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The deadliest day on Everest
April 21, 2014 3:36 PM   Subscribe

The Value of a Sherpa Life - Grayson Schaffer reports on Friday's Everest avalanche that claimed the lives of 16 Sherpas in an instant. "And, yes" he says, "there is something that needs to be done about it." In the wake of this devastating tragedy, many Sherpas are threatening a strike and the government is mulling total closure for the upcoming season, which has 335 permits in the queue. Footage of the avalanche. Previously, in The Disposable Man: A Western History of Sherpas on Everest, Scaheffer spoke of the high risks, low pay and shocking mortality rate: "... no service industry in the world so frequently kills and maims its workers for the benefit of paying clients." posted by madamjujujive (66 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Another, lesser, problem is that every one of those dozens of expeditions leaves their garbage on the mountain. It's been accumulating up there for decades.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:01 PM on April 21


Alan Arnette, one of the best Everst climbing coverage blogs out there, has daily updates on the situation, including the names of both missing and deceased Sherpas and their teams (which I've found to be sadly left out of most of the coverage). He also has been keeping track of the decisions of teams to continue climbing as well as the proposed strike and the Nepalese government response. He also has some more information about donating to the deceased Sherpas' families:

Alan Arnette, Everst 2014 coverage

Also, anybody interested in the options and pressures to climb for Sherpas and Pakistani HAPs (high altitude porters) should read One Mountain Thousand Summits, which details the lives & heroics of the Sherpas & HAPS involved in the 2008 K2 tragedy in which 11 people died.
posted by barchan at 4:05 PM on April 21 [9 favorites]


I liked this piece from National Geographic (reg poss. required) which talks about the complex relationship between sherpas and climbers in the modern procession-to-Everest era: the sherpas who prep the routes at the start of the season and do porter duty are generally younger, working the most dangerous jobs with an eye on moving into the business side of Himalayan mountaineering once they've served their time, but only so many of them can make that transition.

From the NYT piece:

Among the expeditions whose Sherpas were killed was a team from the Discovery Channel that had planned to film the first winged jumpsuit flight off the summit of Everest.

Like you do. (They cancelled.) The list of Everest "firsts" to pursue has become increasingly threadbare.
posted by holgate at 4:11 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


................

Some people take all the risks.

Some people make all the money.

It's seldom the same people.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:14 PM on April 21 [15 favorites]


Also, The Himalayan Times has a detailed look at what the Sherpas are demanding as part of their proposed strike.
posted by barchan at 4:28 PM on April 21


As far as I can tell through a quick Google search, there is no avalanche bulletin made publicly available for the Everest area. That is probably the low hanging fruit for improving avalanche safety.

Compare with the Canadian Avalanche Association, which provides daily bulletins for many different areas. It took plenty of deaths before we started to get our act together though. Hopefully this tragedy becomes a wake-up call.

Also, a Sherpa strike seems like a great idea. Their demands are pretty reasonable. They will not be easily replaceable with scabs. I hope the government does the right thing here.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 4:33 PM on April 21 [7 favorites]


By the time I was halfway through Into The Silence, I was OK with the idea of every single English person being strangled in their tents.
posted by thelonius at 4:35 PM on April 21 [10 favorites]


My currency conversion numbers probably are a little off, but their demands seem very very low given the amount of money that's flowing through that place. It seems it would be foolish to not meet them.

Saddens me that we live in a world where men died so some asshole can jump off Everest in a wingsuit.
posted by xmutex at 4:39 PM on April 21 [5 favorites]


I heard on ?NPR? today that the Sherpas are advocating that 30% of the revenue that the Nepali government collects from Everest expeditions be spent on the welfare of the Sherpas.

Seems like a reasonable starting point. It would cover things like better medical insurance, facilities to evacuate wounded Sherpas, better life insurance, etc.
posted by etherist at 4:45 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


On the contrary. The guy jumping off in a wingsuit is at least doing something novel. The typical climber summiting is not.
posted by rr at 4:46 PM on April 21


Saddens me that we live in a world where men died so some asshole can do something novel.
posted by bethnull at 4:55 PM on April 21 [25 favorites]


According to Alan Arnette, the serac that collapsed has been of concern for years:

My best estimate is that the area that released was a large snow and ice serac located low on the West Shoulder of Everest. This serac has generated great concern for years and was one of the reasons Himex canceled their 2012 season for fear it would release. It has released three out of the last four years.

