Their syringes are ropes, their plasters aluminum ladders. Year after year, the so-called Icefall Doctors “doctor” the ascent route through the dangerous Khumbu Icefall, the passage on the way to the summit of Mount Everest with the greatest objective dangers. With their ladders they bridge deep crevasses, with the fixed ropes they secure the route – and then maintain it throughout the season until the end of May. It’s extremely dangerous work, as the icefall is constantly moving and one of the mighty ice towers can collapse at any time.
Memorize their names!
Without the Icefall Doctors, very, very few climbers per year would reach the highest point on earth at 8,849 meters. And yet they are among the forgotten heroes of Everest, whose names are unfortunately rarely mentioned. So memorize them! This year it is Ang Sarki Sherpa, Chhewang Nuru Sherpa, Dawa Jangbu Sherpa, Dawa Nuru Sherpa, Mingma Temba Sherpa, Pemba Tshering Sherpa, Sonam Tshering Sherpa and Tenzing Dorjee Sherpa who prepare and maintain the path through the ice labyrinth up to Camp 2 at 6,400 meters for the commercial expedition teams.
Ang Sarki Sherpa is the current senior member of the team
A few days ago, they left for Everest base camp. In January, they had taken a three-day first-aid course in the village of Lukla, and now, in the first days of March, they will be trained on ice by instructors from the Khumbu Climbing Center in Phortse – the village with the highest density of climbers on Mount Everest: around 80 inhabitants have already stood on the highest point on earth. For the longest-serving Icefall Doctor in the team, Ang Sarki Sherpa, the course should hold little that is new. The 51-year-old has been earning his money as an Icefall Doctor since 2008.
2,500 to 3,000 dollars bring the Sherpas specialized in the dangerous work home after the season. The Icefall Doctors are selected and paid by the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), an organization that was originally only concerned with environmental protection in the Everest National Park. Since 1997, the SPCC has also been responsible for the route through the Khumbu Icefall on behalf of the government of Nepal. Each expedition member has to pay 600 dollar for the work of the Icefall Doctors.
Icefall Doctor Legends
Only a few Icefall Doctors became famous beyond Nepal. Among them was Ang Nima Sherpa, who passed away in 2013. For 37 years, he made his living in the Khumbu Icefall. In 2021, US adventurer and filmmaker Sean Bench dedicated his documentary “The Icefall Doctor” to him.
Ang Kami Sherpa, who risked his life for 21 years in the icefall and led the Icefall Doctors team for a long time, is now retired. One of the current stars of the Nepalese mountaineering scene also began his career as an Icefall Doctor. Gelje Sherpa worked in the job for five years. He has now climbed 13 of the 14 eight-thousanders, with only Cho Oyu missing from his collection. Gelje was also one of the ten Nepalese climbers who succeeded in making the first winter ascent of K2 in 2021.