Everest Alliance Inception Meeting Highlights

Brot Coburn presenting the Lower Mountain Group

Twenty leading climbers, scientists, and conservationists with a passion for the Mt. Everest region gathered February 9, 2014, to discuss the inception of a new organization called the Everest Alliance. Between them, the group had well over 50 summit assents, nearly a century of cumulative experience of working with the Nepalese government and/or development and conservation, and unlimited affection for the Khumbu and its people.

The group gathered at the American Alpine Club’s headquarters in Golden, Colorado with the goals of:

  1. Deciding whether there was a need for an Everest Alliance as initially proposed by The Mountain Institute,
  2. Sharing potential high level objectives for the Alliance, i.e., an overall “business” purpose and a “value proposition,”
  3. Looking at specific outcomes the Alliance might achieve by the end of 2015,
  4. Reviewing next steps in formalizing and launching the initiative, including structure of the organization.

Following a lively initial discussion that included a review of the Khumbu Conservation Council’s endorsement of the Everest Alliance last December, the group split into two, one focused on the impacts and needs of high mountain’s climbers (i.e., the “Base Camp and Above” group), and the other focused on the conservation, development, and adaptation needs of the villages and ecosystems below.

By the end of the day, the group unanimously agreed that the Alliance would provide an invaluable service if it (1) helped coordinate all the stakeholders and (2) funded projects that accomplish environmental, social, and climate change goals in the Khumbu and above (and eventually in neighboring Makalu-Barun National Park and Buffer Zone and Qomolongma Nature Preserve).

However, before such an Alliance is established, the group emphasized that it must follow careful steps to ensure that no important stakeholders feel left out or otherwise offended, particularly the government, local communities, and trekking/climbing outfitters. It was decided that the best way to reach out to all the national stakeholders would be through a series of one-on-one “tea drinking” meetings in Kathmandu and in the Khumbu this coming May.

Participants thought the Alliance should be open to most stakeholders in the Everest environment: local communities, local NGOs, guide companies, local business associations, scientists, international NGOs, etc.

A by-invitation-only Everest Alliance Working Group has just been formed as a Google Group. HiMAP members who work in the Khumbu or Everest region (or otherwise feel they have something to contribute) are invited to join the discussion. Please send a request to jharlin (at) mountain.org.

Inclusion in the Everest Alliance will likely depend on a stated willingness to abide by certain principles, among which will be:

  • Commitment to the long-term health of the mountain environment and peoples,
  • Commitment to collaborative problem solving,
  • Prioritization of local economic development and quality of life.

Specific “fundamental values” of the Everest Alliance would likely include:

  • Bringing together people, expertise, organizations, and ideas,
  • Developing models for identifying and addressing critical problems,
  • Providing documentation, follow-up, and marketing aimed at on-the-ground results, with an emphasis on local guidance in design and implementation,
  • Applying proven international expertise and best mountain management practices to local problems,
  • Coordinating the multitude of local, international, volunteer, and charitable organizations and initiatives that exist in the Khumbu (e.g., Khumbu Alpine Conservation Council, Himalayan Trust, Sagarmatha Pollution Control Council, Khumbu Climbing Center, etc.) to achieve maximum efficiency and effectiveness,
  • Promoting science- and data-driven decisions,
  • Encouraging revenue transparency,
  • Providing major fundraising efforts beyond what’s possible for existing organizations,
  • Promoting local education about environmental changes and stressors, including those related to climate,
  • Providing incentives for long-term decision making approaches rather than short term “in the present” choices, and
  • Anticipating and mitigating the expected increases in tourism and changes to contemporary economies, lifestyles, and environments once the proposed road below Lukla is constructed.

Everest Alliance inception meeting

Below is a list of those participating in the February 9 meeting. The group was deliberately kept small to be manageable, and many of the participants were already in Colorado to attend the American Alpine Club’s annual fundraising banquet. No one who was not invited should feel any offense, as the actual Alliance will be completely inclusive—and all the real work is still to come. Please join us. 

Conrad Anker:

Conrad Anker is often identified with Everest, though his cutting-edge climbs span Yosemite to Antarctica. His most enduring contribution to Everest was founding the Khumbu Climbing Center through the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation. The KCC provides Sherpas with the skills they need to become safer guides and porters.

Melissa Arnot:

Melissa Arnot is a mountain guide who has stood on the summit of Everest five times, the record for a non-Sherpa woman. She has considerable experience in expeditions that “climb for a cause” worldwide and in the needs of the Sherpa community of the Khumbu who risk their lives on Everest.

Pete Athans:

Pete Athans has been nicknamed “Mr. Everest” for his 16 expeditions on the mountain (seven personal summits), and his work throughout the Himalaya, including with the Himalayan Cataract Project. He has a deep understanding of both the Western climbing and the Sherpa guiding communities.

Luis Benitez:

Luis Benitez guided on Everest for a decade, including six summits. He has led professional expeditions worldwide and now works in leadership development both in his consulting company and with the Vail Corporation. He’s also a board member of Colorado Outward Bound.

Ruth Greenspan Bell:

Ruth Greenspan Bell chairs The Mountain Institute’s board and is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She was a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute specializing in environmental change and security. 