I wonder what effect global warming is having on the alpine glaciers of the Himalaya? Perhaps greater volatility is to become the new norm, as seems to be the case with weather in general.
posted by Flashman at 4:57 PM on April 21


As far as I can tell through a quick Google search, there is no avalanche bulletin made publicly available for the Everest area.

While you're exactly right that an avalanche bulletin could be implemented, in this case it wasn't a true avalanche - a serac from the side of a hanging glacier collapsed, and those are extremely difficult/impossible to predict*.

I've often wondered why they don't have avalanche bulletins, and the best logistical reason I can come up with is that avalanches are so common that perhaps it's not worth it? Of course other logistical/political/economic reasons may by plentiful and/or dumb. Those are just my guesses, however; like you I hope that's a situation that will change with this tragedy, starting with wearing avalanche beacons which would be helpful regardless of ice collapse or avalanche.

*I'm trying to find the source where I read this but not having much luck.
posted by barchan at 4:57 PM on April 21


I can kind of see the appeal of climbing Everest (barely) but that it's become such a destination is the problem. Aren't there plenty of challenging mountains to climb in the US and Switzerland?
posted by GuyZero at 5:02 PM on April 21


The ice fall has always been the most dangerous place on Everest. Is it just bad luck that so many got killed at once here or did they ignore signs that was was about to fall? Other posts here make it sound like it's totally unpredictable. Why?

I just read that the north face is actually open now. I wonder why people still use the south face. It's my impression that that route is less dangerous mostly because it doesn't require going through the ice fall.
posted by HappyEngineer at 5:11 PM on April 21


I can kind of see the appeal of climbing Everest (barely) but that it's become such a destination is the problem. Aren't there plenty of challenging mountains to climb in the US and Switzerland?

From what I have read the "challenge" is not really the appeal, at least in traditional mountain-climbing terms. Many of those who climb are the kind who want to step on the highest point on earth as some kind of achievement in itself. That can only be had at Everest. If you made the climb safer and easier such climbers would not only still come, but come in even greater numbers. Maybe that points to a solution of sorts: let Everest become a tourist destination outright, with the Nepal government investing to make it as safe as possible, however far that can be achieved.
posted by Thing at 5:20 PM on April 21


let Everest become a tourist destination outright

Arguably it already is, albeit one that comes with costs and preparation somewhat greater than your standard trekking holiday. (The analogy that comes to mind is the "safari club" infrastructure that lets rich fuckers shoot big game for large sums of money.) The government in Kathmandu doesn't want to turn away that money, but it also has to provide services to a country where most people earn around US$500 a year, with an annual budget of $5 billion.
posted by holgate at 5:47 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


let Everest become a tourist destination outright, with the Nepal government investing to make it as safe as possible, however far that can be achieved.

I'm sure that's possible. You could probably use explosives to keep the ice fall clear. Anyone know why they don't do that now?

If you wanted to just be blatant about it you could probably just pave roads through parts or the mountain. They'd need to be plowed regularly. Some parts of the mountain are impossible to get to easily right now, but I'm sure that if you put enough effort into it you could knock down and pave your way to the top.

Obviously, most of the people who care about these things would vociferously oppose this sort of thing and I wouldn't blame them. It would make getting to the top a rather trite tourist trip rather than something that really is dangerous even with the help of sherpas and all the amenities that are provided by the human ecosystem there.
posted by HappyEngineer at 5:58 PM on April 21


One of the linked articles has a graphic showing the ice fall area and the paralleling route that was used in the 90s but was abandoned as being too slow and difficult even though it is free from ice falls and avalanches. So the solution to this dangerous route appears self evident even though it will probably reduce the number of people who are able to summit.
posted by Mitheral at 6:01 PM on April 21


The Sherpa sacrifice - Report from Mark Horrell who was at the base camp and saw the avalanche

@MountainZac RIP the boss - Dorje Khatri, my #Everest Sirdar, an amazing Sherpa, climber & human being #EverestAvalanche pic.twitter.com/IMgReJhaMG

Sherpas – Heroes of the Himalaya

The hardest job in the world
posted by madamjujujive at 6:09 PM on April 21 [5 favorites]


It says the alternate route has "serac walls over 100ft tall" and that "collapsing seracs are also a serious risk".

