Sherpa Culture Treks

Sherpa Culture Treks

Sherpas are the Invisible Men of Everest. They carry the heaviest loads and pay the highest prices on the world's tallest mountain. On the trek to Mount Everest, Mingma Ongel Sherpa passes by prayer flags at a memorial for Sherpas who died on the peak. Since the first expeditions in the 1920s, 99 Sherpas and other Nepalis have been killed on Everest—about 40 percent of all climbing deaths there.

Sherpas working on Everest normally don't die en masse. Apart from their darkest seasons—1922, 1970, and now, 2014, the darkest of all—they tend to perish one by one, casualties of crevasse falls, avalanches, and altitude sickness. Some have simply disappeared on the mountain, never to be seen again.

If mentioned at all, their individual deaths are briefly noted in the Western media. Last year, when the attention of the world was focused on a fight between Sherpas and some Western mountaineers, you would hardly have known four Sherpas died on Everest in separate incidents. Likewise, the year before: three more Sherpa fatalities.

The sad fact is that over the years Sherpas and Nepali mountain workers have died so routinely—40 percent of all Everest deaths over the last century—that it's easy for Western tourists and guiding agencies, Nepali officials, and even some Sherpas themselves to gloss over the loss of any one particular life. Sincere condolences are offered. Inadequate insurance payments are made. Chortens are built, plaques affixed, pictures posted on blogs. And then all parties turn back to the mighty Everest cash machine and the booming business of catering to thousands of foreigners paying small fortunes to stand on the top of the world.