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Psicobloc, Sherpa, and the North Side of Everest

Two mountaineers navigating a glacier on a Gasherbrum II Expedition


On Friday night, Alpenglow Expeditions helped to host a benefit for the Khumbu Climbing Center at the Psicobloc climbing competition held in Park City, Utah. The Psicobloc Masters Series attracts the strongest climbers in the world and this year’s competition raised money for the Khumbu Climbing Center. The “KCC” trains Sherpa and high altitude workers in Nepal, readying them for the serious work of climbing the world’s tallest peaks. The KCC is an essential organization to the climbing community, and is supported by financial donation and the donated time of athletes, guides, and other mountain professionals that teach its courses. The KCC is in the process of building a new training center and home for the organization in Phortse, Nepal, and another $200,000 is required to complete it. Friday’s event raised over $10,000 dollars, a great start to this final fundraising phase. Much more is still needed. If you would like to donate, visit


The steel structure and initial walls of the Khumbu Climbing Center in Phortse

The night was memorable for two main reasons. First, for the incredible climbing of America’s top competition talent. It was truly amazing to watch and especially to hear 5,000 spectators screaming themselves hoarse at the strong climbing and big falls that constitute competitive deep water soloing (climbing without a rope on a 55-foot tall wall above a 12-foot deep pool).

Second, a collection of world-class Sherpa made their way to Salt Lake City for the competition and fundraiser. Led by Apa Sherpa (who alone has 21 Everest summits under his belt) the guides and Sherpa under the KCC tent easily had over 50 summits between them. Conversation about the future of Everest guiding and expeditions was the top topic and one sentiment came out the strongest – Everest’s top Sherpa are no longer going to be climbing through the Khumbu Icefall. One Sherpa said he will only support his team from Base Camp; another is looking for work in the USA; and a third is trying to move his team to the safer North Side (Tibet).

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Their reasoning was uniform. The risk of the Khumbu Icefall is no longer acceptable and their families will not support their climbing if they choose to continue passing through it. What I quickly realized during these discussions is that if these leading Sherpa (from some of the biggest and most respected western guiding companies) stand by their beliefs, Everest’s South Side in 2015 will be a less professional and less safe environment. More than half of Everest’s best Sherpa will not be climbing on Everest’s South Side (from Nepal) in 2015, including the Sherpa I spoke to in Park City; my Sherpa team (we decided a month ago to move to Everest’s North Side); the team which I joined to rope-fix to Everest’s summit in 2010 and 2011; and many Sherpa who have already made decisions about next spring.

I want to see climbing, trekking, and a strong tourism industry continue in Nepal and Alpenglow Expeditions will continue to run many trips in Nepal to smaller and more remote peaks, and we will continue to base many of our trips out of Kathmandu and to hire all of our Sherpa and support staff from Nepal. But it is clear to me, as I wrote in an op-ed piece for the Adventure Journal in early July, that climbing Mt. Everest from Nepal is no longer a reasonable decision as a mountain guide or as the business owner responsible for guides, Sherpa, and team members. 

Until Nepal gets serious about regulating the Everest climbing industry, and until teams make the decision to dramatically change how they approach the mountain and the numbers of trips they choose to make through the icefall, we will not send teams to the South Side. Mt. Everest from Tibet offers a safer route with similar difficulties, and relative political stability where the mountain has not experienced a closure or season-ending event since 2009. In the modern era of commercial guiding on Everest only a tiny percentage of Sherpa fatalities have occurred from the North Side of Everest. This is because the hazards involved are much less random, and Sherpa avoid the more predictable dangers of storms, running out of oxygen, human error with rope systems, and altitude sickness. Competent and experienced guides and clients do the same. This is why climbing the North Side of Everest is the right choice for Alpenglow’s team. Check out our recently posted 2015 trip packet and itinerary for more information on our Rapid Ascent climbs. And donate to the KCC to support the essential training of Nepal’s Sherpa.

-Adrian Ballinger, Alpenglow Expeditions

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