Sherpa shortage takes a toll on Everest


May 19, 2018-

The Everest industry is suffering from a dangerous shortage of its most important resource: experienced Sherpa guides.

Ethnic Sherpas from the valleys around Everest have become synonymous with high altitude climbing.

With their unique ability to work in a low-oxygen, high altitude atmosphere, they are the backbone of the industry, hauling clients and equipment to the top of the 8,848-metre mountain.

The number of Everest climbers has more than doubled in two decades, however, and the Sherpa supply has not kept pace. Raw recruits are now being used to reach the top and it has already taken a toll.

Dawa Sange Sherpa, 20, summited Mount Everest last year — a first for him and the climber he was with.

On the way down, the cold, lack of oxygen and exhaustion took hold. The pair collapsed just below the summit and were found hours later, barely alive.

“My friend said to me, ‘He’s done’. But I found a small pulse in him,” said guide Ang Tshering Lama, who found Sange.

   Lama dragged the unconscious Sange back down the mountain while others helped his client. Both had severe frostbite. Sange lost all of his fingers, spelling the end of his short career.

Sange was not meant to be guiding that year. He was planned to be carrying equipment up the mountain, a job many young Sherpa do before graduating to become guide.

“I was in the second team, in which untrained Sherpa usually carry the equipment and food from the base camp to camp two, three and four,” Sange said.

But his employer, Seven Summit Treks, the largest Nepal-based expedition operator, had more than 60 clients on Everest and needed someone to take a paying climber to the top.

Head of Seven Summit Treks Mingma Sherpa said Sange was ready to be a guide and had previously summited Everest. Sange said he had not. Nine other Sherpa from Seven Summit Treks were rescued on Everest that year, but Mingma denied there were any problems.

“A Sherpa can summit five times, eight times but sometimes he gets a problem. That’s the body,” he said.

With the climbing season barely started, so far this year at least four Sherpas from Seven Summit Treks have already sustained frostbite, according to base camp sources.

   No qualifications are needed to work on Everest. Some expedition operators require staff to do one of two short courses for mountain

workers. Others do not. Mingma dismissed the Nepal Mountaineering Association courses as worthless, saying everything could be learned on the mountain.

“My Sherpa don’t have any training with NMA. NMA training for us is not enough, we should do our own training on the mountain,” he said.

Dawa Steven Sherpa of Asian Trekking requires all staff to have done the NMA course. He said that budget expedition operators hire inexperienced Sherpa to cut costs. “As long as his name is Sherpa,” he quipped of the recruitment criteria.

Experienced Sherpa guides can make up to $10,000 in the April to May climbing season, more than 14 times Nepal’s average annual income. The lowest paid will barely scrape together $1,000.

“It’s the fault of the clients as well if they just close their eyes and go cheap,” said Lama, who rescued Sange.

Seven Summit Treks—which charges about $20,000 to climb Everest, less than a third of other operators—blames rivals for the shortage, accusing them of not investing in the next generation of Sherpa guides.

“They take only experienced Sherpas. They don’t want to spend extra money to train new Sherpas,” Mingma said.

Phurba Tashi Sherpa, head Sherpa with the Himalayan Experience company, who has summited Everest 21 times, said it was becoming more difficult to find experienced Sherpa for his team. “The young Sherpa are very strong and they think they can do everything, but actually they can’t. The older Sherpa go slow and steady,” he said.


241 climbers set foot on summit

KATHMANDU: Two hundred and forty-one climbers have scaled Mt Everest six days into this year’s climbing season. Liaison Officer of Department of Tourism Tilakram Pandey said that a total of 65 persons including 31 foreigners reached atop Mt Everest on Friday.

On Thursday, 25 persons had climbed the world’s tallest peak. On Wednesday, the fourth day of this season, 94 climbers had reached the top of Mt Everest which is the highest number so far in this season. A total of 364 climbers of 38 expedition teams are in their journey to Mt Everest this spring. All climbers are expected to reach the top of Mt Everest within three/four days, it is said. Currently, the climbers who reached the top of the world and others on their way are in Camp Three and Camp Four, Liaison Officer Pandey said. A large number of climbers are waiting for a favourable weather condition to reach the summit. (PR)

Solo Russian climber dies on 4th highest mountain

KATHMANDU: A Russian climber died just below the summit of Lhotse, the world’s fourth highest peak, in at least the third fatality of the spring climbing season in the Nepali Himalaya, officials said on Friday.

Rustem Amirov was alone on the 8,516 metre mountain, which neighbours Mount Everest, when he died of altitude related complications on Thursday.

“He was climbing solo without any guides. The body has not been brought down to the base camp yet,” said Gyanendra Shrestha, a government liaison officer at Everest base camp.

Amirov, an experienced climber who had previously led an expedition on the 8,201 metre Cho Oyu peak—also in the Nepali Himalaya—only arrived at Everest base camp in early May, according to his Facebook page.

Most climbers arrive in April and spend at least a month acclimatising to the harsh, low oxygen environment.

Altitudes above 8,000 metres are known as the “death zone” among climbers. The air contains less than a third of the oxygen at sea level and humans cannot survive at those heights for long.

Deprived of oxygen, fluid builds up on the lungs and brain, which is fatal if climbers do not reach a lower altitude in time.

Most climbers use bottled oxygen to reduce the effects of high altitude. It was not clear

if Amirov was climbing with supplemental oxygen. (AFP)

Published: 19-05-2018 06:33

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