The mistreated Sherpas of the Himalayas

May. 08, 2014 @ 12:33 AM

On April 18, an avalanche on Mount Everest killed 16 Himalayan Sherpas.

As a result, the Sherpas have threatened a boycott of Mount Everest, and have left the mountain for the season.

Good for them!

Since 1921, when George Mallory became the first westerner to set foot on the flanks of Mount Everest, the western world has had a patronizing attitude toward the Sherpas. They were called “native porters” and treated the way the British royalty treated their maids and gardeners.

In 1922, George Mallory and others made an unsuccessful attempt to climb Everest. Mallory chose a dangerous route on the way down and was caught in an avalanche. He had to be pulled down by the Sherpas. Seven people were killed. Mallory received a great deal of publicity, yet the Sherpas were not named in western publications.

In 1953, Edmond Hillary, from Britain, and Tenzing Norgay, Sherpa, became the first ones to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Hillary was promptly knighted, and became a hero in Europe and the United States. Many articles were written about him. The articles also wrote about Norgay, but only parenthetically.

By the end of the 2010 climbing season, about 3,142 people had reached the summit. Of these, 219 people died. In other words, for every 100 people who climb Mount Everest, seven die.

In 1996, an American writer and experienced mountain climber reached the summit of Everest. During her climb, she sent out dispatches by radio -- which relayed the messages to the western world. She spoke of the terrible wind, the cold, the difficulty breathing and the other hardships of climbing Everest. For a while, she was the belle of the ball. Yet, she was short-roped up to the summit. By “short roped” is meant that a Sherpa tied her close to him with a rope and pulled her up or protected her from falling. The Sherpa deserves the credit more than her.

Since 1985, Everest has been increasingly commercialized. A climber could pay $60,000 to a full-service guide company, which would take care of most of his needs. He would have his own personal guide, Sherpas who would set ropes for him, have his tent set up, prepare his meals and haul most of his gear.

Mount Everest was once one of the most remote places in the world. Up until 1847, another Himalayan mountain was thought to be the highest mountain in the world. It was difficult to get to within 100 miles of Everest. Now it has been described as a garbage dump.

Here are my suggestions on what should be done:

1. There are two major routes to the summit, the north route and the south route. The north route is the hardest and the southern route is the most popular. The mountain is closed for this year. The southern route should be closed for two years.

Give the mountain a rest. The only people that should be allowed on the southern route are those that go up to clean up the rubbish.

2. Nepal should give the Sherpas a greater percent of the profit that it makes from mountaineers.

3. Nepal should not allow people to climb Everest unless they meet two requirements:

a. They should be experienced climbers.

b. They should pass a physical test to insure that they have the capability to deal with the harsh and demanding requirements of Everest. It is not fair to ask other climbers to short rope people who are not physically able to make the ascent. They slow down the climbing party, so the whole team suffers. It lowers the morale of the team and sometimes prevents the team from reaching the summit.

4. The Sherpas should have more authority as to when climbers should be required to stop and descend the mountain. In the past, the decision has been up to the western climbers. The Sherpas have had no vote, yet they were the ones who carried the disabled climbers back down.

Both Mount Everest and the Sherpas have been mistreated. The 16 Sherpas who died can best be honored by radical changes in climbing practices.

Stanley Poole is a retired judge.