Sherpas consider climbing boycott after Everest deaths
The avalanche that hit Mount Everest and killed at least 13 Sherpa guides has prompted calls for a climbing boycott by Nepal’s Sherpa community. A Sherpa boycott could critically disrupt the Everest climbing season, which is key to the livelihood of thousands of Nepali guides and porters.
The Associated Press
KATMANDU, Nepal — Buddhist monks cremated the remains of Sherpa guides who were buried in the deadliest avalanche to hit Mount Everest, a disaster that has prompted calls for a climbing boycott by Nepal’s ethnic Sherpa community.
A Sherpa boycott could critically disrupt the Everest climbing season, which is key to the livelihood of thousands of Nepali guides and porters. Renowned for their climbing ability and high-altitude stamina, Nepal’s ethnic Sherpas serve as guides and porters for Himalayan mountain-climbing expeditions. They also traverse the dangerous terrain, setting up ropes and ladders to make the routes easier for paying clients.
At least 13 Sherpas were killed when a block of ice tore loose from the mountain and triggered a cascade that ripped through teams of guides hauling gear. Three Sherpas missing in Friday’s avalanche are presumed dead.
“Right now, I can’t even think of going back to the mountain,” said Tashi Dorje, whose cousin was killed. “We have not just lost our family members, but it is a loss for the whole mountaineering community and the country.”
Hundreds of people lined the streets of Nepal’s capital, Katmandu, on Monday as the bodies of six of the victims were driven in open trucks decorated with Buddhist flags.
During the cremation ceremony, dozens of nuns chanted for the victims’ souls to be released as the bodies were covered in pine branches.
While the work on Everest is dangerous, it has also become the most sought-after work for many Sherpas. A top high-altitude guide can earn $6,000 in a three-month climbing season, nearly 10 times Nepal’s $700 average annual salary.
The avalanche came just as climbing was to begin in earnest, with mountaineers set to begin moving above base camp and slowly acclimatizing to the altitude on the world’s highest mountain. Most attempts to reach the 29,035-foot summit occur in mid-May, when weather is at its most favorable.
Since the avalanche, the Sherpas have expressed anger that there has not been a bigger response from Nepal’s government, which profits from the permit fees charged to the climbing expeditions.
Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association said Sherpa guides are considering a climbing boycott to press their demands. Without the guides, it would be nearly impossible for expedition teams to continue.
Tshering said there were about 400 foreign climbers from 39 expedition teams on the mountain and an equal number of Sherpa guides, along with many more support staff such as cooks, cleaners and porters in the base camp.
The Tourism Ministry, which handles the mountaineering affairs, said it has not been told of any cancellations by expedition teams. Some Sherpas had already left the mountain by Monday, either joining the boycott or mourning their friends and colleagues.
The government has announced an emergency aid of $415 for the families of the deceased climbers, but the Sherpas are demanding better treatment.
The “Sherpa guides are heating up, emotions are running wild and demands are being made to the government to share the wealth with the Sherpa people,” said a blog post by Tim and Becky Rippel. Tim Rippel, an experienced Himalayan guide and owner of the Canada-based guiding company Peak Freaks, was at base camp when the avalanche happened.
The post said many Sherpas were frustrated by their tiny share of the millions of dollars that flow into Nepal as a result of the climbing industry.
“Things are getting very complicated and there is a lot of tension here and it’s growing,” the Rippels wrote, adding of the Sherpas: “They are our family, our brothers and sisters and the muscle on Everest. We follow their lead, we are guests here.”
The Sherpas want the minimum insurance payment for those killed on Everest to be doubled to 2 million rupees ($20,800), and a portion of the climbing fee charged by the government to be reserved for a relief fund. They also want the government to build a monument in the capital in memory of those killed in the avalanche.
On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Prakash Man Singh said the government has been working to help the Sherpas since the rescue began.
Sherpa Pasang of the Nepal National Mountain Guide Association said they have handed over a list of demands to the government seeking $10,400 each for the families of dead, missing and injured Sherpa guides in immediate financial aid. They also want assurance that the government will bring regulations to protect them in the future.
“The government has made no big response even after a big tragedy like this. Until they hear our pleas we will continue to put pressure,” he said.
The government of Nepal agreed Tuesday to create a relief fund for Sherpa mountain climbers who are injured or killed in accidents and to make other concessions to the Sherpas, according to an official at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation. The official, Sushil Ghimire, said some of the revenue the government gets from expeditions to Mount Everest would be set aside for the fund.
Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International canceled its 2014 Everest expedition, and the entire team will be hiking out soon, said Gordon Janow, the company’s program director.
Five of Alpine Ascent’s Sherpa guides were killed in the avalanche, and others are reluctant to continue climbing in the wake of the tragedy.
“The idea of asking the Sherpa to go back through the ice fall after family members and friends were just lost there — it just didn’t seem right,” Janow said. “The teams can’t go up without the Sherpa.”
This year’s expedition included 12 clients, and cancellation will mean a financial blow to Alpine Ascents. “But I think you want to walk away with a decision you feel good about, and that was the feeling I got when I spoke to the folks at base camp,” Janow said.
The company also posted a link, www.alpineascents.com/sherpa-fund.asp, on its website soliciting donations to its own Sherpa Education Fund, www.sherpaedfund.org/index.html , as well as two other organizations that support Sherpas and their families.
The Sherpa Education Fund is a small nonprofit, funded mainly by the company’s clients, that pays private school fees and costs for the children of Sherpa guides, Janow said.
Seattle Times staff reporter Sandi Doughton contributed to this report.