Why We Should Leave Everest Alone This Year

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by Nick Cienski, as told to Jayme Moye via sat phone from Everest Base Camp

In the beginning, after the earthquake and avalanche at Base Camp, no one was even thinking about climbing. It was all rescue, rescue, rescue. That was the first three days. Then on Tuesday we got some good weather, and Everest is looming overhead, and so you start thinking, what if? A lot of people were pulling out, so the discussion became, if there's not that many people maybe it would be a good time to do it because you won't have all the traffic through the [Khumbu] icefall and on the ridge. So what would that look like, with three to four teams instead of 70 to 80?

The biggest hurdle was lack of resources. Without a strong Sherpa team, climbing Everest is more of a pie in the sky discussion. About 90 percent of the Sherpa had left Base Camp. We had a staff of 18, and by Sunday morning we had five. On Wednesday, some started coming back, after they'd checked in on their homes and families. But, ultimately, no one was interested in going back up through the Icefall. They were pretty freaked out. Many Sherpa have homes that were completely damaged. The ones who came back did so to help take down [the remaining gear], as opposed to go up.

The Icefall has changed a lot too. I think it's more dangerous than it was. The thinking here is that a lot of stuff got shaken, but it didn't all fall. Whether it falls today, tomorrow, or next month, no one knows. Even though there are not massive avalanches in the Icefall right now, the feeling is that everything is just more teetering than it was.

The pivotal moment came when we learned that our partner organization had suffered damage to their building. It was a safe house where women had been rescued from brothels in India. After that, we thought, 'what are we doing here? We want to climb this based on what?' It made infinitely more sense to pack it up and get our butts to Kathmandu and help those organizations we'd pledged to help. Those women and children are living outside. They need tents, sleeping bags, food, and stoves, at the very least.

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It's the right decision to make. But it wasn't easy. With the 6 Summits project, we're not pulling out of one mountain by leaving Base Camp, we're pulling out of three. That's 50 percent of the project. We talked about it, we prayed about it, we went around and around about it, and the reality was that it just didn't make sense to stay. We got on the phone with our PR people and they had come to the same decision. Sherpas weren't coming back. People were packing up. The feeling at Base Camp had gone from, 'we're here to climb a mountain,' to 'it's time to go home.' And even that wasn't easy. People are getting to Lukla and sitting for three to four days waiting to get out.

The unofficial word on the street is that the mountain is closed. Nepal hasn't formally announced that yet, but it's likely. And inevitably, even without public pressure to close, it's going to happen anyway because there's just no momentum to go up. I'm looking around and there are still a few tents, but most people are already walking down. All that's left are staff packing up stoves and tents. There are hundreds of yaks waiting to get loaded. I don't know what's going to happen with the 6 Summits Challenge. I'll figure that out once I get back to Kathmandu. As for now, we're one of the last client-based organizations still at Base Camp, and even for us, that all comes to a close tomorrow.