Last week, Nepal’s deadliest avalanche claimed the lives of sixteen sherpas, with three more still missing at the time of writing, as they made their way to Mount Everest in the Himalayas.
Initially I had planned to post a series of portraits and photos of porters, guides and sherpas to conclude the ooAsia travels – I thought it was a nice way of giving tribute to these awfully brave and enduring men and women. Every day they carry tons of supplies – often times with individual loads well in excess of a hundred, pounds – up and down the trails all the way from Lukla and Namche Bazaar to the dizzying heights of Mount Everest and Gokyo Ri, well past 17,000 feet and even higher for the final ascent.
They earn little money and work in some of the most extreme and harsh conditions on the planet. They receive a trivial compensation from the government, have little or no insurance, and the money they make goes to the survival of their families at home, often times in remote mountain villages.
Anybody who’s been on one of these Himalaya treks, or any other high-altitude route, has stood breathless, in awe of these heroes. Every day they make it possible for the increasing number of tourists, hikers and mountaineers to dream of ascending to new heights, bringing in the food, comforts and equipment needed – without which few, if any, of us could survive.
Next time you wander up the mountains consider that each house, each kettle and instant noodle soup, had to be brought up thousands of feet, brick by brick, one tin roof after the other. With that in mind, or simply thanks to a healthy dose of humanity, next time you meet them on the trail, or hire them for their services, do your best to be friendly with them, treat them well, carry what you can, and especially, pack light and smart! I’ve seen too many trekkers over-pack with the selfish pretext that they’ve paid a porter or porter-guide for that reason. They aren’t supposed to carry loads exceeding 20 kilos or 44 pounds , although they always do – and this weight becomes crushing at a high altitude, the more so when you consider the extent of the sacrifices they’re ready to make.
Lastly, many locals and Sherpas on the Everest Base Camp trek and other much-trodden routes have become reluctant to picture-taking – be kind enough to ask!