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Between these points are Camps 1 through 4, each variously equipped with sleeping tents, portable kitchens and toilets, and the near-ubiquitous oxygen tanks that have made high-altitude mountaineering a considerably less dangerous activity – at least for Western climbers – than it was in 1953, when mountaineers Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary became the first people to summit Everest.
Each piece of equipment that supports a Western climber on their push to the summit must be carried up and then back down the mountain, and it is rarely – if ever – carried by the climbers (or ‘clients’, in the terminology of Everest tourism) themselves.
Among his clients in 2014 were several return climbers who had lost out, financially, because of that cancelled climb, and both they and Brice seem at times impatient with the Sherpas’ grief and anger.
Brice grows increasingly frustrated, blaming the unrest among the Sherpas upon a ‘militant’ minority.
But Brice, at least, has an ongoing connection with the Sherpa community, whereas the attitude on display from some of his clients represents the worst of Western entitlement.
One furious American climber first wonders whether the Sherpas’ ‘owners’ can bring them back into line, and then declares that his thwarted climbing plans mean he is ‘being held captive by terrorists’.
But the Sherpa are a close-knit community: they are not only skilled mountaineers but a minority ethnic group within Nepal, with their own language and religious practices.
After the avalanche, the Sherpa made an unprecedented request for Western clients and tour operators to ‘respect the dead and ourselves’ by cancelling the entire climbing season.
Base Camp sits at an altitude of 5400m, and the mountain’s summit at 8850m.Peedom’s resulting feature-length documentary, – which premiered at last year’s Sydney Film Festival and is now in commercial release – is not a film about that record-breaking climb, because it never took place.Early on the morning of April 18, 2014, a multi-million-tonne block of ice ‘the size of a Beverly Hills mansion’ (to quote climber and writer Jon Krakauer) broke loose and crashed through the Khumbu Icefall.A decade later, she was in Nepal to make another film about the Sherpa, with a particular focus on mountaineer Phurba Tashi Sherpa, who, in 2014, before the annual climbing season on Everest began, had summited the world’s highest peak an astonishing twenty-one times.He shared that achievement with another mountaineer, Apa Sherpa, and one more successful summit would have have given Phurba Tashi the world record in his own right.The Icefall is a notoriously dangerous section of the Everest climbing route situated between Base Camp and Camp 1, a shifting glacier where crevasses open up at speed and avalanches occur frequently.The mansion-sized block of ice that fell in 2014 killed sixteen people, all of them Sherpas.A Western client may, on average, traverse the Icefall two or three times during their expedition, but the Sherpas must carry loads of equipment through this treacherous terrain up to thirty times per climbing season. As Russell Brice observes in Peedom’s film, sending the Sherpa guides through the Icefall is like sending them ‘off to war’. Brice appears in as a conflicted and somewhat curmudgeonly figure.He is a highly experienced guide who cancelled his 2012 expedition because of an overhanging ice cliff that he thought represented a grave danger to both clients and Sherpas – an unusual decision, and one that attracted criticism from other tour operators.When the avalanche happened most of the Western climbers were, Peedom says, ‘still asleep in their tents’.Phurba Tashi and his team, employed by New Zealand expedition leader Russell Brice, were unharmed.