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Interview with Alan Arnette, part 2: K2 too risky to become a new Everest

Posted: Apr 01, 2015 08:17 am EDT

(Newsdesk) Yesterday Alan insisted on his right to climb Himalaya 'his way' and spoke about the profound confidence mountaineering has provided his life. 


In this second part of the interview we discuss mountain politics.


None the least for the benefit of 'solo and unsupported' climbers using the fixed ropes, Alan notes, logistics are here to stay. 


Interestingly he thinks a shift in commercial power is imminent around the big peaks. 5 years from now, he bets, outfitters will go from current 80/20 Western/Nepalese ratio to the 20/80 opposite. 



Explorersweb: What is the situation with the Sherpas in Nepal? We hear that a couple of big Sherpa outfits are now dominating the outfitting business in Nepal - is that correct? 


Alan: The local Nepali companies are growing their business based on clients primarily from India, China and Nepal. Both Asian Trekking and Seven Summits Treks are popular options. The end result is a continuation of the trend of Nepal based companies leading more Everest clients than non-Nepali operators. Ten years ago non-Nepali operators lead 80% of the clients up Everest, I predict in five years that will drop to 20%.


This is one reason prices will continue to go up for the Western operators – more services (Western Guides, food, more oxygen, etc.) at the top vs. a commodity offering at the bottom.


Explorersweb: We are told that these outfits are cheaper but high risk in terms of mountain safety - what’s your take? 


Alan:  In my observations and experience the established commercial operators like Himalayan Experience, Alpine Ascents, IMG, Altitude Junkies, Asian Trekking hire the same Sherpas year after year thus they are trained, experienced and have the client skills needed to support westerners.  


Some of the local Nepali companies have hired staff that had little to no mountaineering experience thus they pay them less than the competition. This all goes towards offering the client a lower price.


In some cases the lack of experience have costs Sherpas their lives or resulted in injury such as not clipping in when crossing crevasse ladders, or not using crampons to go faster.


The bottom line for me is that each climber must go to any mountain with the proper experience and skills and not assume their guide (Nepali or not) will “take care” of them.


Explorersweb:  Mount McKinley in US only allow local (American) outfits. Can we expect similar rules in Nepal favoring native businesses?


Alan: With few exceptions (Argentina with Aconcagua), the model seen on Denali is not transferable to other counties. Most central governments lack the structure, experience and motivation to install these controls. 


Mountaineering is a cash cow for governments and some individuals, so anything that might reduce business in not viewed favorably, even if it is shortsighted.


Explorersweb: What about Pakistan: HAPs there say Sherpa steal their business, on the other hand the locals know they (most of them) are not yet skilled enough. Should there be a tax on Sherpa profits in Pakistan going towards local mountaineering schools?


Alan: I think Sherpas should be encouraged to support the climbs in Pakistan AND Pakistan should put in more programs to train the locals on basic mountaineering skills. 


In 2014, there were about 50 non-Pakistan climbers on K2 and similar numbers on Broad Peak and the Gasherbrums. Some of the climbers who claimed they climbed solo and unsupported used fixed lines set up by Sherpas and a couple of HAPs. Without the Sherpa support, there would have been significantly fewer summits last year on these four mountains. 


If the Pakistan government discourages Sherpas with financial penalties, quotas or any other limitation, they will see a dramatic reduction in permit fees and the associated revenue that is generated by mountaineering.  


In my view it is not a choice between Sherpas or HAPs but rather an “and”.


Explorersweb:  What about the Sherpa vs Sherpa situation: is there a union situation on Everest with ties to the Maoists? What happened to those Sherpa last year who were not organized and wanted to keep climbing on Everest? 


Alan: It is clear the Maoists use mountaineering as a negotiating factor in their wish to control Nepal. They recently announced a strike or bandh in early April 2015, which will hurt the trekking and climbing industry by reducing the number of climbers and trekkers coming to Nepal and scare away future business. 


After the 2014 Everest issues and the deaths on the Annapurna Circuit in the autumn of 2014, Nepal needs to promote flexibility, stability and an openness to tourism. I know from personal conversations with many of the Sherpas who were on Everest in 2014, that they wanted to continue to climb that year and have agreed to climb in 2015. There were a few older Sherpas who “retired” but there is no lack of qualified Sherpas for the best  commercial organizers.


The Everest 2014 conflict was driven by a handful of Sherpas, the same ones who tried the same tactic on Manaslu after that avalanche in 2012. Their primary demands were for more pay, medical insurance and death benefits for the families.


Explorersweb: Who were the Sherpa attacking independent climbers on Everest south side two years back? Is there a place anymore for free climbers on Everest normal route? Can we expect the same development on K2?


Alan:  Everest is a huge mountain and not everyone has to follow there same schedule, so if an independent wants to climb alone, not using Sherpa support, ladders or the fixed line; there is nothing stopping them.


K2 is not Everest in the sense that it requires significant more climbing skills; high 4th class, low 5th class rock climbing through the Black Pyramid for example. Also, K2 is more dangerous with a summit to death ratio of 25% compared to 4% on Everest. Commercial operators are making good money on Everest thus lack the financial incentive to “guide” K2 with such risks.


Next, final: Himalaya, Silicon Valley style: health tech and brain research 


This interview series in full

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


Alan's Blog



Previous with Arnette


ExWeb Special: 2015 Everest and Himalaya Mountaineers Tech Roundtable




Everest 2015: Interesting Expeditions of the Season


Hello from Kathmandu: Tunc Findik going for Annapurna

Tunc Findik interview, final: Anna will have to wait


Horia and Hamor Rope Up for Manaslu North Side Climb and Ski


10 things to do before going off to climb Everest


Wildcard: Everest Rules and Permits 2015



Himalaya 2015 Spring climbing coverage


R.I.P. Samuli Mansikka


Annapurna Rescue Mission Launched: Not Everything is alright


Annapurna: List of Summiteers


Annapurna: Climbers on Final Summit-bid! (Update: Summits)


Annapurna: First Summit Push of the Season Begins


Spring 2015: Early Birds Have Reached Annapurna


Lifesaving Wrong Turn: Unsuccessful but Happy Expedition on Nanga Parbat










K2 base camp
courtesy Alan Arnette, SOURCE
The local Nepali companies are growing their business based on clients primarily from India, China and Nepal, Alan says.
courtesy Alan Arnette, SOURCE
Alan with Sherpa by K2. "In my view it is not a choice between Sherpas or HAPs but rather an 'and'," he says.
courtesy Alan Arnette, SOURCE
"K2 is not Everest in the sense that it requires significant more climbing skills."
courtesy Alan Arnette, SOURCE