The mountaineering community lost a well known and much respected member earlier this week when it was announced that Ang Nima Sherpa passed away at the age of 59. Nima, who was at home in his village of Pangboche, Nepal at the time of his death, was the leader of the famed “Icefall Doctors,” without whom there would be a lot fewer successful climbs of the mountain each year.
When climbing Everest, or its neighbor Lhotse, one of the first obstacles that climbers on the South Side face is the dreaded Khumbu Icefall. This section of the mountain, located just above Base Camp, consists of constantly shifting ice that crumbles as it calves off the front of the Khumbu Glacier. Those towering spires of ice are incredibly unstable and capable of collapsing at any time without notice. This make it an extremely dangerous place and statistically speaking it is the deadliest portion of the climb.
At the start of each season, a special team of Sherpas is given the unenviable task of not only finding a safe route through the icefall, but also maintaining that route for the entire climbing season. These men carefully proceed through this perilous section, fixing ropes as they go and placing ladders across the gaping chasms between the ice. That group of Sherpas is collectively known as the Ice Doctors and they are amongst the most respected and skilled climbers on the mountain. At the height of the climbing season, the Ice Docs enter the icefall on a daily basis constantly checking the route and adjusting it as needed to avoid possible hazards.
Ang Nima Sherpa has been a part of that team for years, having first ventured to Everest back in the 70′s with British expeditions led by Sir Chris Bonington. His experience and leadership have guided the team for numerous seasons and each year he made it his personal responsibility to ensure that the route through the icefall was safe for the climbers that followed. Without his commitment and dedication, passing through the icefall would be even scarier than it is now.
Our condolences go out to the friends and family of Ang Nima Sherpa. We know he’ll be missed both now and in the spring, when climbers converge on Everest for the start of a new season.
By Kraig Becker
[Photo Credit: Kraig Becker, Wally Berg]