Khumbu Climbing Center in NepalSep 04 2014 · 0 comments · Community, Educational, NISHKIAN MONKS, Seismic ·0
Nestling high in the foothills of Mount Everest lies the village of Phortse, a community of Sherpas working together to develop their village. One of the ongoing community project work is the Khumbu Climbing Center, a project of the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation. In 2003 the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation launched the Khumbu Climbing Center to teach basic mountaineering and climbing skills to Sherpas who often make their living guiding on Mount Everest with little or no climbing experience. The climbing center project is being built in honor of Alex Lowe who was widely considered one of the finest all-around mountaineers when he was killed by an avalanche in Pakistan in 1999. The building will be the first structure in this region to be engineered professionally to reduce structural damage from an earthquake and prevent roof collapse due to heavy snow load. Also unique to the region is the building’s passive solar design considerations. The building will be heated entirely by passive heating techniques. The Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation collaborated with the community of Phortse, Montana State University, architect and MSU professor Michael Everts, and structural engineer Ty Monks, P.E., LEED A.P. of Nishkian Monks PLLC in Bozeman, Montana to design and build this new school located in the rural hillsides of Nepal. Once completed, the 3,000-square-foot (279 square meters) building will house classrooms for teaching technical climbing and rescue skills, an indoor training wall, a library, storage room for gears, solar showers, and community center.
Constructing a building in Phortse has a unique set of challenges. There are no roads into the village which is situated at an altitude of 13,000 ft. (3,800 m) in the Himalayan foothills. Every necessity for life must be carried into the area by someone’s back or on a yak. All of the building materials have to be trekked including wood since the Khumbu valley is in a national forest. Because Phortse is located in a high seismic zone region, innovative gabion/steel frames and other engineering strategies are utilized to make the building seismically superior to its neighboring buildings. Besides all the typical engineering challenges, due to the transportation constraints, Nishkian Monks was asked to limit all the individual structural elements to stay below a maximum length of 12 feet (0.6 m) and a maximum weight of 120 lb (54 kg).
Similarly to all the other design consultants, Nishkian Monks provided an in-kind donation of structural engineering services to make the Khumbu Climbing Center project a reality. Since ground-breaking in 2010 volunteer workers report that the process of building the new school has been slow due to rain, lack of reliable transportation, rising inflation, and building material costs in Nepal. Although faced with setbacks and obstacles everyone involved are glad to give back to the Sherpa community.
Sherpas, who are members of an ethnic group known for their skill at high-altitude climbing, put themselves at great risk for the foreign climbing teams that pay them. Among their most dangerous tasks is fixing ropes, carrying supplies, and establishing camps for the clients waiting below, exposing themselves to the mountains first. On April 18, 2014, an ice avalanche on Mount Everest killed sixteen Sherpa guides and seriously injured nine. Climbing officials say that hundreds of people, both foreigners and Sherpas, have died trying to reach the summit, and about a quarter of the death occurred in avalanches. National Geographic Magazine published a special report on the Sherpas. Check out this must-read article written by Chuck Brown with amazing photographs by Aaron Huey, “Sherpas: The Invisible Men of Everest”.
Since 2003, the Khumbu Climbing Center has been showing the world that by helping and educating Sherpas, they’re making Mount Everest expeditions safer for everyone—guides, tourists, and climbers. It is their hope that the new school building will help sustain the climbing program in years to come. The school is currently being built almost exclusively with volunteer labor, pro bono services, and donations from around the world. Phase I and Phase II has been completed, and the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation continues its work to raise funds to complete the construction of this project. To learn more about the Khumbu Climbing Center, visit the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation webpage.
Renderings courtesy of Montana State University – School of Architecture and MSU professor Michael Everts