HEIGHT OF VANITY

Everest's Sherpas Are Right To Revolt

After sixteen of their number were killed on the mountain, Everest Sherpa’s are threatening to strike, unless they are paid more to risk their own lives taking care of rich, inexperienced climbers.

04.22.14 11:46 AM ET

“What is economics? A science invented by the upper class in order to acquire the fruits of the labor of the underclass.” August Strindberg, 1884

Sherpas on Everest have said they will abandon this year's climbing season, in honor of sixteen of their colleagues who died on the mountain last Friday. Their announcement today came after Nepal agreed to set up a relief fund for Sherpas who are killed or injured in climbing accidents. Everest’s Sherpa guides and support staff had threatened to strike if a list of demands they presented were not met following the deaths of the
 sixteen Sherpas.


 


Last Friday, at 7 a.m., a huge block of ice fell off the West Shoulder of Everest, creating an enormous avalanche that covered a large area of the route through the Khumbu and hit 25 Nepalis working for guided climbing
 teams. The tragedy of 16 Sherpas killed was the biggest single loss of life in the history of climbing Everest. Many of the other Nepali Sherpas working on the mountain witnessed the avalanche as it covered
 their friends and fellow workers.

On Sunday night, 300 Sherpa guides and support staff held an emergency meeting at Everest base camp and worked out a list of 12 demands to be met by the Nepal government within a week. Among the demands were for
 the state to provide 10 million Nepalese rupees ($103,600) each to families of the deceased and critically injured, along with initiatives to increase the overall support infrastructure for local guides working
 in the Himalayas.

Following the Sherpas’ ultimatums, The Nepalese government considered calling off the 2014 climbing season on the world’s highest peak, in which case the $10,000 fee for all 334 permits would have to be reimbursed.
 “This is an unprecedented situation,” the Tourism Ministry spokesman Madhu Sudan Burlakoti told journalists. “We do not know what to do if they want their tax back. We will hold further discussions before deciding
 anything on this issue.” However, today guide Tulsi Gurung said from base camp: "We had a long meeting this afternoon and we decided to stop our climbing this year to honor our fallen brothers. All Sherpas
 are united in this."

As a consequence of Friday’s tragedy, the underlying resentment many Sherpas feel towards many western climbers, clients and the western owned companies that profit from those clients, erupted into the open. A blog
 post by Tim and Becky Rippel, who own and operate Canadian based guiding company Peak Freaks, said, “Sherpa guides are heating up, emotions are running wild and demands are being made to the government to share
 the wealth with the Sherpa people…Things are getting very complicated and there is a lot of tension here and it’s growing,” adding of the Sherpas: “They are our family, our brothers and sisters and the muscle
 on Everest. We follow their lead, we are guests here.”

It is an old story currently being re-told on the earth’s highest mountain through the prism of the exotic and esoteric business of guiding clients to the top of Everest who are incapable of climbing it on their
 own.

For climber, guide and client alike, Everest is always dangerous and difficult and clients are currently paying guide services between $50,000 to over $100,000 for the chance to try. Since 1953, when Nepal’s Tenzing
 Norgay and New Zealand’s Edmund Hillary became the first humans to reach Everest’s summit, more than 3500 people have managed to get there, some of them, usually guides, several times. The top of Everest was
 visited by 234 people in 2012 on the same day, most of them paid clients.

More than 260 people have died attempting to climb or descend from Everest, 90 of them Nepali Sherpas who do almost all the grunt, dirty, dangerous work that literally and figuratively paves the way for climber
 and client alike to reach the top.


 But the crucial factor of this old story being re-told is in the number of clients paying up to $100,000 to be guided (on occasion, hauled) up he world’s highest mountain which is most easily accessed by one of the world’s poorest countries, Nepal. At
 this writing, 334 permits to climb Everest have been issued for this spring season. In addition to whatever each guiding service charges clients, the Nepal government charges $10,000 for every permit. Most of
 those are for clients, not independent climbers. One need not be an economist (though a calculator is handy) to appreciate that in a nation where the average yearly income of a worker is $700, climbing Everest is big business in Nepal. A Sherpa guide can earn as much as $6000 in a good season, so the allure of work on Everest is easily understood, despite its hardships
 and dangers.