Brent Bishop:

Brent Bishop co-founded the Sagarmatha Environmental Expedition, the first (?) cleanup expedition to Mt. Everest. The SEE’s efforts continue and have removed more than 25,000 pounds of trash from the mountain to date. Brent has climbed Everest twice and serves on NatureBridge’s Olympic advisory board.

Alton Byers:

Alton Byers is the Director of Science and Exploration for The Mountain Institute. He earned his PhD studying the dynamic geography of Khumbu in the 1980s and has been working in the science, conservation, and development of the greater Mt. Everest Ecosystem ever since, including a lead role in founding Makalu-Barun National Park and Qomolongma Nature Preserve and respective buffer zones, as well as founding the Khumbu Alpine Conservation Council and the Alpine Conservation Partnership.

Broghton Coburn:

Broughton Coburn has lived for much of the past four decades in Nepal and Tibet, working for several INGOs in conservation and development. He has written or collaborated on seven books, including four on Mt. Everest.  

Luanne Freer:

Luanne Freer founded and directs the Everest ER, a nonprofit medical clinic on Everest.  Their doctors volunteer their services with a mission to provide excellent experienced care, using funds from relatively wealthy foreign climbers to subsidize free and low cost health care for the Sherpa/Nepali people. Luanne has volunteering in Nepal since 1999 and is one of the few non-Nepali who has been on Everest every single season for over a decade.

John Harlin:

John Harlin was for a decade the editor of the American Alpine Journal, which chronicles first ascents in the Himalaya, including Mt. Everest. He is currently a senior program officer for The Mountain Institute, moderator of the High Mountains Adaptation Partnership community of practice, and is leading the founding of the Everest Alliance.

Rob Hess:

Rob Hess, an owner of Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, was the third American to climb Mt. Everest without oxygen. Rob has also successfully guided Broad Peak (26,440') in the Karakoram of Pakistan. He is the Technical Director of the American Mountain Guides Association, and in 2007 received their Outstanding Guide of the Year award. 

Mark Jenkins:

Mark Jenkins wrote the National Geographic article “Maxed Out on Everest: How to fix the mess at the top of the world,” which inspired the formation of the Everest Alliance. He attempted a new route on the north side of Everest in 1986 and climbed the standard South Col Route in 2012 as a staff writer for National Geographic magazine.

Ellen Lapham:

Ellen Lapham is a long time climber who currently co-chairs the Sustainable Summits Conference, July 2014 in Golden. Ellen co-founded and co-directs the American Climber Science Program that carries out field science programs in mountain regions in Peru (Cordillera Blanca), Nepal (Lhotse & Everest), and Costa Rica. She is an emeritus director of the American Alpine Club and chaired the AAC's Conservation Committee. In 2012 she was awarded the David Brower Award for conservation leadership. Ellen twice attempted Everest from the north: the West Ridge 1986 and the North Ridge1989.  

Stephen McCormick:

Stephen McCormick will be the professional facilitator moderating the inception meeting. He’s a principle at Skillfull Means, specializing in coaxing international non-profits to focus their mission and direction. He has worked at various foundations and for Colorado Outward Bound in both guiding and leadership capacities.

Daene McKinney:

Daene McKinney is a professor in the Environmental and Water Resources Engineering program at the University of Texas, Austin. He is also the co-manager of the High Mountains Adaptation Partnership, which has done much of the pioneering research on glacial lake risks in the Khumbu, including the first ground-penetrating radar studies of Imja Lake’s moraine and bathymetric surveys of its depth, as well as risk modeling and reporting of their research to the affected Khumbu communities.

David Morton:

David Morton is a mountain guide and photographer who has summited Everest six times and is one of the premier international expedition leaders. He works for Alpine Ascents International and is also a photographer, a filmmaker, and has taught at the Khumbu Climbing School.

Phil Powers:

Phil Powers is the Executive Director of the American Alpine Club. He is an owner of Jackson Hole Mountain Guides and has climbed many peaks in the Himalaya, including K2 without supplemental oxygen. He was also a vice president of the Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. He now lives in Denver.

Apa Sherpa:

Apa Sherpa is best known for having climbed Mt. Everest 21 times (as of May 2013). He is also the founder of the ApaSherpaFoundation.org and has a keen interest in providing opportunities to the poorer regions of Nepal, as exemplified by his leadership in the Great Himalayan Trail. He now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Nima Wanchu Sherpa:

Nima Wangchu Sherpa was chief warden at Sagarmatha National Park between 1986 to 1989, and again between 1998 to 2002. He spent the rest of his career as warden at Langtang National Park, Shey-Phoksundo National Park, and Parsa Wildlife Reserve. He was awarded two medals for his conservation work from the late HM King Birendra. He completed his master's degree in range science at Montana State University.

Alana Wilson:

Alana Wilson is a graduate student at the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder, focusing on water chemistry to distinguish the separate contributions to downstream water supply from glacier ice melt, seasonal snow melt, rainfall, and ground water. While most of her research over the past two years has been in Nepal’s Langtang Region, she is familiar with the Khumbu, where she has worked at the Pyramid Station to collect water samples.