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Burmese Everest team postpones summit attempt

Four of the Burmese expedition team, pictured near Everest Base Camp on Wednesday before they had to abandon plans to scale the summit.

A team of five Burmese mountaineers have been forced to postpone a plan to climb Mount Everest in the wake of an avalanche that last week killed 13 porters, with three missing, presumed dead.

The five Burmese – Namar Johnsin, Sai Kyaw Wunna Soe, Ye Min Thu, Kee Yo Twee, Sai Kyaw Thu Htwe – would have been the first from their country ever to scale Everest, the world’s highest mountain at 8,848m (29,029 ft). They were training at altitude in the Nepalese Himalayas for an attempt on the summit when disaster struck on 18 April.

On Tuesday, a coalition of guides and porters declared that they would not climb the mountain again this year in honour of the deceased. The Nepali government announced soon after that Everest is officially closed for 2014, effective immediately. It said it will honour the current climbing permits for up to five years.

“Amid the discrepancy between the government of Nepal and the guides, we are compelled to postpone our mission to raise the Burmese flag on Everest,” the Burmese squad wrote on their Facebook page.

“We have trained for this mission in harsh weather with unrelenting determination,” they said. “Having to make the decision to turn back makes our chests heavy and brings tears to our eyes.”

The Burmese team, having hiked back to Periche from Mount Everest base camp, returned on Thursday to Nepali capital Kathmandu. They said they are still determined to fly the Burmese flag on the peak of the world’s highest mountain.

Their adventure to scale Everest had been sponsored to a large degree by Burmese tycoon Tay Za through his Htoo Foundation, subsidiaries of the Htoo Group and Air Bagan.

The 16 porters and guides, mostly ethnic Sherpas who are indigenous to the Himalayan foothills, were carrying supplies from one camp to another when a serac, or ice tower, collapsed, causing an avalanche at the perilous Kumbu Ice Field, which stands at 19,000 feet on the Nepali side of the summit.

The deaths last Friday bring the total number of fatalities on the mountain since 1922 to more than 250, the vast majority Sherpa porters, and has again raised questions about whether impoverished ethnic men should be made to pay the ultimate price for the whimsical fantasies of the international elite.

Guiding on Everest is not only dangerous but ethically fraught, said Grayson Schaffer, a senior editor at Outside magazine who published an extensive investigation of the socio-economics of Sherpas on Everest in 2013.

“But shutting the industry down would anger the outfitters, clients, and, most of all, the Sherpas,” Schaffer wrote on Friday. “That last group would lose jobs that pay between US$2,000 and $6,000 per season, in a country where the median income is $540 per year.”

The answer, he wrote, “isn’t decreasing, or ending, the climbing business on Everest; the solution is increasing the value of a Sherpa life.”