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Lowville doctor shares experience climbing Everest after Sherpa tragedy

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LOWVILLE — Dr. Manoj R. Vora of Lowville scaled Mount Everest’s summit in 2013, his final climb in his goal to reach the world’s “seven summits.”

After several months making the climb and acclimating himself to the local culture, Dr. Vora returned with insight into the Nepalese guides.

It is an insight he wishes to share following the April 18 avalanche at the Khumbu Icefall that killed 16 people. Thirteen were Sherpas, a Nepalese ethnic group in the Himalayas. For years Sherpas have assisted expedition teams on their quest to the 29,029-foot mountain’s peak.

“Mountaineering as a sport is very dangerous,” the doctor said. “Everyone that partakes in it is fully cognizant of the risks, may it be the climbers or the Sherpas helping the climbers.”

The avalanche caused discontent between mountaineers and Sherpas as the guides refused to make the trek for the rest of the season. Though the mountain has not officially been closed, Sherpas will not work. Some cite safety concerns while others seek better insurance and funds from the Nepal government.

When it comes to wealth, Dr. Vora likens the Sherpas to America’s top 1 percent. He said the average Nepalese income is $500, while the Sherpas make closer to $10,000 to $15,000.

“The inverse relationship between ‘bank balance’ and ‘happiness balance’ has for the first time in centuries become evident in a culture known for perpetual bliss,” Dr. Vora said, attributing the new value system to the West’s influence.

“This mingling with Westerners has insidiously inserted a whole different value system in the Sherpas,” the India native said. “Greed was an unknown quality to this culture, which is now seen routinely.”

“Think of it this way,” he said. “If on the first day of a conflict, 16 American soldiers lose their life doing what they signed up to do, understanding the risks involved, does the entire military go on strike and stop defending the nation? Does the military hold the nation/government at ransom making opportunistic demands? Does the military turn against the very people it has vowed to defend?”

Even so, the doctor described the Sherpas as trustworthy Buddhists with strong family values.

“Please do not get me wrong,” he said. “My heart cries for the Sherpa loss. They are very loyal, to the extent that my personal Sherpa would risk his own life to safeguard mine.”

Dr. Vora acknowledged climbing Mount Everest, especially the narrow passage between the mountain’s east face and west shoulder where the avalanche occurred, is dangerous. The walls of both sides have seracs, or blocks of ice, that dangle over the pass. But it is a risk that mountaineers and guides are well aware of when they climb.

“In 2010, I witnessed one such serac fall,” Dr. Vora said. “Fortunately, the crash happened in an area where no one was present and therefore there was no loss of life. When traveling through the icefall, one is constantly vigilant for any movement that could make the whole flowing river of ice and blocks of snow unstable.”

History has shown that people will always remember those lost, but eventually will move on from the tragedy, Dr. Vora said. Climbing did not halt after the 1996 blizzard that claimed eight lives.

“It was agreed that the mountain would be climbed in the honor of the fallen,” he said. “That to me would have been a more fitting honor for the deceased rather than shutting down the south side.”

“I would invite people to not pass judgment on anything I say too quickly,” he said. “I would invite them to educate themselves with the realities which will help them understand what I say and why I say it.”

Expedition teams are encouraged to climb the mountain, even as support from the Sherpa community has dwindled, according to CNN.

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