An awful tragedy that has been sidetracked in to a different agenda.
As we trek out, rather disconsolately, I hear people say ‘never mind, the government have given a credit note that’s valid for 5 years – you can come back again.’
Well I’m afraid that that doesn’t cut the mustard for me. People don’t want a credit note they want a refund. In fact they don’t want a credit note, or a refund, they want a chance to climb this mountain this year.
The militant shop stewards who have denied the wannabe Everest summiteers their chance have also created a very awkward atmosphere for now and, I envisage, a few years to come. We all know that 16 Sherpas have died and it is a terrible loss … but the militant faction have hijacked the situation and held us to ransom. They have managed to create their own agenda which no longer revolves around the tragic accident.
For a project like Everest it’s not a spur of the moment decision. It’s an objective that might have been around since reading an article in National Geographic as a child (this applies to 2 of my friends who have summited who had both been inspired by the same article as kids). It might have been that a book, a television programme or a film sowed the seed. Or it might be that they are intrinsically an outdoor person and gradually the draw to climbing the highest that there is has crept under their skin. Whatever it is it is a very personal decision and sometimes can’t even be rationalised.
Either which way this is not a 2 week holiday that has been spoilt by the weather, an incomplete hotel building or a strike by the air traffic controllers and you can always come back next year with a partial credit note from the tour operator.
There are a number of things that have to get lined up for most people to attempt Everest. Yes, there is the training, fitness and general climbing and mountain proficiency that I personally advocate – but with due diligence this can be addressed in a few years. The more subjective issues revolve around having saved enough for the cost of the gear (a few £0,000) and the cost of the trip (quite a few more £00,000), having managed to get 2 months off work (a big ask), it being the right time in your life and career and asking your friends and family to put up with your obsessive training and dedication to the project for the months running up to it.
But one of the biggest asks is the moral support of your really close friends and, in particular, loved ones that they will give you their blessing to go away for 2 months whilst they stay at home, get the children to school, go to work, earn the money to pay the bills, fix the car, arrange child care during the Easter holidays, console the kids and generally get on with the mundanity of life.
Obviously some would say that this is intrinsically a selfish thing to do and how could you put a partner and family through all that turmoil. But I’m afraid there are many other things that other people do that are equally as selfish – it’s just that they are spread over a lifetime instead of being condensed in to a two month foray. What about the chap who plays golf every Sunday? The football fan who attends every Saturday match? It could be bridge club every Thursday evening or going to the motocross every Wednesday night. It could be fishing, bee keeping, stamp collecting, religiously tuning in to The Archers or any number of other activities that one person is passionate about but which their partner doesn’t quite hold in the same sense of awe.
The difference, as I said, is that this is all in one hit.
And having lined everything up for 2014 being told you can come back in the next 5 years and be on a permit for free just won’t work for many people. Plus there’s still the additional cost of the actual trip to find as well.
Someone tweeted to me saying that it was a long time coming and the Sherpas deserved more respect and pay. This is, I’m afraid, a view that is rather out of kilter with reality.
For many years now the Climbing Sherpas have been earning handsomely and the respect they have is absolute and well deserved. Every expedition I have been on in The Khumbu (in excess of 35 now) I have been utterly humbled by their approach to the job and I have been utterly in awe of their strength of mind as well as their physical prowess. I cannot imagine that any of the hundreds of clients I have taken along on my various trips has not been touched in some way by the experience, or left with a lifelong impression and fine memory of being with these fantastic people.
Not only that but I receive several e mails every year from previous clients who want to give something back in some way, or who have started to sponsor a child through school, or who have started a whip round following the illness of their summit Sherpa, or the hospitalisation of his wife or, in the latest instance, a charitable collection for the fallen Sherpas.
As for wages … I’m afraid that I will make due comparison between the country average (around US$500 to US$700 p.a. and a lot less in the very rural areas) and the Climbing Sherpa salary of around US$3,500 to US$5,000 plus tips for an Everest season. The Climbing Sherpas I work with may then also work on a Manaslu or Ama Dablam expedition in the autumn which will top up their wages appropriately.
If you look at a night view satellite picture of Nepal you’ll see Kathmandu, Pokhara and The Khumbu lit up. These are the 3 areas where there are lights at night. Kathmandu & Pokhara because they are the capital and 2nd largest city, The Khumbu because there’s a reasonable amount of money brought in by the 20,000 trekkers and hundreds of expeditioners who visit every year.
The militant guys who have brought Everest 2014 to its knees are literally biting the hand that feeds them. Yes it was an awful tragedy and indeed the worst single event by far in Everest history and yes it is only right that people have better working conditions and insurances. But to deny all these Westerners their dream, to effectively create a situation where the hundreds of Climbing Sherpas don’t get their season’s wages (plus tips), to rock the boat so violently that it might impact on the next few seasons and to ruin a great friendship is utterly, utterly selfish and misguided.
It is, by necessity, dangerous work. But bear in mind this is not a miner getting a diamond for your jewellery where the only risk to you is that it might get stolen. This is a route that all the climbers have to take as well. Admittedly the Climbing Sherpas do more journeys through the Khumbu Icefall but the members have to tread the same path too.
One last note … these folk are not rich Westerners. Yes, by comparison to the locals we are rich Westerners but then so, too, are you dear reader. The expression ‘rich Westetners’ is usually banded around because clients pay between US$35,000 up to US$85,000 to be here on Everest and the perception is that they have money to burn. Well most of them don’t. Yes there are the folk who are very comfortably well off but usually this has involved hard work, dedication and endless hours.
Most of the folk here are on average incomes (whatever that may mean). But they have decided not to have an upgraded car every 2 to 4 years, maybe they have forsaken holidays, small luxuries and new mod cons for the past 5 years.
So all these people have saved, worked extra shifts, forsaken the little luxuries and made do without to be here and it is entirely up to them how they spend their money.
The fact that upwards of US$10,000,000 is also pouring in to the local economy has got to be a positive aspect of an expedition season on Everest (and that’s before you start including the likes of Lhotse, Ama Dablam, Baruntse, Island and Mera Peak and other popular mountains).
I really hope that common sense prevails and that the relationship improves significantly very soon otherwise the fall out will be very far reaching and perhaps the lights in The Khumbu won’t be burning quite so bright in the future.