EVEREST SUMMITEER AND AUTHOR MATT DICKINSON CELEBRATES THE LAUNCH OF ‘NORTH FACE’— THE SECOND BOOK IN THE ‘EVEREST FILES’ SERIES WITH THIS EXCLUSIVE BLOG POST FOR SAFIE MAKEN FINLAY’S BOOK REVIEW SITE’
More than 30 Sherpa lives have been lost in the last two years on Mt Everest, victims of avalanche and earthquake, yet more names to add to an ever growing list of Everest fatalities which is now nudging up towards 300 climbers.
The Sherpa high altitude workers (mostly men from local villages) take on the lions share of the workload on the mountain, hauling up tents, oxygen cylinders and food for the wealthy western clients.
Ok. You could argue they know the risk. Everyone who goes to the highest mountain in the world realises that it is a potentially deadly place. But there is another side to the Sherpa deaths which is leading to fast rising tension between Western climbers and the local population who live in the shadow of the mountain.
Many of the Sherpa high altitude porters and guides are working without adequate insurance. In the event of their death their families may receive as little as ten thousand dollars, or even nothing at all. This isn’t the case with the reputable expedition operators; they train, equip and insure their Sherpa support teams in the right way. But there is an ever-increasing number of ‘independent’ operators who (in their eagerness to offer cut rate Everest experiences to low budget climbers) will cut corners, hire inexperienced Sherpa teams because they are cheap and then fail to insure them properly.
The government of Nepal does little to help.
What price a summit? A Sherpa climber losing his life will often leave a family destitute in a country that has no social welfare, no financial safety net, and where the standard of living is just a hairs breadth away from poverty even at the best of times.
Not surprisingly, given that they take high levels of risk for low rewards, the Sherpa workers of Everest are now calling for better support. Some also question the whole Everest business, (which is mostly run by western team leaders) asking for more Sherpa leaders to be in charge. After the recent disasters tempers have become very frayed. Some westerners have angered local religious leaders by insisting that their climbs continue even after Sherpa lives have been lost.
The mountain is sacred to the local people. The home of the gods. Some westerners have little empathy for this spiritual dimension of the mountain.
Can the mountain be made safer?
No. Climate change is actually increasing the risks, making the ice unstable with rising temperatures and ever greater chance of avalanche. The mountain is likely to become even more dangerous in the next decades.
It’s a crunch time for Everest (which was closed last year) as new rules are put in place. How many more lives will be lost is impossible to guess. The gods, it seems, are angry and no-one is quite sure how to put the situation right.
Meanwhile, teams are gathering in Nepal for the new season. The Everest circus rolls on.
Read a review of Matt Dickinson’s latest novel, North Face, here.