April-early July

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Everest Disaster, Chapter II. Not content with the eight deaths highly publicized in American news media , the gods of Everest, after waiting about two weeks, claimed one more victim. This was Bruce Herrod, one of three South Africans who, after reaching the summit May 23 in that country's first attempt on the world's highest mountain, disappeared on his way down. The expedition, which was led by Ian Woodall and originally sponsored by The Sunday Times of Johannesburg, had aroused national interest in its home country. Yet there were troubles from the beginning. They seem first to have surfaced at base camp. Woodall, a former British military officer, was said to be "overwhelmed" by logistics but unwilling to share authority. The team doctor was dismissed and three of the most experienced climbers quit in disgust, calling Woodall a "despot." The editor of the Times, who had flown to the mountain to see what was going on, was physically threatened by Woodall after the latter had abandoned two of the paper's exhausted and oxygen-starved reporters in the freezing cold "to teach them a lesson." Later, the Nepalese government threatened to arrest Deyshun Deysel, one of two women climbers who had been forced by Woodall to compete with each other for the privilege of climbing above base camp. They had discovered that Miss Deysel, who is black, had never been listed on the team's climbing permit (although Woodall's 69-year-old father, who was following the climb from his home in Johannesburg was included as an expedition member). Now without sponsorship and reduced to three climbing members, the team won back some good feeling by helping rescue climbers caught in the storm of May 10. On the 23rd, Woodall, Herrod, and Cathy O'Dowd (winner in the women's contest) started for the summit. Woodall reached it alone around 9:30 am. O'Dowd arrived not long afterwards, at which point the climbers telephoned their parents in South Africa to tell them where they were. Seven hours after the two started back down, Herrod radioed to say that he was on the summit and was about to descend. That meant he would be climbing down over dangerous territory in the dark. Two hours later, radio contact with him was lost and he was not seen again. Because the Nepalese government ("for reasons that are unclear") cut off live radio reports from base camp, the question of whether the two descending climbers encountered Herrod on his way up and if so, what he said at that time, was not answered. (The New York Times, May 28)

Everest Miracle. "We have performed a miracle today," reported David Breashears from the summit of Mt. Everest on May 23. He and nine others in his party had reached the top of the world's highest mountain in good order, carrying, among other things, a 35-pound IMAX camera and enough film for two and a half minutes of coverage of the event. It will later be shown on giant screens around the world in a 40-minute motion picture, Everest. For one of the climbers, Jamling Tenzing Norgay, this was a duplication of his father's famous first climb with Sir Edmund Hillary, 43 years ago almost to the day. The ninth member of his family to reach the summit, he follows Peter and Edmund Hillary (and Brent and Barry Bishop) as a son trailing a father to the summit (the Tenzings are the first Sherpa family to accomplish this). With Breashears and Jamling were Ed Viesturs of Seattle (making his fourth ascent, three without oxygen), Arraceli Segarra Roca of Barcelona (the first Spanish woman to reach the top), filmmaker and mountaineer Robert Schauer of Graz, Austria, and four Sherpa camera and climbing assistants. Lhakpa Dorje Sherpa, who also climbed without oxygen, was Sherpa Leader. You will be able to watch all this, including Jamling making a satellite telephone call to his wife from the summit, when the film, which will also document the life and culture of Nepal and its Sherpas, is released in early 1998. As it turned out, they were not the only people on the summit that day. Who else would you expect to find up there but Ang Rita Sherpa, who had just completed his 10th ascent. (MacGillivray Freeman Films Everest IMAX Project Update, May 23, and Norbu Tenzing Norgay)

