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Sherpa’s Passing on Makalu Reignites Discussion

by thesummiters.com
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Once again this year, tragedy strikes at the start of climbing season as we mourn the loss of a local Sherpa worker. Just as before, the cause of death wasn’t a typical accident like falling or being caught in an avalanche. But what’s got everyone questioning isn’t just how Lakpa Tenji Sherpa died, but rather why it happened.

Lakpa Tenji Sherpa was part of the team at Seven Summit Treks and had successfully reached the summit of Makalu on May 6th.

“He passed away at Camp 3 while his fellow guides were carrying him down,” shared Rakhesh Gurung, head of Nepal’s Department of Tourism (DoT), with Everest Chronicle.

Didn’t feel well

The paper reported that according to the agency, Lakpa Tenji, aged 54, “didn’t feel well during the descent,” as relayed to the Department of Tourism (DoT). Publicly, Seven Summit Treks only announced that their group of 11 reached the summit at 3 pm — comprising four foreign clients and seven Nepalese workers.

Later, they added Flor Cuenca from Peru to the list. She ascended without using oxygen or having sherpa support beyond Base Camp. Cuenca usually keeps her climbs quiet until completion. Among the climbers in that group, only Allie Pepper from Australia shared her live tracker. Pepper also climbed without oxygen and reached Camp 3 close to midnight Nepal time, according to her tracker.

The team arrived at Advanced Base Camp the following day (yesterday). Currently, Pepper is en route to Makalu’s lower base camp. It remains unclear what the other team members did.

Conditions on Makalu have been severe in recent days. The route had minimal snow, forcing climbers to contend with rocks, ice, and strong winds.

After the summit and throughout yesterday, Seven Summit Treks posted several congratulatory messages on social media, praising their clients’ achievements. Some members (or their home teams) also announced their summit successes. However, there was no mention of what occurred that day, how Lakpa Tenji was assisted by other sherpas, and how he passed away at Camp 3.

None of the Seven Summit Treks representatives were immediately available to discuss the circumstances of the death reported Everest Chronicle.

It wouldn’t have been achievable without the invaluable assistance of the sherpas.

“I just had breakfast with fellow Makalu climbers from Imagine Nepal, and I couldn’t help but praise our sherpas,” Naila Kiani shared from Kathmandu after successfully summiting Makalu on May 5.

The conditions were unpredictable challenging, and our success owed much to their expertise and support.

For Kiani, conquering Makalu marked her 11th 8,000-meter peak, ranking as the second most formidable mountain she had tackled after a demanding expedition on Gasherbrum I. During that expedition, only a handful of climbers dared to proceed without ropes through heavy snow on the upper sections, and she had to provide support to her unwell teammates.
On Makalu, the stretch between Camp 1 and Camp 2 presented particular difficulties due to fierce, biting winds.

“I’ve never encountered such freezing temperatures,” Kiani recalled. “And the terrain consisted entirely of rock, blue ice, and ice swept by the wind.”

She highlighted how the sherpas not only offered essential physical and logistical support but also uplifted their morale.

They work tirelessly yet they always maintain a cheerful demeanor. On the way to Camp 2, I felt like turning back, but Phur Geljen encouraged me to press on and rest there. ‘Then you can decide,’ he said. That man is truly remarkable.

Workers feeling stressed

Her guide never pressured her to continue or turn around. He always reiterated that I could decide what to do at any moment.

However, in this era of commercialized climbing and nearly guaranteed summit attempts, this isn’t always the norm. Unlike guides in Europe or America, sherpas lack the authority to insist a client stop. This holds true even when it’s evident the person shouldn’t continue but insists on pressing on.

On the other hand, a high-altitude sherpa can earn more in one expedition than they would in a regular job for an entire year. They may also anticipate receiving a bonus and tips if they successfully reach the summit. Moreover, there might be pressure from expedition leaders, who ultimately have the final say. This volatile combination can easily lead to accidents or close calls, as witnessed last year with Indian climbers Baljeet Baur on Annapurna and Piyali Basak on Makalu.

So, the pivotal question we pose at the outset of this discussion: Why did Lakpa Tenji die? Was he in good health and fit enough for the climb? Was he under pressure to continue, whether from the climber, the expedition leader, or himself?

We simply lack sufficient information to answer these questions definitively. However, it’s clear that changes are necessary in the dynamics between high-altitude guides, their clients, and the expedition leaders.

Tough Conditions on May 6

Meanwhile, climbers are still making their way up and down Makalu. Kiani mentioned she encountered Allie Pepper and Flor Cuenca while descending between Camp 2 and Camp 3 on May 5.

Both were doing well, especially Cuenca, described by Kiani as “the strongest woman on the mountain.” Kiani captured the moment they met. As usual, Cuenca carried her own gear and tent, didn’t use oxygen, and had no support. We’ll catch up with Cuenca for details when she gets back to town.

Kiani also observed that the winds calmed down briefly on May 5, but then picked up again. So the push for the summit on May 6, involving the Seven Summit Treks group, might have been very challenging.
Bartek Ziemski and Oswald Pereira from Poland also attempted a summit push without oxygen on May 5 at 8 pm, aiming to reach the top on the same day as the 7ST team. However, the cold and Ziemski’s worsening breathing issues forced them to turn back at 7,950m around 2 am.

They retreated to Camp 3, left some equipment there, and headed back to Base Camp. Ziemski still hopes for another opportunity to ski down from the summit. Currently, snow is falling, which might improve skiing conditions.

Another Polish climber, Marcin Miotk, is currently on his way up, targeting a summit on May 11. Nirmal Purja also successfully summited Makalu with his Elite Exped group, but he didn’t specify the date of their ascent. Lastly, Liliya Ianovskaia from Canada, a client of 8K Expeditions, also reached the summit today, supported by brothers Migma Dorchi Sherpa and Dawa Tasi Sherpa.

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