100ft walls of ice certainly seem problematic to me, although I suppose that given the current system they'd probably just have sherpas install 100ft ladders for climbers.

Anyone know how dangerous collapsing seracs would be compared to the icefall?

It occurs to me that they could just have helicopters ferry people over the icefall and start climbing from there. I suppose that that may be too direct a way of making it easier, so it would not be well received. But it would certainly eliminate most of the deaths that occur.
posted by HappyEngineer at 6:14 PM on April 21


If you wanted to just be blatant about it you could probably just pave roads through parts or the mountain. They'd need to be plowed regularly. Some parts of the mountain are impossible to get to easily right now, but I'm sure that if you put enough effort into it you could knock down and pave your way to the top.

Why not? Why not build an airtight hotel and restaurant up there and ship people up in helicopters? People would love to holiday at the top of the world and soon forget about the climbing they once came for. Does anybody doubt that tourists would come in even greater numbers if they didn't have to climb?

I know that it couldn't be done, at least reasonably, but I'm serious that the whole climbing thing gets in the way of what would otherwise be a tourist hotspot.
posted by Thing at 6:27 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]




If you didn't acclimate first, if somehow a choppah could take you to the top (current ones can't with the thin air); you'd die shortly after arriving.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 6:39 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


Death and Anger on Everest - article by Into Thin Air author Jon Krakauer
"Historically, more Everest climbers have perished from severe weather, HACE, HAPE, exhaustion, falling from steep terrain, or some combination of these hazards than from being crushed or buried in the Khumbu Icefall. This seems to be changing, however. Accurate weather forecasting has reduced the risk of being surprised by a killer storm like the one that struck in 1996. But the pronounced warming of the Himalayan climate in recent years has made the Icefall more unstable than ever, and there is still no way to predict when a serac is going to topple over. And sherpas spend much, much more time in the Icefall than their Western employers.

In 1996, for example, I made four round trips through the Khumbu Icefall: three circuits as I progressively acclimatized to twenty-four thousand feet during the month of April, and a final round trip on my journey to the 29,035-foot summit and back. I was terrified each of the eight times I moved through the frozen chaos, which usually took more than three hours to ascent, even with my nearly empty backpack, and slightly less than an hour to descend. In contrast, each of the sherpas supporting my team’s ascent was required to make something like thirty trips through the Icefall, often while carrying eighty-pound loads of food, propane, and bottled oxygen. "
posted by madamjujujive at 6:40 PM on April 21 [4 favorites]


Oh, I see. Keep it pressurized all the way. Yeah, maybe. Though it's still a Sherpa holy place. I'm not sure they'd like Best Western moving in.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 6:40 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


From Krakauer's article:

During the seventy-six years from the first attempt on Everest, in 1921, through 1996, when I was guided up Everest, a hundred and forty-four people died and the summit was reached six hundred and thirty times, a ratio of one death for every four successful ascents. Notably, over the eighteen years that have passed since 1996, a hundred and four people have died and the summit has been reached six thousand two hundred and forty-one times—one death for every sixty ascents.

Thrillseek indeed.
posted by bukvich at 6:49 PM on April 21


you could probably just pave roads through parts or the mountain. They'd need to be plowed regularly.

I think you have an overly optimistic perception of conditions up there. Plowing roads is what we do so we can get across a few mostly-flat miles and make it to the grocery store. There are tons of major roads in the continental US that can't be maintained during winter, and they're much easier terrain than the Himalayas. You want to put asphalt on an actively crumbling glacier at an elevation that will kill you all by itself, without even needing help from weather or hypothermia?
posted by echo target at 6:50 PM on April 21 [11 favorites]


HappyEngineer: there are only so many permits issued for the Tibet side. So you have people climbing on the Nepal side, too. The south side also is the route Norgay and Hillary took, so some want to follow that one.

