World & Canada News - June 1 issue


Risky retrieval of Everest bodies raises climbers’ concern
By Binaj Gurubacharya/The Associated Press/May 30, 2017

The Indian man wept as a helicopter landed in Nepal’s capital carrying the body of his brother, one of hundreds of climbers who have died while attempting to climb Mount Everest.

The body had been left on the mountain for a year until last week, when a team of Sherpa climbers managed to recover it along with two others. But the high-risk expedition, financed with about $92,000 from the Indian state of West Bengal, has sparked heated debate in the mountaineering community about the morality of risking more lives to retrieve bodies from one of the most unforgiving places on Earth.

“It was a very dangerous operation,” West Bengal state official Sayeed Ahmed Baba acknowledged. “It was difficult to find Sherpas who were willing to go. But we had to do it for the families.”

On the helipad Sunday in Kathmandu, Debashish Ghosh felt relief as he watched the Indian team unload the three bodies from the back of the chopper.

Many in the mountaineering community said that peace of mind came with unacceptable risk. Climbers who attempt to scale the world’s tallest mountain know they could die from any number of challenges, including low oxygen, frigid temperatures, strong winds and steep falls. Asking others to carry down the bodies — often much heavier because they are frozen and covered in ice — puts more people in danger, they said.

“It is just not worth the risk,” said Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association. “To get one body off of the mountain, they are risking the lives of 10 more people.”

About 300 climbers have died since Everest was first conquered in 1953, and at least 100 - maybe 200 - corpses remain on the mountain. Most are hidden in deep crevasses or covered by snow and ice, but some are visible and have become macabre landmarks, earning nicknames for their plastic climbing boots, colorful parkas or final resting poses.

The most difficult bodies to retrieve are near the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) summit in the low-oxygen area known by mountaineers as the death zone.

That is where the body of Gautam Ghosh was found last week along with the body of another Indian climber, Ravi Kumar, who died earlier in May after falling from the route on his way down from the summit. A third Indian man who died last year was recovered from the nearby South Col, the last camp at 8,000 metres (26,240 feet) before climbers make their final push for the summit.

Once the team of eight Sherpas reached the bodies, they had to break them from the surrounding ice, wrap them and tie them with ropes and slowly drag them down in high winds to Camp 2, a rocky expanse at 6,400 metres (21,000 feet) that is the highest helicopters can reachExpedition leader Eric Murphy, who last week guided his clients to the summit, criticized the retrieval and said he wouldn’t want anyone to risk their own life to bring his body down if he died on the mountain.

It is often Sherpas who are hired for retrieval expeditions. Climbers from the ethnic group that has lived for centuries around Everest have become an integral part of the Himalayan mountaineering world, and rely on the pay they can earn during the three-month climbing season to carry their families through the year.

Despite the danger of bringing down bodies, climbers are often asked to do so by the families of those who die, said Dan Richards of Global Rescue, a Boston-based agency specializing in mountain rescue.

Of the six people who died on Everest this year, only the body of an American doctor was left on the mountain.

“It becomes much more dangerous than simply climbing if you’re attempting to recover and transport a heavy load,” Richards said. A recovery team faces the same risks as climbers, including altitude sickness, edema, frostbite, hypothermia as well as accidents and avalanches.

But some believe the dangerous effort is still worth it.

“It is always better to bring down the bodies, which also leaves the mountain cleaner,” said veteran mountaineer Reinhold Messner, who was the first to scale Everest without bottled oxygen and climb the world’s 14 highest peaks. 


Trudeau stands by decision on Trans Mountain pipeline despite B.C. result
B.C. New Democrat and Green parties reached agreement to form government Monday, both oppose expansion
By Staff - The Canadian Press/May 16, 2017

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government's support for the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline was based on what's in Canada's best interest, and will not change even if the position of a new provincial government does.

"The decision we took on the Trans Mountain pipeline was based on facts [and] evidence, on what is in the best interest of Canadians," he said during a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in Rome on Tuesday.

A deal announced Monday between the NDP and the Green Party has poised British Columbia for a change in government, following confirmation of a tight provincial election result earlier this month that saw Christy Clark's Liberals fail to win the majority of seats in the legislature.

