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It’s past time to stop the exploitation of the Sherpas

By: Tim W. Callaway

  |  Posted: Thursday, May 01, 2014 10:28 am

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“(The Sherpas) carry the weight of every expedition, confront the most terrible of hazards and come to the rescue of every benighted party.” – Wade Davis, author of Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest

Recent news of the deaths of 16 Sherpa guides in an April 18 avalanche in the Khumbu ice field on the south side of Mt. Everest leaves me stunned. I’m dazed not only because it’s always tragic when so many people die at once, but perhaps even more so because of an emerging story behind this horror.

Unless you’re into mountain-climbing and its history, which I am not, you’re likely unaware that on June 7, 1922, seven Sherpas similarly died assisting an expedition led by Charles Bruce. Compensation to their families amounted to less than 60 British pounds each.

Word is that today’s Sherpa earns roughly $6,000 per season to make numerous treks guiding climbers paying up to $100,000 for a chance to reach Everest’s infamous summit. The government of Nepal, which receives millions of dollars in licences and climbing fees, is reportedly offering the families of the latest victims something around $400 in compensation.

In buying power, that amount is less than what the British dispersed almost 100 years ago. Should we really be surprised that, following the most recent fatalities, some 400 Sherpas who worked on the mountain have walked off the job, shutting down all expeditions just as the annual climbing season begins?

Contrary to public perception, Sherpas are not mountain-climbers by nature.

In fact, there is not even a word for mountain summit in their language. In keeping with their Buddhist heritage, the idea of risking one’s life while in this incarnation in order to crawl across rock and ice into nothingness is the apex of delusion.

It was the British mountaineer, Arthur Kellas, who back in 1916 first identified the Sherpas’ capacity for endurance and their cultural disposition to embrace the intimidations of life with apparent calm.

Thus they became the foundation upon which all subsequent Himalayan climbing expeditions have relied.

Hopefully it goes without saying that it is long past time to stop the exploitation of the Sherpas by those fortunate enough to live in the first-world! Regardless of whether society is based on a Christian or Buddhist worldview, fair treatment of your fellow man is Diplomacy 101. Shame on all who think and act otherwise!

Tim is pastor of Faith Community Church. He can be reached at


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