Sherpas Walk Off the Job. Leave Mt Everest Climbers Stranded at Base Camp.


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.

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  • pagansister

    And they deserve more compensation for the hard work they do and the families of the dead deserve help financially for their loss. Too bad it took the avalanche to bring to the surface the danger those men put themselves in daily in order for the climbers to attempt to be successful in climbing that mountain.

    • george-a

      Yes, it’s appalling to me that the Sherpas do all the real work of the trek, and the rich Westerners get to crow about having “conquered Everest.” Sure, it’s hard to make that climb, but a whole lot easier when you don’t have to set ropes, pack in your own supplies, etc. Not at all the same thing. Good on the Sherpas and may God bless them.

  • Manny

    Damn. They’re unionizing everywhere. ;) (Only kidding, if you don’t get the wink.) Next they’ll be unionizing politicians. But we won’t mind if they go on strike. :-P

    • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

      Politicians don’t need unionizing. They already have corporate bodies looking after their interests – parliaments and parties.

      • hamiltonr

        Amen Fabio.

      • Manny

        I was joking.

        • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

          I know.

  • SisterCynthia

    When I first heard that only sherpas were dead, I thought, “how can that be…?” but then I saw, it was because they were out doing the dirty climbing prep work. Something does need to be done to appropriately compensate the men and their families. It’s not likely to ever happen, but it would be a good thing if they could actually find a way to limit those who attempt the peak to real mountaineers, not just first-worlders with the cash to pay to have their rich patootie hauled up the mountain. :-/

    • Manny

      Good point Sister. Climbing Mt. Everest is no longer a true adventure but a tourist event. The Sherpies are tourist help.

  • Sus_1

    In my opinion anyone who climbs should have to pay a hefty fee (like a million dollars – separate from the climbing fees) that goes to clean up all the trash along with a fair wage to the Sherpas. It’s disgusting that the mountain has been trashed. Climbers step over dead bodies to get to the top.

    Living dangerously to me is running low on laundry detergent so I don’t understand why someone would spend all that money and energy to get to the top of a mountain where you can only spend 10 minutes or die.

    “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer is an interesting read.

    • Manny

      Well, I bet the country advertises the climb as tourism. They probably attract a good deal of tourist dollars and if you make it so costly that no one can afford it it will dry up altogether.

      • Sus_1

        Currently, most of the money goes to the tour operators. These companies/people are not from Nepal and don’t live there. They are located in the United States and Europe.

        I agree that the economy near the mountain would suffer if there were not climbers. I don’t think the bulk of the profit stays in Nepal though.

        OT – sorry Rebecca, I can’t find the original thread
        I finally read “The Wanting Seed”. What a whacked book! I enjoyed it, and my husband is reading it now. Thank you for the recommendation.

        • Manny

          I think I was the one who recommended The Wanting Seed. I’m glad you enjoyed it. It is an under rated novel.

  • xJane

    That’s horrifying. The commodification of everything is a disturbing trend.

  • Steve

    This comment is a little late, not sure how many people will see it, but…

    There USED to be a really good article on Mother Jones about how Everest has basically become a lawless playground for rich people but it’s down for some reason.