They don't blow up the seracs in part because it's a holy place for Sherpa.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 6:55 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Why not build an airtight hotel and restaurant up there and ship people up in helicopters?
Restaurant at the top of the universe...er, world.

Not really making fun, it's just that the sort of people who would frequent such a place would likely be as ridiculous and absurd as those that other restaurant.
posted by McSockerson The Great at 7:03 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Blasting/paving/otherwise massively altering the natural mountain isn't a real solution, and isnt' going to happen. Frankly, i think even the idea is kind of offensive because it's like paving over part of an indian reservation because white people want to go do some recreational shit there. It's just bizarre and western centric and white-saviory to me.

I honestly can't think of a great solution to this. Using only more highly paid western sherpas? no, that's fucked up and just takes jobs away from the local entirely.

Perhaps an enormous life insurance policy paid into by the people who want to hire the sherpas? like, 1mil payout kind of stuff. I realize there was some whining about "oh yea, make it even more of a rich mans sport" but this is already something that costs closer to 100k to do than not, and seems to be a minimum of like almost 50k and really like 75(as mentioned in the previous thread).

Maybe make another 20k of that a mandatory pay-in to some insurance pool run by the government?

Because somehow i get the feeling that if that was the case, there'd be some reforms in safety standards/expectations/etc VERY quickly and someone would come up with solutions or mitigation for a lot of these dangers. Everything i've read suggests that these sherpas really aren't making that much, and are trying to do this job for the minimum amount of outlay on their own part. It really feels like an element of this is "do it as quickly as possible without dying so you can pick up more customers" and it leans more towards the well, dying. This definitely isn't the only thing like that in the world when it comes to tourists paying locals to do something dangerous...

But really though, the stuff about giving widows like $600 in this... jesus. How about $600,000? There's definitely that kind of money flying around in this world, it just all goes back in to the pockets of western mountaineering companies and the government. If this was killing american workers in the US there already would have been a huge lawsuit, and people would be collecting a lot(or maybe not... mine works in Appalachia, still, i'd like to think)
posted by emptythought at 7:07 PM on April 21 [9 favorites]


I always thought that a pressurized hotel at the top of Everest would be good practice for building a hotel on Mars.

There's already a hotel about ten miles from the summit on the Chinese side.

If they ever get that Tibet thing figured out, I expect an escalator up the side of the mountain one day.
posted by Hatashran at 7:33 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


I was terrified each of the eight times I moved through the frozen chaos, which usually took more than three hours to ascent, even with my nearly empty backpack, and slightly less than an hour to descend. In contrast, each of the sherpas supporting my team’s ascent was required to make something like thirty trips through the Icefall, often while carrying eighty-pound loads of food, propane, and bottled oxygen.

At the most minimal level, the Sherpa need to be compensated in proportion to that effort and risk. If that raises the cost of a Himalayan expedition, so be it.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:14 PM on April 21 [4 favorites]


They don't blow up the seracs in part because it's a holy place for Sherpa.

And climbers show their respect for the Sherpas holy place by leaving all their trash as offerings, not to mention the rotting frozen dead.

I'm sure if wealth decides that blowing the seracs is the way to settle the issue, that's what will be done.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:38 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, sherpas have to work in some danger or else their services wouldn't be needed. It definitely seems fair for them to make more money if they're lacking.
posted by michaelh at 8:56 PM on April 21


...a serac from the side of a hanging glacier collapsed, and those are extremely difficult/impossible to predict.

Seracs are indeed unpredictable. Like with cornices, my general rule has been to avoid traveling under them if at all possible. Also like with cornices, they are particularly dangerous in the spring. Since the spring is when the Sherpas need to be on the icefall the most, it seems like active avalanche control might be in order. A few outdated artillery pieces around base camp would be enough to take care of potentially dangerous seracs, cornices and other start zones. It would definitely make it much safer for anyone working below.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:07 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


But really though, the stuff about giving widows like $600 in this... jesus. How about $600,000?

