Ama Dablam report: "What police do you call in the Khumbu?"

Posted: Jan 05, 2006 08:38 pm EST

(MountEverest.net) Scattered reports trickled through the underground pipe last fall: Things were not right on Ama Dablam. Climbers complained about budget expedition leaders dumping huge teams of clients in BC and then taking off. There were thefts in camps and bewildered climbers stumbling over crowded spaces.<cutoff>

ExWeb asked around for details. American 4 time Everest summiteer Luis Benitez has come in with a somewhat resigned report from his Ama climb last fall. Guided for Adventure Consultants, the expedition was a complete success in terms of summits. The climb however, was another story.

Here goes Luis's report:<cutoff>

Imagine you are asleep in your bedroom, window open, nothing between you and the outside but a thin screen covering your window. Now imagine someone coming up to your house, your property, slicing the screen, and then reaching into your room and grabbing whatever was within arms reach.

How would you feel? Or react? Chances are your community would be alarmed, the newspapers would warn of someone around doing this, and the police would be more active in your area to watch out for problems.
<b>Italians and Spaniards robbed</b>

Now, what would you say if I told you that at Ama Dablam basecamp this Fall, 4 Italian tents were sliced open from the back, while climbers were asleep in them, and hands reached in to grab whatever was close? Shocked? Sad, but true.

This incident only deepened a growing concern about expedition theft in the Khumbu area. This season on Ama Dablam, there was the above mentioned incident, plus 2 Spanish climbers, who spent a long day from C3 to BC, dropping gear at C1 that they planned on fetching 2 days afterwards. When they returned, the boots, ice axes, crampons and a stove were gone.

<b>A moral dilemma</b>

This, added onto the usual stories of missing food and fuel at different camps from different teams creates a dilemma for us all, Westerners and Sherpas alike.

We can always talk about the old days, the days when we could leave a wallet outside of our tent and it would remain untouched, but the fact remains that there is a serious moral shift going on, on all sides, and it's time to do something about it.

In my limited study of Buddhism, I am aware of the 4 truths. I wont go into them in detail here, but the feeling is clear: Life is suffering, desire leads to suffering, so working to lessen one's desires helps you follow a simpler path. Somewhere in the chain, these tenets have been put aside for personal material gain.

Frustrating as the events on AD were this Fall, they pale in comparison to the missing gear and O2 on Everest in the past few years. There it was not just an inconvience, but also put lives at risk.

<b>Nothing was done</b>

So getting back to this happening at home, what police do you call in the Khumbu? True, I saw a few various Liaison Officers go from camp to camp enquiring as to if they saw anyone running about camp after the incident, but the fact remains that nothing was done, no one was caught, and the problem persists.

I asked my Sirdar, Ang Tshering, what he thought of the issue. He clearly stated that these acts could only be from lowland porters, not Sherpas. He went on to say that the Sherpas count on the Westerners coming for work, and to put that work in jeopardy by stealing, would be foolish. He told me these things, yet feeling so unsafe about the Italian incident, moved all our members personal gear to the storage tent, and started sleeping in there with our gear when we were on the mountain.

<b>Camp guards in Nepal?</b>

If you have ever been climbing in the Andes, in Peru most teams intentionally bring up to BC a camp guard. This person watches over gear, and camp. The same goes for most climbing in Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, Tibet, and Ecuador that I know of. So why we are so shocked that the same is now happening in Nepal?

Gone are the days of leaving your wallet out and expecting it to be there in 3 days. I think teams being more diligent with equipment, and employing the same tactics that are used in other parts of the world, would be a good dose of common sense. The Sherpas I work with constantly lock up tents and O2 on the South col while doing an Everest trip, they have also now started locking up food and fuel on Ama Dablam.
<b>Believe in Buddha but lock your tent</b>

Here we have a choice, of being proactive instead of reactive. Plus being more aware of who is around camp and why. Once a few of these thieves are caught, and made an example of, word will spread that its not a good idea to steal. Will all this stop the problem? No way. Will it help? You betcha.

