It is great to hear from so many schools that they are learning about and making prayer flags. They captivate with their bright colours, connections to the elements, and beauty in natural settings. Prayer flags are an important part of Buddhist and Sherpa culture and you see them flying from mountain summits, mountain passes, on stupas, and almost any windy place that people travel.
Prayer flags mark the entrance to the route through the Khumbu Icefall and they also mark the exit. Icefalls are areas on glaciers/mountains that breed fear into the hearts of mountaineers. They are avoided if possible but sometimes, the only route is through. We try to minimize the exposure to the falling ice dangers by moving as quickly as possible. For a first passage, through the Khumbu Icefall, it will take 6-8 hours. Sherpas do it much faster. This season, the government of Nepal allowed climbing teams to fly the rope and hardware for fixing the rope past camp two by helicopter to camp one. This reportedly saved 85 sherpa trips through the icefall. The 2014 tragedy where 16 sherpa were killed by an avalanche into the Khumbu icefall is fresh on everyone’s minds. The route is now more central to lessen the risk of such avalanches reaching the route. The route through the icefall is maintained by a group of sherpas called “The Icefall Doctors.” They are hired by the national park and each climber pays a fee to use the route.
If you look closely at the picture above, (you might have to zoom in), you can see climbers and sherpas descending the route. I watched them all morning during the Puja. I counted 12 perhaps, you can see more. The icefall scares everyone and we will climb through it in the cold of night to also help mitigate the risk. In my book, I call it a “horrible beautiful place.” Living here beside it once again, those words still stand through and I’m hoping my passage and those of all others are marked by beauty not tragedy.