Thursday, May 17, 2007

At base camp, headed home soon

(note: new photos have been posted to the entry below this one)

By, Stephen Speckman

After reaching the summit this week of the world's tallest peak,
Utahns Apa Sherpa and Lhakpa Sherpa took part in what was a grim
reminder of how Mount Everest can claim lives in an instant.

Summit team members of the SuperSherpas Expedition, led by Apa and
Lhakpa, reached the 29,035-foot peak at about 9 a.m. Wednesday in
Nepal. Around the same time, an avalanche hit near base camp, where
a SuperSherpas celebration included banging on pots.

"It seemed like the gods were chiming in their own way," Roger
Kehr said about the avalanche.

There was no direct hit on the camp and everyone there came away
uninjured as the SuperSherpas and other teams celebrated the world's
first all-Sherpa team ascent of Everest. The climb also marked Apa's
17th successful summit, a number that no one in history has matched.

But the so-called gods had a different message for members of a
team of Korean climbers, who lost two people to the mountain this
week. Oh Hee-joon, 37, and Lee Hyun-jo, 34, both died, either in a
separate avalanche as reported by Apa or, according to two Web sites
devoted to Everest news, in a fall while attempting to summit.

Every year foreigners and Sherpas die on Everest and some of the
bodies are never found. If they're found, like the two Korean
climbers, Herculean efforts are made to get them off the mountain.

Apa and Lhakpa were on their way to base camp when they came upon
what was most likely a recovery effort. They helped to lower the two
climbers down the infamous Icefall, an obstacle that is in constant
motion. It's an area, located not far from base camp, where climbers
remain as quiet as possible out of fear a loud noise will cause a
chunk of the icy formation to shift or break off.

"I lost three friends last year on that ice fall," said Kehr, who
was with the SuperSherpas team until he became ill and had to return
to Utah.

The bodies of the two Koreans were cared for, apparently without
incident, and as of Thursday afternoon in Utah (Nepal is 12 hours
ahead of Utah) the entire SuperSherpas team was back at base camp,
tired, recovering from stomach problems in two cases, but safe and

"This all started with a dream that somehow we, the team, could
change the way the world looked at the Sherpa and Nepali people,"
Kehr said. "We're sort of pinching ourselves. People will finally get
to understand that the word Sherpa refers to an incredible group of
human beings and not just a bunch of porters. It's got all the pieces
of a great story."

It's estimated that the SuperSherpas team will reach Katmandu
around May 19 for a "hero's welcome" there. Within the next few weeks
Apa and Lhakpa, along with his three children currently still living
in Nepal, should be back in Utah.


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