Nepal's GDP is somewhat less than that of Vermont: $600,000 is sort of crazy money in the sense that you'd struggle to buy anything with it there. (For context, Gurkha pensions are around $400 a month, and they're often used to support large extended families. Gurkha service in foreign armies is not that different from Sherpa service to climbers, although the two groups come from very different parts of Nepal.) Not that widows shouldn't get compensated, but Nepal is a bona fide poor country.

Everything i've read suggests that these sherpas really aren't making that much

By Western standards, no; by Nepali standards, yes. It's often a platform from which to leave Nepal.

The question is twofold: whether fees could be raised further (or permits auctioned off) and whether the government in Kathmandu would be willing to use it to provide some kind of insurance scheme for Sherpa -- a small minority of the country's population -- when the current hobbled-together arrangement is more along the lines of "well, if you don't get killed, you can end up richer than most Nepalis".
posted by holgate at 9:28 PM on April 21 [3 favorites]


Maxed Out on EverestHow to fix the mess at the top of the world, National Geographic, June 2013:
A decade ago Anker, with his wife, Jenni, founded the Khumbu Climbing Center (KCC) in the village of Phortse to improve the mountaineering skills of Sherpas and thereby increase the safety margin for everyone on Everest. Many of the center’s 700-plus graduates are now working for outfitters on the mountain. The Sherpas, after all, are the ones who perform most of the rescues. Danuru Sherpa, a KCC graduate who has summited Everest 14 times, told me he has dragged at least five people off the mountain to save their lives.

“One of the obvious problems is that clients don’t respect the knowledge and experience of Sherpas,” Anker says. The Sherpas are, in a way, partly to blame. Most of them are Tibetan Buddhists whose culture and religious principles discourage confrontation. “Clients sometimes disregard their advice and die,” Anker says. “Last year was a case in point. We’re trying to help the Sherpas become more assertive.”
Whose mountain is it, anyway?
posted by cenoxo at 9:29 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


BlueHorse: And climbers show their respect for the Sherpas holy place by leaving all their trash as offerings, not to mention the rotting frozen dead.

I'm sure if wealth decides that blowing the seracs is the way to settle the issue, that's what will be done.


Climbers don't leave their trash and dead behind because they're lazy or entitled, it's because the mountain is a deadly place. Like others have said, the altitude will kill you (supplemental oxygen or not) all by itself. Even if you don't die, you barely function. I suspect a lot of the trash, and certainly all of the bodies, are left behind in emergency situations. It also makes trash removal (particularly of the stuff higher up) and body recovery very dangerous and rarely undertaken. People have died trying to recover bodies before.

I agree that it's sad the mountain is accumulating trash and the dead, but short of stopping people from climbing it, I'm not sure what to do about it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:40 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Excellent and informative post. Thanks, madamjujujive.

And congratulations on posting over 500 great posts!
posted by homunculus at 10:43 PM on April 21 [9 favorites]


The avalanche footage linked in the post is not the avalanche that killed 13 sherpas on Friday. At 10s, you can see the Lhotse face in the distance. That means we are looking up the Western Cwm; so this particular avalanche is coming off the shoulder of Nuptse. Not Everest.
posted by event at 11:16 PM on April 21


I still fail to see how climbing Mount Everest in this day and age is meaningfully different from a fantastically expensive game of Russian Roulette with exercise. Mountaineering still has an awesome and meaningful place in our society as a means of promoting useful geographical exploration, cultural anthropology, and yes, self-discovery, but Everest and the other mad piles of rock like it today aren't that anymore and haven't been for a long time. There is literally nothing you could leave behind there but the stench of privilege, trash, or your corpse. Everest is a place where people with more money than sense go to die, at a rate that is still at one for every ten successful attempts.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:54 PM on April 21 [8 favorites]


Event: isn't Lhotse at 3:00 from that avalanche?
posted by professor plum with a rope at 12:32 AM on April 22


Just put a dome over it with pressurization and climate control.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:37 AM on April 22


#BREAKING: Sherpas on Mount Everest say they have decided to abandon the climbing season this year to honour their dead colleagues @AFP
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:01 AM on April 22 [7 favorites]


This Atlantic article crunches the numbers.
posted by theora55 at 5:29 AM on April 22


I'm surprised they haven't built a damn escalator on the mountain. I do my own brand of physical crazy, but if I was a mountaineer I think I would climb nearly anything except Everest because it is the province of monied people paying some native person to carry their bags up hill. I'm sure it is an incredible accomplishment but I'm astonished that climbing Everest still has this much cachet to people.