More details on the scope of this agreement are expected Tuesday, but the two parties campaigned against expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Clark's government was supportive.

"Regardless of a change in government, in British Columbia or anywhere, the facts and evidence do not change," Trudeau said. "We understand that growing a strong economy for the future requires taking leadership on the environment.

"We have to do those two things together. That is what drives us in the choices we make, and we stand by those choices," the prime minister said.

Provinces 'cannot unilaterally stop projects'

In a statement early Tuesday, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said she's confident the two provinces could work together on important issues should the new accord result in an NDP-led government in B.C.

But "it is no secret that we have one important disagreement," she said, describing the Trans Mountain expansion as "critical" to both Alberta's economy and the national economy.

"It comes with significant safety measures that will better protect Canada's West Coast and Alberta's commitment to a world-leading climate plan," the statement said. "Because of that, the National Energy Board and the federal government, which has ultimate responsibility, approved it after a rigorous environmental review."

Notley said provinces "do not have the right to unilaterally stop projects such as Trans Mountain that have earned the federal government's approval. This is a foundational principle that binds our country together.

"There are no legal tools available to provinces to stand in the way of infrastructure projects that benefit all Canadians. We will use the means at our disposal to ensure that the project is built."

Federal MP Nathan Cullen, who represents a coastal riding in northern B.C,, said he was confident that his fellow New Democrats Notley and John Horgan, who could be B.C.'s next premier, would "find some ways to have a conversation about this."

In the meantime, he reminded reporters Tuesday that the federal Liberals had also broken their promise for a credible environmental review of the expansion.

"Clearly it's proven to be a major thorn in the side of British Columbians who are being asked to take an extraordinary amount of risk for very little to no benefit," Cullen said.

"It was never a sure thing," he said. "This project has always had problems. Pipelines don't go to IPOs in my experience and then have to downgrade their offering before they go to tender."

12 legal challenges underway

Also in Ottawa, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said the B.C. government has the right to do its own environmental review of the project. Provincial permits are required for river crossings along the pipeline expansion route.

"I don't believe a full-blown constitutional battle between British Columbia and Canada will be in anyone's interests," she said, saying she didn't want to pre-judge what may be in the agreement between the NDP and the B.C. Green party, making it clear that she doesn't speak for her provincial counterpart.

"I don't think that Justin Trudeau wants to expropriate a pipeline route," she said. "I don't think they want to be declaring that kind of top-down, federal-provincial expropriation. I can't see that happening. It's too extreme."

May pointed out there are many challenges before the courts that could see the federal permits for the pipeline's construction quashed for violations of procedural fairness during the National Energy Board's hearings.

Indigenous rights issues are also being challenged in court.

A new provincial government may intervene in these cases to support the First Nations, municipalities and environmental groups who want the expansion stopped.

"There are about 12 different significant legal challenges already before the courts on different grounds. Any one of which could quash the permits," she said. "I think it's dead."

Private landowners may want compensation if the pipeline goes ahead.

"I wouldn't want to invest in it. And I sure don't think that they can go forward to investors on their IPO offering and say they have all the permits in yet," she said. "This is a long way from a done deal."

'They just want him to stay away'

"We've been clear from the start that this pipeline has federal approval," said Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr after cabinet Tuesday. "We will be patient and we will wait for the process in British Columbia to work itself out."

Later in question period, Carr said the federal review of the Trans Mountain expansion was "the most exhaustive in the history of pipelines in Canada." The NEB made 157 recommendations, while a ministerial panel went up and down the line consulting with people before concluding the pipeline is in the national interest.

"I think the prime minister's been put in a very difficult position," said B.C. Conservative MP Mark Strahl. "He said on Nov. 30 when he approved this pipeline that he would not let any political arguments stand against it.

"He now has to champion the project or it won't get built," he said. But federal Liberal MPs from B.C. don't want Trudeau campaigning. 

"They just want him to stay away. I think they'd be quite happy if this pipeline was killed," Strahl said.

At least one B.C. Liberal MP disagreed his caucus was divided.

"On the ground, people want it. People want economic prosperity in British Columbia and that is what we are looking forward to," said Sukh Dhaliwal.