On thin ice

The earthquake that struck Nepal last year had triggered an avalanche on the Khumbu glacier on the Nepal side of the Everest, killing 18 at the base camp, 16 of them ‘ice doctors’.

Published:March 13, 2016 12:17 am

nepal eathquake, earthquake, nepal natural disaster, avalanche, Khumbu glacier, india news, climate news, nation newsWho are ‘ice doctors’?
They are a small team of Sherpas who establish and maintain a route for climbers looking to scale the Everest from the south side of the 8,848-metre (29,029-ft) mountain peak. The team allows a safe passage for largely foreign climbers to pass through the deep crevasses and frozen cliffs of the Khumbu glacier.

What do they do?
Each year, the ice doctors lay down a series of ladders across the crevasses, and string a thin nylon line, held in place by ice screws and anchors, as a guide rope across the open spaces. Climbers then walk across these openings, usually in their mountaineering boots and with crampons on, stepping on the rungs of the ladder for support, and using the thin ropes to help stabilise themselves.

Since the ice can move as much as 3 to 4 ft per day, the ice doctors stay on the mountain through May, maintaining the route and making sure the ladders and ropes stay in place. Once they pack up and head home, the climbing season is considered over on the south side for another year. The doctors are credited with making the mountain accessible to even the most amateur of climbers.

According to The Guardian, the ice doctors earn $10 for a day’s work.

What’s the Khumbu icefall?
There are multiple routes to the Everest summit, but the two most common ones are the Northeast Ridge route through Tibet and the South Col Route through Nepal. Both these routes are treacherous, but on the south side of the mountain is the Khumbu Icefall, often described as the most dangerous section in the mountain. All the Sherpas killed last year were swept away by an avalanche here.
The icefall is just above the base camp, on the way to Camp I on the mountain, and is a notoriously treacherous stretch of moving and cracking ice, which climbers must negotiate after they leave the base camp on their way to Camp I. Here, large chunks of melting ice from the head of the Khumbu glacier cascade down, some the size of cars. The icefall’s most notorious sections have names such as ‘Popcorn Field’ and ‘the Ballroom of Death’. According to Alan Arnette, a mountaineer based in Colorado whose blog is a trusted source of Everest information, from 1924 to August 2015, 283 people have died on the mountain — 170 foreigners and 113 Nepalis — and many of the deaths on the Nepal side have occurred at Khumbu Icefall. Without the icefall doctors, this stretch would be impossible for climbers to cross.

Compiled by Pallabi Munsi

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