Friday, an avalanche on Mt. Everest resulted in the death of twelve Sherpas, and three others are missing. The disaster throws a light on the Nepali people who cater to wealthy but inexperienced mountain climbers who pay dearly to say they’ve climbed Everest. The Sherpas do the majority of the work: guiding the way, judging conditions, setting equipment, and ensuring the success of the expeditions. National Geographic photographer Aaron Huey explains what makes the Sherpas risk their lives over and over.
The majority of the Sherpa climbers I talked to don't really want to be doing this business, but when you live in this super-remote mountain valley where there is this highway of money coming through, you go out and risk your life.
Before commercial expeditions, there were only three things: yak, buckwheat, and potatoes. When you can make 30 times as much money carrying loads up icefalls and setting up tents on Everest, you're going to not do the buckwheat. A lot of these guys are just trying to do it long enough to get their kids in a private school in Kathmandu and build a teahouse in their village, where they can retire.
There is a slice of the community that lives to climb and go from mountain to mountain, just like my Western friends who do that, but those guys are in an extreme minority. Most do it because it's the only real business. That's one thing a lot of people don't think about.
On the one hand, the tourism money makes a real difference in the lives of the mountain people. On the other hand, is it worth it when your father, son, or husband doesn’t come home? Read more about the Sherpas at NatGeo News.
(Image credit: Aaron Huey, National Geographic)