Everest avalanche tragedy hits NW climbing community

Credit: Steve Rollins, Portland Mountain Rescue

Photo courtesy of Steve Rollins, Portland Mountain Rescue

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by Pat Dooris, KGW .com Staff

kgw.com

Posted on April 18, 2014 at 6:21 PM

Updated Saturday, Apr 19 at 3:23 PM

SEATTLE, Wash. -- The tragedy on Mt. Everest hit hard among the Northwest's climbing communities.

Hundreds of guides and climbers were gathered on Mt. Everest this week, preparing for a shot at the summit next month. Among them, at least five sherpas working for Seattle based mountaineering guides, Alpine Ascents.

Those five sherpas, along with eight others, passed away in an avalanche Friday.

Gordon Janow, Director of Programs for Alpine Ascents, said climbers and sherpas form tight bonds.

“As friends in many ways, a shared philosophy and ideas of both our cultures, so its a very warm and intimate relationship that we have with the community and the sherpas as individuals," Janow said.

The sherpas were up early setting up rope lines and hauling gear for climbers. The avalanche shot down the mountain at 6:30 am.

Many in the climbing community are feeling the impact.

“Oh its a tragedy. This is a horrible tragedy,” said Ted Wheeler, Oregon State Treasurer.

Before Wheeler became Oregon's top financial officer, he climbed to the top of Everest. He worries over crowding played a role in the disaster.

“This actually isn't that much of a surprise. And I hate to say that. But for years people have been talking about the crowding even the Nepalese government made changes this year to reduce some of the crowding up high,” Wheeler said.

He understands the role sherpas play, as they helped him and so many others climb.

“No westerner climbs that mountain, none, without sherpa people being behind them and supporting their efforts. And so this is really a tragedy for all of us in the climbing community,” said Wheeler.

The feeling is widespread. Portland-based author Peter Zuckerman spent nearly a year studying sherpas.

“Sherpas are some of the heroes of many of the most famous climbing adventure stories of all time,” said Zuckerman.

Zuckerman wrote an award-winning book, called “Buried in the Sky.” It’s about a climbing disaster on K-2, the world's second highest mountain.

He feels for the families of the sherpas.

“The climbers go to the mountains to help their children and to help their relatives. And to lose someone who is very likely the breadwinner is very difficult. And it underscores how dangerous and unpredictable mountain climbing is,” Zuckerman said.

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