The extinction of one of the worlds riskiest jobs threatens

The extinction of one of the world’s riskiest jobs threatens tourism on Everest

It was one of those moments when kids are taken to work. However, it was not the father’s intention to inspire her. Kami Rita Sherpa, the worldrenowned mountain guide Nepal Record holder for ascents of the summit Mount Everest, took his 24yearold son, Lakpa Tenzing, to the base of the magnificent mountain in late 2021 and told him to get as close to the summit as possible. “It’s very difficult, look at my situation,” Sherpa recalled telling his son at the time. “I see no future.”

This sentiment is becoming increasingly common in a craft that is often passed down from generation to generation as the riskreward equation drives more and more families Sherpas leave the mountain.

The dangers of leading climbers to the highest peak in the world are evident as the possibility of falls, avalanches and extreme weather conditions is ever present. According to the Himalayan Database, an organization that records and maintains mountaineering data, nearly a third of the 315 deaths recorded on Everest in the last century were Sherpa guides.

Last month, three Sherpas were killed when they were hit by an ice column on a glacier near Everest Base Camp.

Mount Everest Base Camp; Sherpas lead climbers to the top of the world’s highest mountain. Photo: Pasang Rinzee Sherpa/ Portal

risk and poor pay

Earnings are also modest for all except for those who manage to join the elite club of mountain guides after years of arduous climbs to prove their talent. Early career Sherpas earn about $4,000, minus their own gear, for the Everest expedition, which they can undertake once per season, which accounts for most of their annual income.

But what is driving Sherpas out of the industry and keeping their children from taking their place is the industry’s lackluster Social Security. When a leader becomes disabled or dies, the safety net for his family is thin—insurance benefits are limited and a governmentpromised support fund for Sherpa leaders never materializes.

Some of those who leave the mountain migrate abroad, a common route to better job prospects in one of Asia’s poorest countries. Others work in Nepal as best they can.

Fear for the children’s future

“I will not advise my children who grew up in need to go to the mountains and do the same risky job as a mountain guide,” said Kaji Sherpa, who quit the job in 2016 after eight years as a Sherpa guide. and became a security guard at a local hydroelectric project.

Sherpa survived one of Everest’s deadliest disasters in 2014 when an avalanche killed 16 Sherpas. Many mountain guides hoped the tragedy would trigger a reckoning in the industry and encourage new safety measures and life insurance offerings.

After the disaster, Sherpas threatened to cancel Everest expeditions, which bring millions of dollars to Nepal every year. The government then announced the Mountain Guides’ Social Security Fund, but it was never activated, according to government officials and expedition leaders.

Kami Rita Sherpa prevented her children from pursuing her profession. Photo: Saumya Khandelwal/The New York Times

The changes introduced by the expedition operators also brought little security. Even though insurance policies have improved, insurers only pay Sherpa families about $11,000 for deaths and $3,000 for injuries. The insurance also provides $5,000 to cover the cost of an emergency rescue in the event of an accident.

In Nepal, to conduct expeditions in mountains above 6,000 meters 414 of which are mountaineering permitted the sector needs at least 4,000 Sherpas acclimatized to high altitudes, according to Tashi Lakpa Sherpa, founder of mountaineering company 14 Peaks Expedition. In addition, tens of thousands of porters are needed to transport luggage and equipment to the base camps.

There is no precise data on employment trends among Sherpas. However, there are signs of tension among both Sherpa leaders and auxiliaries.

Kami Rita Sherpa, one of Nepal’s most famous Sherpas, sets records on Everest. Photo: Saumya Khandelwal/The New York Times

To create more job opportunities in the mountains, the Nepalese government recently enacted a regulation requiring porters and yaks to transport equipment from Syangboche, the closest airport to Everest at 3,799 meters, to the camp site at 5,334 meters.

But the government had to reverse the decision after expedition operators complained that there were not enough porters or yaks. In March, weeks before the start of the season, authorities allowed helicopters to transport the cargo to base camp.

As Sherpas leave the mountains, expedition organizers notice patterns. Known for their endurance at high altitudes and in extreme climates, Sherpa guides largely hail from ethnic communities living near the mountains of Nepal.

The number of Sherpas from the Kumbu region who are considered pioneers of mountaineering is decreasing. The later formed Rolwaling Sherpas begin to change their lifestyle. And Sherpas from the Kanchenjunga and Makalu regions are filling the gap.

Norwegian mountaineer Kristin Harila comes to Nepal to climb Everest with her boyfriend and Sherpa Tenjen. Photo: Navesh Chitrakar/Portal

Some of the expatriates are looking for qualifications and employment in the capital, Kathmandu, or abroad. Thousands moved to the US, Europe and Australia. Some have found work in mountaineering, others have odd jobs or other jobs.

“They don’t come back to climb the mountains, even to their villages,” said Dawa Steven Sherpa, an expedition organizer. “So we don’t find many Sherpas in Kumbu. Many of them are in Colorado, in New York, in Austria, in Switzerland.”

Among those who have left the mountains behind is Apa Sherpa, a famous mountain guide who held the record for most ascents of Everest until Kami Rita Sherpa broke it in 2018. Apa Sherpa, 63, moved to Utah in 2006 where he settled with his family.

“It’s all about education,” said Tenzing Sherpa, Apa Sherpa’s eldest son and an accountant at a biotechnology company. “My father and mother didn’t have access to education, so they worked hard in the mountains.”

For Kami Rita Sherpa, the decision to stop her son from climbing Everest with her was because of her own tough journey. Despite being an elite Sherpa — he has climbed Everest 26 times — his income barely covers the expenses of his family of four. They live in a rented apartment in Kathmandu.

View from one of Everest’s camps: Overcrowding has made climbing more dangerous for Sherpas and climbers Photo: AP/AP

Every spring, when Sherpa leads his next Everest expedition, his family is terrified. “I pray day and night and light candles at Boudhanath’s stupa so that he is well when he is not at home,” said his wife Lakpa Jangmu, referring to a Buddhist shrine in Kathmandu. “The sigh of relief comes when I see him walking through that door.”

Sherpa stated that he will continue to work on the mountain until the end of his career. “When I lead an expedition team, several Sherpas get porter jobs,” he said, adding that it brings thousands of dollars to the state. “I’ll keep working for a few more years.”

But he and his wife made other paths possible for their children. Their daughter Pasang, 21, is in her final semester of a bachelor’s degree in information technology. Lakpa, her 24yearold son, is studying tourism management.

“I know his heritage,” Lakpa said of his father. “I intend to be a nature and landscape photographer this will keep me closer to the mountain but a safe distance away.” / TRANSLATION BY AUGUSTO CALIL