Sherpa solidarity–from Queens to Nepal–standing up to the legacy of the mountain
A strike? Boycott? Talk of a union?
Not exactly what you’d expect to hear from a humble Nepalese sherpa. But these
days, the Sherpa wants to be seen more as an elite mountaineer and less of a
Indeed, if Twitter were around during Sir Edmund Hillary’s historic scaling of
Mt. Everest in 1953, the most famous Sherpa ever, Tenzing Norgay, might be
That’s why the adventurers and climbers from around the world, hoping to scale
Everest this season, are turning back and coming home.
The mountain is closed.
The one-day boycott of the Sherpas this week has been extended until better
conditions can be established for them.
The urgency of that was made clear April 18. That’s when the world fell, quite
literally, and changed everything for the Sherpas and those who seek their
services. A serac– a column of glacial ice that juts up like a pointy
cathedral–tumbled half way up Mt. Everest. The act of gravity created a massive
avalanche of icy rock, killing 16 Sherpas.
Many of them were friends and climbing buddies of Serap Jangu Sherpa.
Then Dorji Sherpa, 33, pictured here with the thumbs up sign on a past
expedition, was more than just related to Serap by marriage.
“He was my best friend and climbing buddy,” said Serap, 45, who now lives in New
York City and works in an outdoors sporting goods store.
An elite mountaineer, Serap is president of the U.S. Nepal Climbers Association,
a group of about 19 ethnic Sherpas who grew up in the rarified air of the
Himalayas and for whom climbing the mountain was seen as their only way up in
Serap is the first person to climb K2, known as the second highest peak in the
world at more than 28,000 feet. His distinction? He did it twice within 12
He was also the first Nepalese to complete the circuit of all the peaks in
excess of 20,000 feet in 2009.
And Everest? Of course, he’s made it to the summit. Three times.
But even then, as someone who climbed and led nearly 30 expeditions, there was
no future for him in Nepal–even though it would appear there is plenty of money
to go around.
Climbers from around the world come to Nepal and pay around $11,000 for one
climbing license. Multiply that by 1,000 or so, and you see the millions of
dollars the government takes in.
But the climbers get a miniscule fraction of that. In a climbing season, Serap
said a climber can make about $5,000 for a two- to three-month period. In a
rupee economy, they make it last until the next climb.
That’s why the Sherpas are meeting with the government and demanding more. Many
saw it as a slap in the face when survivors of the 16 victims were offered a
mere $400 in insurance money.
It only fueled the anger and upped the demand–now $20,000 in insurance and care
Still, it’s a small price compared to what Nepal takes in from adventure
Serap, like the others in the large Sherpa community in Queens, have spent the
last few weeks mourning.
They follow the news back home and are united with the Sherpas there.
In my phone conversation, I sensed Serap’s sadness. He sells equipment to
adventurers now and does some indoor climbing in New York. He’s unhappy that the
season is ending prematurely.
“I miss the mountain,” he says.
But then he remembers his friend, Then Gurji Sherpa, and the others lost in the
avalanche, and says unequivocally, “We support the strike.”
Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page. The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.