Legendary Sherpa guides talk to Asia Sentinel about the danger
The death last month of 16 Sherpa guides while climbing Mount Everest has cast a pall of gloom on a fast-dwindling and hard-working community in Nepal and India. For the first time death has stirred rebellion among the Sherpa community, many of whom have struck against the danger, lousy pay and poor working conditions.
On April 18 in the worst climbing accident in the mountain’s history, a shifting block of ice hit a group of 50 climbers including 25 Sherpas carrying provisions up the mountain. The incident took place at the Khumbu Icefall, a jumbled maze of unstable ice towers hovering over the 17,600-foot base camp on the Nepali slopes of Mount Everest. It was twice as deadly as the infamous storm in May 1996 that killed eight Sherpas.
Asia Sentinel recently visited Sherpa camps to interview members of the elite but hard-pressed profession, for whom dying on Everest has been an occupational hazard ever since a team led by George Leigh Mallory climbed the Tibetan side of the peak, known to the Tibetans as Cholmolungma, in 1922. It is estimated that the death rate for climbing Sherpas on Everest from 2004 until 2014 has been 12 times higher than the death rate for U.S. military personnel deployed in Iraq from 2003-07.
However, more than anything else, the most recent, deadliest accident in Everest’s 92-year old climbing history has brought to the fore the hardships faced by the guides. Over the years, better equipment and more accurate weather forecasting may have made climbing the Everest a lot easier, but risks to Sherpas’ lives have hardly whittled down.
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