As Sherpas leave Mount Everest and expedition groups cancel their climbing plans, Nepalese officials are meeting with the indigenous guides as they mourn the deaths of 16 of their own in an avalanche on April 18.
Tourism officials flew to Mount Everest on April 22 to try and persuade Sherpas to come back to work after their departure jeopardized climbing season for the wealthy Westerners who spend tens of thousands of dollars in their quest to reach the fabled top of the world. In contrast, Sherpas can earn just $6,000 max per season—and that’s if they summit.
The Nepalese government has offered 40,000 rupees, or $415, to each bereaved Sherpa family. But the Sherpas said that that is not enough, according to the Associated Press. They want more insurance money, tougher regulations to guard their rights, and more financial aid for the families of the victims, AP said.
The New York Times and other media outlets called it a “labor dispute”; Sherpas called it respect for their fallen comrades. Climbers themselves agreed with the latter, canceling their expeditions and with Discovery canceling its planned parachute jump off the 29,035-foot summit.
Sherpas have long borne the brunt of the climbing risks, traversing the treacherous Khumba Ice Fall dozens of times to prepare it for their clients and haul gear, thus exposing themselves to the dangers of falling ice. Though many are their family’s sole breadwinners and need the money to survive, the pay is simply not enough to justify risking their lives to this degree, many have concluded since the avalanche. And there is the matter of trudging up the mountain knowing that three of the 16 killed are still buried there.
"Sixteen people have died on this mountain on the first day of our climb,” said Pasang Sherpa, one of the guides, to Agence France Presse. “How can we step on it now?"
“He is still there; even his backpack is somewhere in there,” said guide Tulsi Gurung, whose brother, Ash Gurung, was swept away, speaking to the Los Angeles Times. “It is a huge danger. I cannot cross Khumbu Icefall. Mentally there is pressure every moment.”
Conditions have deteriorated in several ways, according to reports. The mountain itself has become more unstable, possibly due to climate change. At the same time, Everest is attracting more and more inexperienced climbers than ever before, according to National Public Radio. But this may be one year they should not try, one experienced climber said.
“The ice doctors, the technical people who set the lines and ladders for all the climbers … they say this is a very unusual year, very dangerous,” said Ed Marzec, a retired lawyer from Los Angeles and a client of the Gurung brothers, to the Los Angeles Times. “Why sacrifice more Sherpas and more foreign climbers’ lives? It’s best to leave this year alone.”