A guide on Mt. Everest is reporting that many Sherpa have decided to leave the mountain for the 2014 climbing season.
“It is just impossible for many of us to continue climbing. While there are three of our friends buried in the snow, I can’t imagine stepping over them. We want to honor the members we lost and out of respect for them we just can’t continue.” – Dorje Sherpa, Everest guide
Last Friday, April 18th, Mt. Everest experienced it’s deadliest event in history when an ice serac caused an avalanche that hit a team of 25 Sherpa who were ascending to fix ropes for the climbing route. 16 of those Sherpa were killed in the avalanche.
A memorial service was held today in Base Camp for the fallen climbers. After the service a discussion took place that ended in most Sherpa deciding to leave the mountain for the season as early as tomorrow. The bodies of the climbers were cremated on Monday.
The Nepal’s National Mountain Guide Association, a group that represents the climbing Sherpa, have come up with a list of 13 demands that they would like met before they’ll continue climbing. The Sherpa are not satisfied with the government’s response thus far.
“We discussed this issue and felt that our government ignored us. On Sunday, they called off the search operation. How can we step over the dead bodies of our fellow Sherpas to climb Everest? The Tourism Ministry didn’t have a single official at the Base Camp when the disaster occurred. Until now, not a single official has reached there. While they are eager to collect revenues, they don’t care about us. Therefore, we want our demands to be fulfilled as soon as possible. Promises won’t help this time around.” – Pasang Sherpa, general secretary of NMGA
The list of demands includes an increased amount paid to families of each fallen Sherpa. The government has promised to pay $415 on top of the $11,000 in insurance each Sherpa is required to carry and for the Sherpa, that’s not enough. The Sherpa want a location in Katmandu in order to build a memorial to the fallen climbers, $10,000 in disability pay for any injured Sherpa who can no longer work, 30% royalties from all climbing permits, accidental death insurance to go up from $11,000 to $22,000, and for coverage of all medical bills for the Sherpa injured in the accident.
Early today, the Nepali government responded to these demands but financially fell short of meeting them all.
Not everyone is sure that the Sherpa leaving for the season is a great plan.
“The Sherpas have threatened teams that want to stay and climb the mountain with whatever means necessary to prevent them from climbing. I cannot believe that it has come to this.”
“I think this will be really bad for the Sherpa community because in forcefully shutting down the season teams likely may choose to go to the North Side in the future.” – Anonymous American climber
As the situation unfolds, Joby Ogwyn’s now famous plan to wingsuit off the summit of Everest has been canceled. This stunt was being documented by the Discovery Channel and they’ve pulled out.
Climbers pay up to $90,000 to climb Everest and if the Sherpa walk out, they’ll be forfeiting all of that money this year without the chance to take a swing at the highest summit on Earth.
Rainier Mountaineering Inc is still figuring out how to respond to the tragedy. Dave Hahn, who has 14 summits of Everest (more than any non-sherpa) said this:
“[A] very difficult decision for all involved … [Fellow guide] Mark Tucker and I attended a series of somewhat tense and serious meetings between team leaders, Sherpas, and the few government representatives present in camp. It is very difficult to say what will happen going forward … Our Sherpa partners love their jobs and love to climb, but nobody is climbing now and all are struggling to come to terms with how to proceed in a way that honors those lost and protects those left alive.” – Dave Hahn, April 20th, 2014
Why do Sherpa climb Everest if there is so much risk involved? The answer is simple: money.
“For them [Sherpa], the spring season is a big part of their annual income, it’s their bread and butter. The Everest expeditions are the longest, the most high profile, and if you do good, you know you’re going to get hired again next year. They make good money by local standards, but the risk level is off the scale. They know the risk and they accept the risk, but it’s not a great situation for them.” – Ed Visteurs, first American to climb all fourteen 8,000m peaks without oxygen
Without the Sherpa, nobody could climb Everest. It’s beginning to become obvious that the Sherpa deserve more respect, compensation, and identity.