I recall a story Jamling Norgay once told me, about the fuel embargo of 1990 in Nepal. He said that when traveling from Jiri to Namche in the spring, he had to seal the caps on all of the jugs of kerosene to prevent people from borrowing fuel. He said it wasnt like people wanted to intentionally steal, they were just being opportunistic. Times are again tough in Nepal, and sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. A pair of Western boots or crampons on the black market could possibly double a porters profit that would end up feeding a family.

So as to not condone the behavior, I have simply become more aware of being flashy with western gear, keeping my clients informed of leaving stuff lying about, and try to interact with my porters to see that they are well looked after, happy, and well paid.
Bottom line is that things will keep disappearing, stolen by Westerners as well as locals, but increasing the awareness around the bigger issues may help us all remember why we are there in the 1st place.

<b>Editor's note - send in the cops</b>

While locking up is important in all crowded spaces, the act will only help so much. In fact, the problem of theft and vandalism is much smaller on Mount McKinley, where climbers and guides are pre-screened by mountain rangers.

In Himalaya, the anonymous crowd of poor lowland porters are frequently put to blame, but the fact is they have always been around and won't climb very high. On Everest, the problems take place at high altitude and are reported to have increased dramatically with the arrival of "unguided" low budget commercial expeditions. Low pay staff and inexperienced clients are left without guidance and leadership - try that in any enterprise and watch what happens.

In only a few short years, Mayor Gulliani managed to transform New York to the safest city in the world after Singapore. His "zero tolerance" method did the trick.

Nepal, China and Pakistan need to learn from peaks such as Denali. Asian Liasion officers should be dispatched for a crash course with the the Alaskan rangers. Send in the cops. The host countries need to monitor the mountaineering commerce and bring in rules for guiding and working in the mountains.

Such measures will not restrict the freedom of climbing, but bring back the freedom of climbing in peace.

<i>Luis Benitez was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1972; his mother Italian/American; his father, an immigrant from Ecuador, Luis has been a busy guide. He has summitted Everest 4 times, Aconcagua 10 times, and stood on other "Seven Summit" peaks 14 times. He's been to Elbrus (5642m) in the old USSR, Ama Dablam, Antarctica (Mt Vinson with Annabelle Bond), and Aconcagua.

In spring, 2005, he attempted an Everest traverse along with a client. In fall, he succesfully guided a team on Ama Dablam. Next, he'll guide another team in Antarctica.

On each of his expeditions, Luis has been dispatching pics and reports over Contact 3.0. Currently single, Luis lives in Boulder, Colorado.</i>
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"Gone are the days of leaving your wallet out and expecting it to be there in 3 days," reported Luis. In the image, AC team sorts out supplies and gear in Ama Dablam BC last fall (click to enlarge).
"At Ama Dablam basecamp this fall, 4 Italian tents were sliced open from the back, while climbers were asleep in them. Spanish climbers left gear at C1 that they planned on fetching 2 days afterwards. When they returned, the boots, ice axes, crampons and a stove were gone. There is a serious moral shift going on, on all sides, and its time to do something about it." In the image, AC climbers approach the Grey Tower (click to enlarge).
Luis suggests climbers to be aware of their belongings and to hire camp guards. He added: "Here we have a choice, of being proactive instead of reactive. Plus being more aware of who is around camp and why. Once a few of these thieves are caught, and made an example of, word will spread that its not a good idea to steal. Will all this stop the problem? No way. Will it help? You betcha. In the image, Luis Benitez on Ama Dablam (click to enlarge).
In the Andes most teams intentionally bring up to BC a camp guard, reports Luis. On Denali instead, climbers and guides are screened by mountain rangers. In the image, Ama Dablam&#039;s BC. All images sent live over Contact 3.0 courtesy of Adventure Consultants (click to enlarge).

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