Russell Brice, Founder of world renowned guiding company ‘Himalayan Experience’, made the first ascent of the Three Pinnacles on Everest’s North East ridge in 1988.
He has 14 ascents of 8000m peaks under his belt, and has arranged and overseen the summit of thousands more for his clients.
Ahead of the AGS summit attempt, we caught Russell for a rare ‘spare hour’ when he was still at home in Canberra in March before leaving for Kathmandu ahead of the 2019 Everest season.
We posted the first half of Russell’s interview last week, which you can see in the News feed below. Here is the 2nd half.
Every year there are increasing levels of repetitive discourse focusing on the Nepali government wanting to do more to alleviate and prevent corruption regarding Everest.
What are your thoughts on this – is there any visible improvement? What are they actually doing to make improvements, or is it all just talk?
We as operators have seen the level of corruption in Nepal for many years. Actually, I feel that it is getting even worse, but also involving much more sophisticated operations, and often to a very high level in the government departments. I suspect that the end result is just more talk, rather than actually doing something about the corruption and trying to improve the safety and standards for climbers and trekkers.
It is so easy for the local Nepali climbing outfits to claim that Western operators are stealing their business and do not have the benefit of their ‘local knowledge’. We know that many of them lack vital equipment, logistics capabilities, advanced weather forecasting and fully qualified guides – all which should come as standard. How true is this, and how do the western operators differ?
There are some very good local operators, and I am proud of them for having risen to this more exacting standard. The western operators have been working in the country much longer, and during that time we have been able to impart much of our knowledge to the local operators. Seeing them take advantage of this is great to see.
However, there are some local operators who are cheating on everything, and it shows in their death rates and also injuries to their own local staff. It appears that some of these same companies are also involved with high level corruption and their repeated deaths aren’t disclosed or reported on.
They do a great job of hushing things up and it is petrifying to think that clients book with them without knowing any of this.
Sadly, there are also large and very well known operators who have horrendously bad safety records and high death rates. There is one operator, no names mentioned… which has lost 27 people on expeditions in just 7 years are hugely corrupt.Every year they will accept up to 80 clients for an Everest expedition in order to take their money, but their tactics are to then strip them down to a manageable number which they can actually feasibly support on the mountain.
In the first 1 to 2 weeks of the expedition they try to get a 3rd of these clients to go home…..all one at a time on a “rescue helicopter”. Then over the next 2 to 3 weeks they need to get another 1/3 to go home, but try now to stage the ‘helicopter rescue’ from C2, where they can charge even more for this extraction. That leaves them with a manageable sized team to get to the summit, and which they then have adequate logistics to support.
Of course they have set up their own helicopter company so that they are profiting from these evacuations.
There is so much talk in media about the unacceptable levels of litter and waste on the mountain - specifically at Base Camp. Is this true, what is being done about this and who is doing what to improve this?
There was a major litter problem many years ago, but the western operators worked hard to resolve this problem, and so cleaned the area up considerably, especially at Base Camp.
In recent years, the less organised local operators have again been leaving their garbage around at various camps. It costs a lot to remove rubbish so these operators do not want to spend this money to look after the environment.
However, this is not to be confused with a sudden increase of rubbish at Camp 2. This was caused when access to Camp 2 was suddenly impossible in 2014 because of the icefall avalanche and then in 2015 due to the earthquake. These were fully operational camps, but when one does not have access to them, they are destroyed and the detritus becomes garbage.
This last year we saw a sudden surge of graffiti on rocks and rubbish being left by day trekkers to BC. I suspect that this is partly due to some local operators which lack environmental consciousness and also to the demographic of the average trekker which has changed.
Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC) is supposed to control this. They put big bonds on us as expedition operators, but have no control over the trekker.
Himex leaves nothing behind, we remove all of our rubbish (including human waste) from all the high camps, and we are bound to remove all rubbish from BC. It is how we have always operated.
Base Camp must be a very different place every year and it must feel drastically altered to how it was just 10 years ago. There are many vast changes, such as wifi in certain camps etc. What are the pro’s and con’s of this increased ‘comfort’ for climbers, do you think the increasing provision of services is all positive – do people really need this?
There have been vast changes over the years, and most of these come due to our increasing experience. The media often calls some of these developments unnecessary ‘luxuries’, but what experienced operators have found is that many of these features increase safety and success on the mountain.
The standard of meals has improved - giving the climber much better physical and nutritional health and thus strength for the summit.
Hot showers might seem like a luxury, but in fact this improves the general hygiene in the camp, and so we very rarely have sickness. If a bout of sickness develops in a camping community it can spread like wild fire and can wipe out the chances of a summit bid for an individual or whole team. This is why the HimEx camp is set well away from all other operators at Base Camp, and visitors come to the HimEx camp by invitation only. This is not because we are operating some sort of exclusive members club – but because the health, hygiene and fitness of my clients and my team is paramount.
We have much better medical facilities and far better performing and more efficient oxygen systems, which also improves safety significantly.
We used to use satellite phones for communication, but now local communication providers are enabling wifi and mobile phone connectivity, at a more reliable and cheaper cost. This has also allowed us as operators to obtain much advanced weather forecasting, which is a vital safety factor.
However, this advance in the provision of services does of course bring disadvantages….. social media. Many people are more engrossed in their social media than they are in the task at hand, to climb Everest. We also have many misleading comments on social media, normally posted by someone who has no real understanding of the current situation. But sadly, this is just a reflection of the rest of the world. This is of course an extreme example but there have been instances of families back at home hearing of the death of their loved one on social media or of accidents on the mountain, and in fact erroneous information has been spread. Everyone wants to be the first to comment on a situation or to be the harbinger of news - sometimes with dire consequences.
Helicopters have become an integral part of Everest climbing in recent years, they can be very helpful for logistics. For the last three years we have been using helicopters to carry all the rope fixing equipment from BC to C2 and so avoiding about 38 porter loads through the icefall which as you know is one of the most dangerous sections of the climb. The more we can reduce the requirement for loads going through, the more we reduce the likelihood of accidents.
However with this, we have also seen an increase in fraudulent helicopter rescues for trekkers as well as mountaineers, again conducted by the corrupt local operators.
HimEx has always been globally renowned for its faultless attention to safety on the mountain, your unrivalled summit success and also your unsurpassed client safety record. You have never been one for TV cameras, social media and your own PR. Is this all linked!?
Thank you for these kind comments. Yes this is a difficult, dangerous and demanding guiding assignment and even after many years of experience it requires complete concentration. There are many who promote themselves via social media and films, but I have always preferred to provide the logistics for a film crew so as they can feature others as they strive to achieve their dream. Film crews require different logistics to normal climbing team members so they present their own challenges, and all of this has to be taken care of at the same time as operating an Everest expedition. Again – my focus is always on my staff and HimEx team and my climbing clients and not promoting myself on social media. I barely have time to blog and sometimes only manage one or two blogs throughout the whole Everest season !
Many thanks again to our lead sponsor Olympian Homes for enabling the AGS team to climb with the best, giving us the best chance of safety and success.
For more information on Russell Brice and his world renowned guiding company - visit www.himalayanexperience.com