“Icefall Doctors” at work on Everest (8848m). Ang Nima Sherpa, the leader of the icefall team, died on January 25 at his home in Pangboche. [Photo] Alan Arnette
Ang Nima Sherpa died in his village of Pangboche at age 59 on January 25. He was the leader and one of the longest-serving members of the “Icefall Doctors,” a group of high-altitude workers who maintain the line of fixed ropes and ladders through the Khumbu Icefall to Camp II. The passage accesses the normal routes up Everest (8848m), Nuptse (7864m) and Lhotse (8516m) and is used by hundreds of climbers each year.
Dr. Luanne Freer lived next to Ang Nima in Everest Base Camp for ten years. Freer established the Everest Emergency Room to provide health care for Sherpas, porters and expedition climbers. “We had a little joke–every time we saw each other, we’d walk up, shake hands and say ‘Hello, doctor!’ to each other, and he’d just laugh with his distinctive deep laugh,” she said. “I heard him wake in the morning with his characteristic chanting–saying his mantra as he went about his day was a soothing and regular audio treat for all of us next door.”
Ang Nima first went to Everest in 1975 with Chris Bonington’s expedition, which ended in the first ascent of the Southwest Ridge by Doug Scott and Dougal Haston and the death of Mick Burke. In the following 37 years, Ang Nima worked on several of the mountain’s major routes, including the West Ridge, Southwest Face and South Pillar. In 2006, he said he had lost track of how many times he had been to Everest, but believed it to be more than thirty.
“Ang Nima was the heart and soul of the icefall doctors,” said Freer. “Despite all the hard and exhausting work he did, I never heard him complain. For all the years on the mountain, I only saw him once as a patient, and that was for a terribly painful dental condition. He must have endured lots of injuries and illnesses–everyone does–but once again, never a complaint. When climbers occasionally complained about what they perceived as an especially dangerous route, I’d ask him what he thought. ‘Everywhere danger!’ he’d say, and just smile. He was right, of course.”
A respected member of the Everest climbing community, husband and father of six, Ang Nima will surely be missed.
In 2011, freelance writer (and former Alpinist intern) Molly Loomis recorded an interview with Ang Nima Sherpa for her studies at University of Cambridge. Find the audio file on their website.