The news coming today from Mount Everest, the highest mountain the world, is grim--12 Sherpa climbers are confirmed dead after an avalanche in the Khumbu Icefall and another four are still missing. This is the deadliest climbing disaster in history on Mount Everest.
In the morning today, April 18, about 50 Sherpa guides were climbing up the icefall through an area called the Popcorn Field above Base Camp just below 19,0028 feet (5,800 meters) to fix ropes to allow easy passage for climbers. At about 6:45 a.m. the avalanche swept down the South Face of Mount Everest, burying much of the group. The avalanche occurred when a huge serac or ice chunk broke off a glacier on the face above the Khumbu Icefall.
Climbers have been searching for both victims and the eight survivors today, with injured climbers being taken off the mountain by helicopter to hospitals in Lukla and Katmandu. Recovered bodies are being returned to Everest Base Camp. Over 100 climbers, both Sherpas and westerners, are trapped on the mountain above the icefall.
Alan Arnette, an experienced Mount Everest climber in Colorado, told CBS News, "It took out many of the ladders, so this has now trapped over 100 climbers above the collapse, and also no one can climb below it. So, basically, Everest has come to a complete stop at this point, and I'm sure many of the teams are reevaluating exactly how they want to move forward."
American climber Conrad Anker wrote earlier today, "Himalayan climbing is a dangerous game and no group bears this burden more than the Sherpa of Nepal. To stock the high camps with food, fuel and oxygen the Sherpa will make multiple carries through the Khumbu Ice Fall. Moving a meter a day with millions of tons of mass, it is the most dangerous location humans climb on a regular basis. The Sherpa will make four times as many carries as their customers, exposing them to much greater hazard. With the accident in the ice fall it comes home to roost. Our sport carries a very high price. With empathy to the families and a tear for my good friend Ang Kaji Sherpa. We miss you. So very sad."
The previous worst tragedy on Mount Everest was on May 11, 1996 when 8 climbers died in a fierce snowstorm high on the mountain. Six Sherpa guides were also killed in an avalanche in 1970.
Photograph above: Nuptse, a spur peak of Mount Everest, towers above the treacherous Khumbu Icefall, scene of today's deadly avalanche that killed at least 12 Sherpa climbers. Photograph © Paula Bronstein/Getty Images