South Asia

Sherpas face uncertain future after avalanche

Mount Everest should normally be buzzing with activity this time of year, with hundreds of hopeful climbers gathering at base camp to attempt to scale the world’s tallest peak during a narrow 10-day window in May before the monsoon arrives.

It is also the most lucrative season for Sherpas, the people living in the high-altitude regions of the Himalayas who support climbing teams as porters, guides, rope-fixers, cooks and cleaners.

But the Everest is basically closed after a magnitude 7.8 quake triggered a massive avalanche that killed 19 at the base camp and more than 5,800 people across Nepal. China said on Wednesday it was ending the climbing season early on the Tibet side, and most major mountaineering companies on the Nepal side cancelled their climbs because of logistical challenges and safety concerns.

That leaves Sherpas, who can earn up to $5,000 to $7,000, plus bonuses and tips, during the three-month climbing season, wondering how they will make up that lost revenue in a country where the per capita income is about $730 annually. Cooks and other support personnel earn about half as much, but still well above the average pay in the country.

Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, an umbrella body of mountaineering agencies and climbers in Nepal, said Sherpas are worried the season may be over.

While many Sherpas sign contracts that will still have to be paid, they will miss out on day rates and bonuses.

The financial burden could spread beyond the Sherpas. The Everest is a major economic driver for the country, which receives more than $3.5 million from climbing permits annually, said Conrad Anker of Bozeman, Montana, who has scaled the peak three times.

Permits run about $11,000 per person for climbing from the Nepal side and $7,000 from the Tibet side, and hundreds are sold each year.

The climbing season runs from March to June.

A few teams are trying to find a way to salvage the season, and some Sherpas would welcome the work.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 1:10:41 PM |

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