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.
Everest has become a bit of a scandal due to the large numbers of people who tackle the mountain through guided tours. Many of these people have relatively little mountaineering experience. For instance my husband — who has zero experience at mountaineering — once asked an adventure tour guide how much it would cost to get him to the top of Everest. The guide answered with a high-dollar figure and told him, “I can get you on the mountain, but you have to be crazy to get to the top.” The guide was quite willing to book a spot for my husband on his next tour.
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.