Veteran icefall doctor passes away without notice

The mountaineering community in Nepal and worldwide lost one of its senior most ‘Icefall Doctor’ — the hardy Sherpas who set and maintain the safest path through Khumbu Icefall, the treacherous stretch leading to Mount Everest and neighbouring Lhotse and Nuptse peaks.

Ang Nima Sherpa passed away at his home in Pangboche village on the foothills of Everest at the age of 59 on January 25.

The death of the veteran leader of the icefall doctors who’s been a visible face for most attempting Mt. Everest came to light five days later.

Despite being responsible for many successful ascents of Everest — a source of significant revenue earned from the hordes of mountain enthusiasts who reach Everest Base Camp each climbing season — the death didn’t find much space in Nepali media.

It found detailed coverage in mountaineering-related websites and blogs but the few local papers which covered the news carried it as a brief tucked away in the inside pages.

The Khumbu Icefall is the first major hurdle faced by climbers on way to Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse.

Many climbers have lost their lives trying to cross the icefall located just above the base camp and formed from the glacier with the same name.

The speed of the glacier opens large crevasses without warning. Another threat is the sudden collapse of large towers of ice some as high as houses.

It’s extremely dangerous to cross the icefall since these large blocks of ice are continuously shifting.

To make things easier, icefall doctors search for the best possible route at the beginning of each season.

Once they find one, they place ropes and ladders between blocks of ice for climbers to cross. Their job also involves maintaining the route daily during season.

It’s a very risky task due to avalanches, moving ice blocks and tumbling ice towers known as seracs.

Had it not been for the ropes and ladders placed on Khumbu Icefall by Sherpa and his team, most climbers wouldn’t have been able to make their way up to Everest.

Easier passage through the icefall has also resulted in more climbers making an attempt at scaling Everest every season.

These days’ jams are witnessed en route to the world’s tallest peak when weather provides a narrow window of opportunity to climbers.

Sherpa’s career as an icefall doctor started way back in the 1970s when he was part of several British expeditions.

With age and experience he became the leader of the team of Sherpas and made sure that the route was well-maintained each year.

His demise is a big loss not just to the team of icefall doctors but to all mountaineering enthusiasts and he will surely be missed when they gather this spring to scale Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse.

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