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On the Imja Trail

The sharp incline of the short airstrip at Lukla helps the planes decelerate on landing. (Photo by Daene McKinney)

The Khumbu - After a harrowing, we-bounced-when-we-hit-the-ground landing on Lukla’s tiny airstrip, our multinational team started our long trek to Imja Lake.

The weather was gorgeous and the trail uncrowded (it’s the off-season).  After two days of trekking, we have arrived at Namche Bazaar, the economic center of the Khumbu. The town sprouts up around the bowl of the valley and, thanks to the tourism draw of Mt. Everest, is composed almost entirely of massive, brightly colored hotels. Ang Rita Sherpa, born and raised just an hour’s walk away, showed us how many of the huge hotels are made entirely from fitted, unmortared stones. Each of the stones takes a laborer hours to cut into shape.  This is skilled labor, so the stonecutters earn 500 rupees per day — about 7 dollars.

Stonecutters cutting building blocks. (Photo by Daniel Byers)

Ang Rita is a long-time conservationist and activist for the Sherpa people and culture; he has been The Mountain Institute’s Senior Program Manager in Nepal for years.  Last year, he received the prestigious Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Award for his work in the Khumbu. As a native to the region, he’s incredibly excited to see our project underway. We spoke to him about his expectations for the expedition — and what makes this expedition so different from previous scientific journey’s to Imja Lake:

“In the past, scientists met with Sherpa villagers interested in the future of the Imja valley. But the scientists only discussed the threats, not the solutions.  My people were unhappy.  So, The Mountain Institute promised an expedition with solutions. And now, every morning, people call me to ask when the expedition will reach their village – they are very excited for us to talk to them about solutions to the threats from glacial lakes, and how the water from the lakes can be used to help local communities with irrigation, electricity and other practical purposes.”

Ang Rita Sherpa (Photo by Brendan Hickey)

Ang Rita went on to explain that because of the extensive study of the Imja Lake and previous glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) in the Khumbu, the local people are acutely aware of the danger GLOFs pose to them. What they don’t have is a course of action.

“Because of the 1985 Tengboche GLOF disaster, the Sherpa people understand the dangers of GLOFs in the Everest region, a serious problem that is linked to climate change and global warming. I hope that the scientists will provide good discussions and solutions — solutions for the Sherpa people’s future.”

Ang Rita finished by thanking the team for respecting the Sherpa culture.  He asked us to “Come as a friend and as a guest.”

This entry was posted in Imja Lake, Nepal Expedition (2011). Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On the Imja Trail

  1. Pablo Dourojeanni says:

    Greetings Daniel,

    I wish you all the best in the expedition. Please relay this message to all there and tell them that here in Huaraz we will follow your trail as much as we can.

    Un abrazo,

  2. A challenge by operational scientists

    Very good remarks that the scientists pointed threats nut not the solutions. Local perception on Imja water to local community uses in irrigation and electricity can be taken a challenge by operational scientists to devise feasible tools.

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