Who Are Nepal’s Sherpas & Why Are They Fighting The Government?

The devastating avalanches on Mount Everest,
in 2014 and 2015, highlighted some longstanding problems for the climbing industry there.
Particularly for local Sherpa guides where issues like overcrowding, safety, meagre wages
and insurance are of immense concern. These problems have left many wondering why the
Nepal government hasn’t done more to support the Sherpa guides, who risk their lives so
that foreign climbers can attempt Everest. The desire to ‘conquer’ Everest has been
on the rise ever since Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay and New Zealander, Edmund Hillary first summited
the peak in 1953. For decades, climbing the world’s tallest mountain remained the reserve
for hardened explorers but in the 1990s, advances in technology made summiting the mountain
an attainable dream. [BOB] It isn’t until you get down off the
mountain that it really strikes you. Then all of a sudden it hits you that you’ve just
lived your dream, or you’ve accomplished one of the greatest accomplishments that you can
get… That’s Robert Hoffman, he’s a former Everest
expedition leader from California who’s summited twice. And like so many who have
made the climb, he relied on the invaluable support of local guides to reach the peak. Most guides, like Tenzing Norgay, hail from
the Sherpa community, a small ethnic group who reside at high altitudes across Nepal,
India and Tibet. The commercialization of Everest has encouraged many from the community
become guides despite the perilous nature of the work. The job requires guides to make multiple trips
up and down the mountain, carrying heavy loads for climbers. And In doing so risking frostbite,
avalanches, and death. On average, guides typically earn up to $8,000 in the three month
climbing season, that’s more than ten times the average Nepali’s salary. But many argue
that this wage is not a fair one, especially given the dangers. The business of climbing Everest can be very
lucrative for tour companies and the Nepal Government. On average, the cost to climb
Everest is around $50,000 dollars, with 600 people attempting each year. Together with
revenue generated from other mountains in the Himalayas and related tourism, it’s
estimated that the climbing industry in Nepal is worth $360 million dollars per year. That’s
about 2% of the nation’s GDP. Which is why, some would reason, there is such a huge problem
with overcrowding. …The amount of people today takes a lot
away from the experience of Everest. It’s a huge mountain … but there is a finite
limit to how many people you can put there at any given time….
[BOB] Unfortunately, the Nepalese government is very greedy. They don’t want to see any
reduction in the numbers of people climbing the mountain because of the money that they’re
making. The pressure that crowds put on local guides
is just one of the ways the Everest industry has negatively impacted the Sherpa community. Norbu Tenzing is the son of Everest pioneer
Tenzing Norgay and he’s the Vice President of the American Himalayan Foundation. It’s
an organization that is helping the Sherpa community challenge poor working conditions,
something he feels his father would have felt strongly about. NORBU …The mountain is not well
managed by the Nepalese government. …I think he would have a lot to say about the imbalance
in the issues with risk and inequity that people suffer on the mountain. And the Sherpa community is beginning to find
their voice. In 2014, they issued a list of demands for the Nepal government to change
the way Everest is run. According to Janbu Sherpa, a retired guide who summited the mountain
five times over 15 years, this goes far beyond crowd control. [JANBU] I wanted to see continue provide the
safety tools….Improving the communications and providing the proper wages. …if there’s
any tragedy ….make sure their family is protected by the companies … Or by the government. Janbu is referring to a push to increase life
insurance payouts for guides killed on Everest. This is one the demands the Nepal Government
has met, increasing the amount from $10,000 dollars to $15,000 in 2014. However, Norbu
stresses this still doesn’t stretch very far. In fact, today the payout is actually
worth less than it once was. NORBU ….the sole breadwinner
is usually the father or the husband. When that person dies, it’s a massive loss.
NORBU When you compare that level of insurance with
what sherpas had some 30, 40 years ago…that insurance covered them enough so that the
widow could build a tea house, the kids go to school, they could build a home. The insurance
these days barely covers the cost of the funeral. The Nepal government has also met some of
the other demands made by the Sherpa guides, like banning inexperienced climbers from Everest
and changing routes up the mountain to ones that are less prone to avalanches. For now
though, many within the Sherpa community still don’t feel that the risks outweigh the benefits. [NORBU] Climbing Everest, being on an expedition
on Everest is a very good way of earning a significant amount of income in a very short
period of time. Obviously it comes at very huge risks. ….The question is it worth it. Want to know more about the plight of Sherpa
guides on Everest? Then tune into the premiere of Sherpa, airing Saturday April 23rd at 9/8
central as part of elevation weekend on Discovery. The film is an in-depth look at how Sherpa
community came together to reclaim Everest following a deadly avalanche in April, 2014. As always, thanks for watching and don’t
forget to subscribe

Stephen Childs

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