Friday, February 4, 2011

Khumbu Climbing School

A couple of days ago I left the village of Phortse having completed my second year as a volunteer instructor for the Khumbu Climbing School.  The mission statement for the KCS is:

To increase the safety margin of Nepali climbers and high altitude workers
by encouraging responsible climbing practices in a supportive and community-based program

The KCS provides basic and advanced climbing instruction to the Sherpas and other ethnic groups in Nepal who are employed as guides for mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas, including Mt Everest.  Many people assume that all the Sherpas are elite mountaineers and experts in their local terrain.  This is true for the experienced Sherpas, but for the aspirant Sherpa guides their occupation can be quite dangerous.  Most of their training comes on the job and Mt Everest is not the safest place to learn. 
The Village of Phortse
This year we had one student who had summited Mt Everest 8 times but did not know how to tie basic climbing knots. It is surprising that many of these Nepalis work on the highest mountains in the world with so little formal mountaineering instruction.  

Learning to ice climb
The goal of the KCS is to eventually train the Nepalis to be instructors so that they can run the school themselves.  2011 was the eighth year of the program and for each of the instruction groups, Nepalis now serve as the lead and assistant instructors with the American volunteers acting as safety observers. 

Rock climbing instruction
In addition to mountaineering instruction, the KCS provides some basic first aid training and English vocabulary.
First Aid Training
The KCS is run every winter when the guides are not busy working.  For the village of Phortse the KCS provides economic activity during a slow time of year when their are few trekkers and climbers around.

Even the local children want to learn their knots
At the end of the course there is a day of testing where students have to demonstrate in the field what they have learned.  The students are awarded points for skills like belaying, rappelling, ice climbing, climbing fixed ropes. knots, and first aid.  If they score a minimum amount of points they graduate and are given a certificate.   

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