels of previous years, for example, in the 2017 season (371).

It was extraordinary that the first window of time arrived relatively late and the attempts of the summit were concentrated in just three or four days around May 22, when more than 300 people stopped at the summit.

Later, there were also opportunities for summit attempts, but there was no real administration to divide the large number of aspirants to the summit. Traffic jams at the top of the Everest summit occurred with an announcement because most expedition operators lacked patience.

Another reason why more and more people climb the highest mountains in the world is, in my opinion, that humility towards Everest and even the other eight thousand has disappeared. If the complete routes are secured with fixed ropes to the top, customers can jumber to the summit. Mountains that were previously beyond their possibilities suddenly seem feasible even for beginners, such as Annapurna or Kangchenjunga. This is due to the aggressive commercialization of low budget operators, who suggest that everything is possible and completely safe. An error that sometimes has serious consequences.

Do you consider that this season has been different in this respect compared to the previous ones?

I see it more as a trend than as a unique culmination. Such developments do not fall from the sky. In the past, a dozen foreign expedition operators divided the market. Today, most clients trust Nepalese agencies, which have been shooting like mushrooms in the last decade. In addition, the customer base has changed, from the West to Asia, especially India and China.

What do you think should be done to solve this problem if there is something to do?

I am skeptical about whether a real investment is still possible. There is not a silver bullet that eliminates all the problems at once. The situation in the mountain tourism in the Himalayas reminds me a bit of the capitalism of Manchester in the nineteenth century: everyone wants their share of the financial pie, the objective is the maximum exploitation of the market, regardless of the losses.

In my opinion, the Nepalese government should limit the number of permits. In addition, there must be binding regulations for the dispatch operators, for example, limited number of team members, mountain guides with international certificates, enough bottled oxygen even for emergencies.

But the standards must also apply to the candidates at the summit: they must be able to demonstrate sufficient experience in mountaineering before facing an eight thousand. You do not even let a normal car driver go to a race track in a Formula 1 car.

Another idea would be to fix the ropes only at the key points and not along the entire route, or deliver bottled oxygen only from the South Collado upwards. Then many would reach their limits and below. However, I think that more important than all the rules is a new attitude on the part of the mountaineers themselves: away from arrogance, towards humility.

Everyone who left for the Himalayas should critically question: Do I really belong to this mountain? Do I endanger others because I do not have the necessary skills? My advice: Gain experience, slowly approach the highest mountains! First try to reach the top of a mountain not so high, maybe five or six thousand meters, without bottled oxygen! Your body will tell you what is possible and what is not. And you will learn that you can experience adventures far from the eight thousand, possibly even more authentic adventures than on Everest.

The Norwegian Håkon Erlandsen made a summit on Everest on Wednesday, May 22, and started playing the saxophone (Youtube video capture of Håkon Erlandsen)

Everest that you are in the heavens

Stefan´s concepts are very clear, we fully agree. And very valuable and clarifying also the sayings of Damián and Willie Benegas, who have painted the stage for us from the stage itself.

What I think, with all humility without believing that I can be right, is that something is done or dictated in this sense, the Everest machinery will always be above it, which must continue to operate at all costs, because Everest has something very special that no other has: it is the closest point to heaven, and the human being always wants to be as high as possible and in one case to say that he was there, and in another, in the most unconscious, to get faster to him.

Perhaps it is more interesting, as Stefan says, for those who enjoy mountaineering that they call "pure", without intermediaries, made to lung, to look the other way.

This is already exhausted in that sense. But you know what? That´s not gonna happen. Next year, for this date I invite you to read a new report, which will be identical to this one, only with the tips of the new season, honoring that precious Everest that is in the heaven.-

Nota principal: http://www.alpinismonline.com/mz-notas.asp?id=11329
Versión imprimible: http://www.alpinismonline.com/mz-notas-print.asp?id=11329

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