Making a Dent in the World's Highest Garbage Dump. The Ministry for Tourism and Civil Aviation awarded letters of commendation to Sonam Gyaljen Sherpa and his 19-member Everest clean-up expedition, who spent 50 days and sent members as high as the South Col to bring back two tons of garbage, including quantities of empty oxygen cylinders, an unidentified dead body ("a huge man who seemed to be a Westerner"), and a fragment of an Italian helicopter that crashed in 1979. Nepal Mountaineering Association, which organized the expedition is planning others to remove more than 15 tons of trash and ten bodies still on the mountain. ("If Nepalis can clean up trash at 28,000 feet," asked its president, Dawa Norbu Sherpa, "why can't they clean up the garbage in Kathmandu?") The Sherpa effort coincided with a similar clean-up expedition on the north side of Mt. Everest conducted by the Chinese. It was the plan of the Chinese that in their four days on the mountain, they would send out 5,000 commemorative envelopes from a base camp post office, set up a monument, and release a hot air balloon. (Kathmandu Post, April 29; The Nepal Digest; Spotlight, June 14)

No Big Deal. Goran Kropp, 28, jumped on his bicycle in Sweden, rode some 7,000 miles to Jiri, the nearest roadhead to Mt. Everest, and started hiking. No thanks, he did not need nor want any help carrying his tent, food, and all the equipment he required for climbing the world's largest mountain. He would carry it on his back. On May 19, he was standing on the summit, having climbed without ropes, ladders, or supplementary oxygen. Then he returned to Jiri and bicycled home. Kropp has climbed other high peaks solo, including K2. The Ericksson mobile phone manufacturing company paid the $50,000 royalty fee required by the government for the climb. (The Independent, June 26)

Next Time Maybe a Rabbit Costume. Now that more than 650 people have reached the summit, it becomes harder and harder for any one Everest climber to distinguish himself. Yet Lhopsang Jangbu Sherpa of Rolwaling, who has now climbed the world's highest mountain four times without oxygen, will be recognized by his clothing. As a member of the American Mountaineering Expedition, the 23-year old climbed to the summit in early May wearing a Siteriyo Karate outfit with a black belt. On his previous climb, he wore traditional Sherpa clothing, and on the climb before that, Nepali national dress. (Rising Nepal, May 25)


Bomb Scare. RNAC Flight 201 was fully loaded and ready to take off for Bombay when authorities received an anonymous telephone call warning that there was a time bomb concealed on the B-757 jet. Although the threat had every indication of being a hoax, the plane was removed to a remote part of the runway and searched. After four hours, it was declared safe and took off. (Kathmandu Post, June 25)


Road Safety Among World's Worst. Nepal has one of the worst road-safety problems in the world. Last year's total of nearly 1,000 persons killed in all of Nepal in road accidents represents an increase of about 50 percent. The largest number of deaths involve pedestrians and one third of these are of young people under the age of 16. Nepal Police have begun a campaign to improve the behavior both of drivers and pedestrians. Besides adding four pedestrian overpasses in Kathmandu, efforts will be made to emphasize to drivers that pedestrians have priority in "zebra" crossing zones, and to deal with the problem of "reeling around the footpath in heavy traffic areas." (Kathmandu Post, May 21)

One of Worst Accidents Ever. Twenty-seven commuters, mostly men, were killed in one of the worst ever road accidents, when a bus headed from Tansen for the Terai city of Butwal, plunged into the Tinau river. (The Independent, July 10)


Mysterious Disease. "I could not have even imagined such a disease in my dreams," said a priest in an important temple in Bajura. He was referring to a mysterious illness that has taken at least 194 lives in Bajura and neighboring Achham districts in far western Nepal. Symptoms include coughing and sneezing, and victims are said to die within 24 hours. Most victims have turned to witch doctors in the belief that the disease is a curse sent by God to punish them for their sins. They have little choice. Although a team of medical experts visited the area with the Minister of Health several months ago, they returned to Kathmandu after having "achieved no positive results." Since then, medical care has been left in the hands of an Assistant Health Worker who runs the hospital in Bajura, and a single doctor who "visits the hospital off and on" in Achham. Medicines sent from Kathmandu arrive after expiry date. Twenty-four sub-health posts are manned by "peons." They have been told, they say, not to speak about the disease. "We don't care who dies and what makes them die in these places where it's hard to make ends meet." (Kathmandu Post, May 17)

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Contents copyright © 1996, Robert Peirce.
Revised: 29 April, 1996