Respecting the Sherpa   19 comments

Stupa and Ama Dablam:  Khumbu, Nepal

Stupa and Ama Dablam: Khumbu, Nepal.  Click on pictures to see and download high-res. versions.

A Chinese climber has apparently climbed Mt. Everest from the Nepal side, the first to do it since a tragic avalanche last month killed 16 climbing Sherpas.  The avalanche occurred on the notorious Khumbu Icefall portion of the main route on Everest.  After the accident, Sherpas all agreed to go home and grieve for their fallen comrades instead of continuing to work.  All the companies guiding climbers withdrew out of respect for the Sherpas’ decision.  The Chinese woman used Sherpas contracted privately.

She also reportedly used a helicopter to leapfrog the Icefall.  She maintains that only her cook and other staff were flown to Camp II.  If she is lying about that then she breached climbing etiquette big time.  Most climbers would not consider her summit of Everest genuine.  It just would not count.  But that is a minor quibble compared to the main question.  Should she have climbed at all, at least from the Nepal side?  What do you think?

The highest mountain in the world, Sagarmatha.

The highest mountain in the world, Sagarmatha.  The west face is so steep that little snow and ice can stick to it.

Two young Sherpa friends haul equipment on the trail to Namche Bazaar in Nepal.

Two young Sherpa friends haul equipment on the trail to Namche Bazaar in Nepal.

When you trek through the Khumbu region near Everest, as I did in 2010, you have the time to absorb and appreciate Sherpa culture.  Or you do if you’re paying attention.  It helps if you choose to diverge from the main trekking routes, on trails like that running along the east side of Gokyo Valley to Khumjung for example.  The pictures below are from that area.  The little boy lives on that farm with the blue roof and stone fences.  You see more wildlife on trails like this as well (see photo of the tahr below).

The spectacular Khumbu Himal.

The spectacular Khumbu Himal.

A lone farmstead in the Khumbu region of Nepal's HImalayan Mountains lies in spectacularly rugged country.

A lone farmstead in the Khumbu region of Nepal’s HImalayas lies in spectacularly rugged country.

Drying chilies on a windowsill in a Sherpa home.

Drying chilies on a windowsill in a Sherpa home.

For me this little Sherpa boy makes me think of the tragedy that killed 16 Sherpas last month on Everest.  He is in the doorway waiting for his father to return.

This little Sherpa boy makes me think of the tragedy that killed 16 Sherpas last month on Everest. He is in the doorway waiting for his father to return.

Khumbu has elements of the past, before Everest became a commodity.  Sherpas are an extremely proud yet humble people.  In fact, the two opposite qualities coexist more gracefully in Sherpas than in any people I’ve come across in my travels.  But Sherpas in the Khumbu are in the midst of change.  Many are making real money while most Nepalis, especially in rural mountainous areas, continue to struggle.  There’s a reason many of the abused workers in Dubai are from Nepal.

This increased wealth has effects both good and bad.  Children are receiving better educations than children ever have in that region.  The negative effects are more subtle.  They mark the slow change (destruction?) of a culture into something more like the developed world.  Homogenization continues across the world, and the Khumbu is one place where some of its earlier stages are very obvious.  I pray that it at least remains roadless.

A trekking Sherpa leads his charge down to Gokyo from Renjo La in Khumbu, Nepal.

A trekking Sherpa and his charge head down to Gokyo Lake from Renjo La in Khumbu, Nepal.  He is on the cell phone making sure there is room in a tea house.

At base camp for Island Peak, night before summit day.  Sherpas hauled these tents.

At base camp for Island Peak the night before summit day. Sherpas hauled these tents.

A woman in the Himalaya of Nepal is proud of her vegetable garden, and her grandson.

A woman in the Himalaya of Nepal is proud of her vegetable garden, and her grandson.

While I try my best not to judge the actions of others (the Chinese climber gets to make her own decisions), I believe the decision by the Sherpas at base camp on Everest was the right one.  I think every climber true to the sport should respect that decision.  Either that or climb fast and light without Sherpa support.  While there are plenty of people in the world at a fitness level sufficient to summit Everest, very very few have the ability to do it unsupported by Sherpas.

She did not respect the decision of the climbing Sherpas.  She took the easy way out.  Climbing Sherpas make good money (for Nepal).  It is a competitive job, and there are always plenty of trekking Sherpas who await their chance to get in on the action.  I don’t blame those that hired on with the Chinese woman.  They don’t make the kind of money that climbing Sherpas do.  Most climbing Sherpas can easily afford a season off.  They are working of course, trekking the lower trails instead of climbing.

Taboche and prayer flags, Khumbu region, Nepal.

Taboche and prayer flags, Khumbu region, Nepal.

A mountain is slowly revealed through the clouds in the Khumbu region of Nepal.

A mountain is slowly revealed through the clouds in the Khumbu region of Nepal.

The ubiquitous yak.

The ubiquitous yak of the Himalayas.

It’s true that the Chinese climber may have hired Sherpas who disagreed with the majority decision to pull off the mountain.  But I suspect she hired Sherpas who don’t routinely climb on Everest. It would have been a simple thing for her to hire perhaps one climbing Sherpa plus a small team of strong trekking Sherpas, eager for their chance at the “big bucks”.  Was that disrespectful to those mourning for the fallen?  I know what I believe, but I would like to hear your opinions.

Thanks for reading and commenting.  If interested in any of these images, just click on them.  Then click “Download Options” for pricing.  If you want to work a deal or have any other questions, please contact me.  Thanks for your interest!

Two Himalayan Tahr descend from the high country in the Khumbu of Nepal.

The setting sun's alpenglow hits the spectacular western face of Nup Tse in Nepal.  Everest is just left out of frame.

Setting sunlight hits the spectacular western face of Nup Tse in Nepal. Everest is just left out of frame.

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19 responses to “Respecting the Sherpa

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  1. Reblogged this on de monte y mar and commented:
    MJF features AMAZING imagery, but what I like about the blog is the photos come with great stories and detail on location, culture and sometimes history!
    I leave you with this stunning post.

  2. Must be an extraordinary experience to be in this area of ​​the Himalayas. But also at great risk. I do not hope that more accidents occur….

  3. What beautiful wildlife photos and your experiment, thanks for sharing!

  4. Fascinating narrative and beautiful photos!

  5. You are an adventurous soul. No wonder you come back with such fantastic photos.

  6. Beautiful photos, but what goes on at Everest really bothers me. It just appears to be a lot of people just wanting to make the climb at any cost.

    • Thanks! It’s different alright. No other major peak is anything like it, and I don’t know that it can be called mountaineering. And all made possible by Sherpa support.

  7. A stunning collection of photos, they truly capture the beauty and remoteness. As you say, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, although I (and I think a lot of people would be) am inclined to agree with yours!

  8. I love the photos and what you wrote. What an awesome journey. I think the Chinese woman shouldn’t have done what she did.

  9. How far up Everest did you go?

  10. From Jumla to RaRa Lake i didn’t hire any sherpas, choosing to haul a months worth of supplies myself. I couldn’t bear the thought of using another human being as a pack animal. It was an atrocious 4 days up, and it was only later that i realised i’d buggered up pretty badly. The folk in Jumla (the young men) need that work. I was doing them a disservice by not hiring them.

    • I know what you mean, I didn’t want to at first but changed my mind when I met a Sherpa in Kathmandu and spent a few hours talking and drinking tea. Plus carrying all the camera gear was enough weight! Live and learn as they say!

  11. Excellent set of photo’s from wonderful places; thanks for sharing!

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