Everest ought to be a pure temple or iconic symbol of dreams and lofty objectives that only the committed obtain. Unfortunately, it’s been spoiled, and exploited at the expense of the Sherpa.
Last season, I had hopes that Ueli Steck and company would put up a new route to the top, redeeming the pure style of climbing on Everest — done in small teams of experienced climbers, mostly alone and unsupported. But that ended in a dangerous fistfight and appears to be a precursor to the events that we are watching this year.
Since then, over the winter, the Nepali government seized the opportunity to reform how the climbs are run — including who was eligible to make an attempt. However, the government prioritized crowd control and enhancing revenue over everything else. Personally, I hoped that aspirants’ qualifications would be required, regardless whether fee increases were involved. That was unlikely to happen despite its merits.
Here in lies the biggest conflict with the dream of a pure mountain that I want and what Nepal and the Sherpa desire: The Sherpa want respect and Nepal wants foreign income (a very lucrative source). Nepal won’t get it without the Sherpa workforce. The cattle call of climbers can’t come and even make a modest attempt without the Sherpa. And to turn back the clock to the days before Mountain Madness, Adventure Consultants, IMG and Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. and other guides brought their clients wouldn’t help anyone. Except the Everest purist.
With 16 Sherpa dead from preparing the way for climbers, followed by a well-timed strike, I think everyone needs to do some soul searching. Maybe working as a porter is too dangerous. Maybe commercial “expeditions” are inappropriate. Maybe Nepal’s government needs to examine its priorities.
I regularly call the contemporary experience on Everest a circus. Via ferrata and zip lines wouldn’t be out of place. I once believed that there were no real victims on Everest climbs, but the events of the last few years, and even Freddie Wilkinson’s book about similar trends on K2, have shown me that the Sherpa are both super climbers and vulnerable people.
There have been expressions of respect for the Sherpa since the English explored Nepal, but they need more than adoring words. The we have complicated their existence, which was already a difficult one marked by hard conditions and poverty.
New ways to help the Sherpa, particularly the families of the 16 lost, have been emerging. Several artists, like Renan Ozturk, are offering limited edition prints this week only to raise funds to help the people the 16 Sherpa supported. The American Alpine Club is collecting funds for the Sherpa Support Fund. I urge you to give by clicking here.