On Everest alpinists and the Sherpas’ recent scuffle

I have been reading some news and interviews of famous alpinists who were involved in the recent scuffle with Sherpas while climbing Mt.Everest. The focus is on the ‘Sherpa-climber social contract’ (given the commercialization of Mt.Everest) and the ‘culture of the Sherpas’.

Reporters say that the climbers’ reasons to step on this greatest Himalayan expedition are manifold: escaping the commotion of daily routine, finding fun, getting a sense of personal achievement, understanding spirituality, accepting Nature’s challenge or even merely wanting a ‘bullet point on their resumes’. And undoubtedly, the climbers can very well afford to foot their bills. But the Sherpas’ only motivation to leave their families behind and take such huge risks numerous times in the climbing season is: to earn a livelihood ! The Sherpas whose generations have been born and brought up along one of the world’s harshest mountainous terrain definitely know the topography and the weather best. Moreover, there is the religious or cultural factor which, whether big or small, ought to be respected. Over the years, the expeditionists and the Sherpas have developed a mutual understanding, a synergy to work their way out to the once seemingly insurmountable summit. It is a multi-dimensional relation between spirituality, resourcefulness, guts, grit and technology. So, it is something beyond just ‘manpower for the sahibs, money for the Sherpas‘.

In the recent episode, the scuffle was related to an incident of rope-fixing. First of all, the fixation of rope (route) to trek the mountain or reach the summit is in itself a dangerous or intensely stressful job. This is usually done by the Sherpas as per commercial rules of mountaineering in Nepal. With regard to their extremely hard-earned job and culture, in my opinion, I believe NO ultra-modern technology or climbers’ experiences should interfere when they are doing this particular task and/or when any help is NOT solicited. Secondly, all climbers and teams even of Sherpas must ideally abide by the instructions of the “Leader” as the situation demands. This must be done unquestionably at that moment. An interference (including a passive example of not abiding) may be justified only when there is an imminent danger- either side ! Speaking on professional grounds, any interference or non co-operation whether made wilfully or non-chalantly, can easily distract their attention, thus endangering lives both of the Sherpas fixing the ropes as well as of those who are about to climb along it !!

Therefore, irrespective of the expertise and number of expeditions led by an alpinist, it is definitely wise to respect the job and customs of Sherpas, especially at that altitude where so much co-ordination and co-operation is required. By such observation, one’s mountaineering skills do not get undermined. Let only professionalism and good cheer prevail, whether to maintain discipline or vis-a-vis religious beliefs of the Sherpas. After all, the Sherpas are there to guide, help, provide resources and warn or protect mountain climbers against possible natural disasters in such a treacherous region. Technology, yet does/may not predict everything or each time ! Mt.Everest is their pride based on both social and technical reasons… Without foreigners, Sherpas m-a-y find a different work tomorrow (as many have already opted as doctors, airline pilots, scientists, other professionals) but surely without the Sherpas, no one can climb Mt.Everest with the same wonderful charm.

What do you say, aamjunta ?

10 Responses

  1. awesome post !! Although I know a very little about mountain climbing but I know well what Sherpas are capable of .. I had somewhere read that Tenzing had experienced conquered Everest before, few times, he did it with Edmund Hillary !
    Sherpas are the men of Everest hence they deserve their share of place and importance as at the end Everest is not Alps !

  2. A post from the East to West!! Good one. They are always biased. It is good that you are also taking such issues through your blog posts. Sherpas are actually great people and they always help people even with their problem times. They deserve much better than what they have now.

  3. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” – did the Romans forget this? Kudos to Sherpas and Kudos to their commitment.

  4. I am not an expeditionist but I can say this much with 100% certainty that it is common sense and humility to follow the rules or instructions in any such activity, anywhere in the world ! It should not matter to one if he/she can do it better or faster. Observation of rules not only leads to an overall peaceful, good experience but also means respecting the importance of a place…of a rightful “pride” of its people. Let better skills, if any, be imparted at other times and not when on the go !! I am sure people like the Sherpas would be open to new learnings. By my personal interactions, I believe they are extremely hard-working, peace-loving, religious and committed… if required, a Sherpa will utterly risk his / her life to save one !

    Hope the mutual trust and “synergy” continues……….

  5. Well read. Liked your analogy on the service and saheb. You are right, sherpas are not the man power for the sahebs, rather they are the life line for sahebs. The sooner we all recognize this, the better it is, at least for India’s context. Jai Bharat!

  6. The sherpas are very discipline and committed, whereas the other people going there are not. That might be the major reason for scuffle. The sherpas deserve much more recognition that what the international community is giving them at present.

  7. According to National Geographic one side does it for the excitement and the other for their livelihood. I think, more than anyone, the two sides are aware that while one has a thorough knowledge of the mountains the other has great equipment and both have the skills and knowledge of climbing. The safety of the entire team depends on all of the above and hopefully, they, themselves will get together to discuss how to avoid future scuffles.

  8. And now this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-22681414

    I just don’t understand why climbers nowadays are failing to abide by the simple rule- respect the laws of Nepal or wherever you are. For the slightest violation of rules in their countries, they raise so much hue and cry !! What now ?

    This BBC article also reports “it seems the laws will have to be rewritten to keep up with the advancements in technology”… I don’t buy this argument by its face-value. After all, wasn’t the video-clip or video-call via smartphone carried out to raise £1m for a charity ? In my opinion, it is “commercial broadcasting”. Even if it is meant for charity, they should have taken necessary permission.

    Changing Nepal’s broadcasting rules is a different issue; it can be discussed and modified but in a specific context. First of all, please follow the rules.

  9. so many info, thanks a lot.

  10. Appreciate Nepal’s governance…time to teach and learn to respect Nature –


    Wish we too had such rules for every case of pollution handling !

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