Without Sherpas, climbing Mount Everest would go back to being the province of true mountaineers. The high-risk tourism of unprepared, unskilled and feckless amateurs scaling the world’s tallest mountain is built entirely on the courage and remarkable stamina of the local Sherpa population.
There have been creaks in the burgeoning adventure tourism that Mt Everest has become before now. Sherpas staged a one-day strike last year, asking for higher wages and better working conditions. But this year a tragedy has ignited something much bigger.
Sherpas have staged a walk out, or maybe it’s a walk down, leaving their wealthy, Everest-conquering-wannabe clients stranded at base camp. The Sherpa walk out was a response to the tragic death of 13 of their colleagues in an avalanche a few days ago. At least 13 Sherpa guides were killed, three are still missing and at least three others are in intensive care in Kathmandu for injuries sustained in the avalanche.
The Sherpas were trying to fix ropes and carve out a route up the mountain at the Khumbu Icefall when the avalanche swept through. The icefall is not far from the Everest Base Camp, where wealthy foreign climbers waited for the Sherpas to set things up for them.
This sort of thing explains why the Sherpas were at the Khumbu Icefall, putting down fixed ropes and ladders, and hacking a path while the tourists lounged at Base Camp.
Sherpas are calling for higher compensation for their dangerous work, as well as more insurance and compensation for the families of the dead and injured climbers.