Sadly, the idea that a dozen people just died on the mountain will make some people feel more enthusiastic about the thrill of conquering it. If we can't even conquer the matter of giving Sherpas a living wage, what business does anyone have summitting the damn thing?
posted by dgran at 6:35 AM on April 22


Aren't the Sherpas making well over a living wage? One of the articles said that the average monthly income in the region was $45 and the Sherpas are making $6000 a season. That isn't a huge sum of money in a global sense but surely 10X the local average is enough to meet basic needs.
posted by Mitheral at 7:06 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


> I'm sure it is an incredible accomplishment but I'm astonished that climbing Everest still has this much cachet to people.

Watch Everest: Beyond the Limit when you get a chance and you'll see why people still make a big deal out of Everest. Russell Brice and HimEx do a good job of separating weekend warrior "mountaineers" from their money. It's not too dissimilar from the fanboys that think riding up Beech Mountain is the be-all-end-all of US road cycling.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 7:22 AM on April 22 [2 favorites]


Among the expeditions whose Sherpas were killed was a team from the Discovery Channel that had planned to film the first winged jumpsuit flight off the summit of Everest.

Coincidentally (or not?), this week's Moth podcast is a story told by the guy who is trying to do this. He talks about his attempt earlier to complete the fastest solo ascent of Everest (also sponsored by Discovery Channel) and the climbing death of his best friend. In it, he concludes that he failed because he was climbing for all the wrong reasons (money, glory). It was a bit jarring after he finishes when the host announces this plan to do the BASE jump thing. Great story, possible asshole, yes.

I'd link to it, but it think you have to subscribe through iTunes (free).
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:29 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


Aren't the Sherpas making well over a living wage? One of the articles said that the average monthly income in the region was $45 and the Sherpas are making $6000 a season.

Take your point, but if the Sherpas made (say) ten times more, wouldn't there be that much more money around to boost the local economy? And before someone fires the trickle-down gun at me, the Sherpas are unlikely to go and piss it all up against a wall in the Riviera.
posted by Wolof at 7:44 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


...also, that footage was posted to Youtube in 2011...
posted by event at 8:03 AM on April 22


event, thanks for pointing that our about the video footage, mea culpa - that was sloppy on my part.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:11 AM on April 22


wouldn't there be that much more money around to boost the local economy?

The money tends to spill out of the local economy: Sherpa move to Kathmandu to run trekking and climbing agencies, kids get sent to the better schools there, the option of joining the couple of thousand Sherpa living in Queens becomes available. That sounds like a terrible conservative argument, but there's a point at which you run out of things to spend money on locally because it's so damn remote. It's got an airstrip, it's got some schools and hospitals, but the Sherpa don't want to build roads in Khumbu because their lives (and to some degree, their livelihoods) are defined by walking from place to place.

Here's a piece from just over a decade ago, written while the civil war was ongoing, and talking about the broad economic and cultural impacts -- including a Sherpa diaspora driven to tourist income.
posted by holgate at 9:21 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


Why not build an airtight hotel and restaurant up there and ship people up in helicopters?

IIRC, the start of the novel "Decision at Doona" had the protagonist climbing Mt Everest...And getting curious looks from the people in the tram going to the top. At which point he decides to leave Earth.

I never thought of McCaffery as prescient, but in this case I think it's only a matter of time.
posted by happyroach at 9:37 AM on April 22


Aren't the Sherpas making well over a living wage?

The Sherpas are making a living wage, and can cover basic expenses. However, as this Outside article details, neither that wage nor the sherpas' mandatory insurance is enough to cover the outsize expenses when something goes wrong.

Need a helicopter rescue? That's going to cost $15,000. Need surgery after a fall? That's coming out of your pocket. Can't work while you're recovering, or maybe ever again, but still have a family to provide for? Maybe you'll get some charity from the people who hired you. But then again, maybe not.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:40 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


So have people ever climbed Everest themselves, carrying their own stuff? It seems like it'd be more awesome if you didn't have someone else carrying all the gear. I know nothing about mountain climbing - just curious. I guess with all the up/down/acclimatization it's just not feasible?
posted by freecellwizard at 11:52 AM on April 22


So have people ever climbed Everest themselves, carrying their own stuff?

