American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Khumbu Climbing School

  • Notes
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2004

Khumbu Climbing School

The Sherpa people of Nepal visit the mountains for reasons quite different than the western climber. For the Sherpa of Nepal climbing is by and large a vocation. The level of risk these climbers accept while working is very high. Consequently, the Sherpas have the highest fatality rate of any nationality while on climbing expeditions. Despite being well known for their stamina and ability to carry heavy loads in the thin air of the Himalaya, they generally lack the years of training that western climbers have.

The goal of the Khumbu Climbing School (KCS), founded by the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation, is to lower the injury and fatality rate among the Nepali climbers who work and climb in the Himalaya. This goal is to be achieved by improving the safety techniques of the Nepali climbers. The program is based on instruction, practice, application, and testing of technical climbing skills.

The inaugural school in winter 2004 provided instruction, practice, and testing of climbing skills. The instructors assessed the skill level of the participants and tailor the instruction. The western guides focused on presenting climbing as we were introduced to it: recreationally. The sense of enjoyment that one receives from climbing is as much of the message as the technical skills. The class took place in the village of Phortse, a one-day walk from Namche Bazaar in the Khumbu region. The course lasted seven days (February 15-20, 2004) and consisted of two classroom days and four days in the field. The course was planned in the winter to time it with the expedition off season. The instruction focused on ice climbing as the skills are similar to what is used on the high peaks. A series of ice flows on the northern flank of Khumbila Peak provided a practical schoolroom for instruction. At least a dozen climbs of varying degrees of difficulty exist within a several hour walk of Phortse.

Thirty-two students took part in the school this February. The class had eight novices with the balance having worked with climbing expeditions. The novices were split between attending as a way to gain employment in the trade and attending for recreational purposes. The experienced climbers have worked on expeditions to Everest, Cho Oyu, Manaslu, Makalu, Shishapangma, Ama Dablam, and as guides for the “trekking” peaks. The instructors came from the western U.S. All the instructors have been climbing and/or guiding for many years in an alpine setting: Conrad Anker, climber and private guide; Chris Booher, International Mountain Guides; Topher Donahue, photographer and guide; Steve Gipe M.D., climber and emergency medicine; Harry Kent, Kent Mountain Adventures; Adam Knoff, Mountain Link; Jon Krakauer, climber and writer.

The 2004 school produced a 40-minute video in Nepali focusing on the fundamentals of belaying and rope work. It was duplicated in Kathmandu into VHS and DVD formats and is being distributed free of charge to trekking agencies, tea houses, embassies, and the Nepal Mountaineering Association. If you would like a copy of this film please contact

The KCS is an ongoing enterprise. The hope is to have a school that is run and maintained by the people of Nepal. Our goal is to get the ball rolling and provide help in making the school a viable operation. Perhaps the best measure of the school’s effectiveness was a comment from Palding, a student in this year’s class: “I have always felt like a yak working for expeditions; now I am a climber.”

Conrad Anker, The Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation, AAC

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.