Certainly. Plenty of times. I just read an article yesterday (not sure if it was one of the linked ones) about how sherpas get angry when people carry their own stuff yet still use the ladders and ropes that the sherpas set up. Strictly speaking, even if you travel sherpa free, if you use any of the infrastructure that sherpas set up each season then you are using sherpa labor without paying for it.

This one is kind of a puzzle though. If someone wants to climb without sherpa help, how could they possibly avoid all the ropes and ladders set up already? Is it even possible to cross the ice fall without having teams of people set up those ladders? It wouldn't even be possible to verify that they had done it unless they recorded their entire journey.
posted by HappyEngineer at 12:43 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


Need a helicopter rescue? That's going to cost $15,000. Need surgery after a fall? That's coming out of your pocket. Can't work while you're recovering, or maybe ever again, but still have a family to provide for? Maybe you'll get some charity from the people who hired you. But then again, maybe not.

This was exactly my point. It reminds me a lot of rural farmers in the US. You might make more than enough to live in the remote, inexpensive area you do and buy day to day supplies... but unexpected expenses like health problems, a new vehicle/other expensive equipment, or a death in the family and you're instantly fucked.

There's a lot of places where an amount is only a living wage until something goes sideways, and then you're fucked. Even if you have a bit of money to put in to savings it isn't going to cover the kind of $15k expense you're talking about that could easily result from your line of work.

And it's a really stark difference when, unlike those farmers, you're talking about people who despite taking on those risks re working with people who could easily pay way more than they are, and will never face any of those kinds of problems likely for the rest of their lives.

This is where my insurance idea comes in, failing anyone paying them more. And i'm hoping that strike leads to either or both them getting paid more or getting some kind of union/comprehensive backup plan for everyone doing it.
posted by emptythought at 3:30 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


freecellwizard: the first to do that was Reinhold Messner, who probably is the greatest non-Sherpa climber ever.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 7:05 PM on April 22


I'm wasn't trying to say the Sherpas shouldn't make more. IMO they should charge all the market can bear. Certainly they should be charging enough to cover their medical expenses and fund retirement. Just that living wage has a specific meaning and the Sherpas are making more than that.
posted by Mitheral at 7:20 PM on April 22


They are making a "living wage," but not one that is in keeping with the effort and risk that they absorb, and also not in keeping with the amounts of money being spent by the climbing expeditions. I think in this context "living wage" means something a bit different than when we are discussing starting salaries at Walmart, say, and it's easily possible for a wage to meet the one standard but not the other.

Today's NYTimes has a good article on the labor dispute and what is being asked for at this point.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:29 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


So have people ever climbed Everest themselves, carrying their own stuff?

the first to do that was Reinhold Messner, who probably is the greatest non-Sherpa climber ever.


I would argue, without qualification, that Messner is the greatest mountaineer. In 1980 he climbed Everest solo, without supplemental oxygen, founding a new route to the summit in the process.

I wonder what will happen to those climbers who aren't part of one of the large commercial expeditions. If anyone was planning an alpine-style ascent (which doesn't depend on fixed ropes and pre-established forward camps) they will have the route to themselves. It may be unlikely that anyone would even try such a climb on the southern route. You would assume that it would be too crowded to even make such an attempt.
posted by crank at 7:21 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


They will also be doing a profoundly shitty thing in forcing the Sherpas into being responsible for rescuing them in the likely event they run into trouble.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:27 AM on April 23


It may be unlikely that anyone would even try such a climb on the southern route

iirc, there are routes that join the South Col route in part, but have much more technical climbing up one or another of the mountain's faces. I think there were some people doing those in the Nat Geo documentary I saw about Hilary and Tenzing Norgay's sons climbing in 2003.
posted by thelonius at 8:49 AM on April 23


I think the real heroes and true adventures are the sherpa's who offer so much for so little in return.
posted by Anistock at 9:15 AM on May 6


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