SHERPAS: THE UNSUNG HEROES OF THE HIMALAYAS
It’s the middle of the night, but the Everest base camp is already waking up. It’s a misty morning on the South Side of the mountain that Nepali people call Sagarmatha. Sherpas are checking their equipment before beginning the climb of the Ice Fall of Khumbu. Today, Sherpas have to bring the mountaineers their equipment at Everest Camp One at 6065m. Each time before they leave, they do a Buddhist Puja. The feeling of anxiety is in the air as the Sherpas finally being their climb. Some hesitate at the sheer drop below them. It’s silent; all that can be heard is the snow crackle under their feet. Suddenly, a massive noise breaks the peace of the mountain. The Sherpas look above their heads to see snow flowing towards them. One of them screams « AVALANCHE !!!! ». The unbearable silence suddenly returns. At Base Camp, everyone is woken up by the noise, quietly shocked. A voice on the radio transmitter is screaming « Base Camp, Base Camp, We need help, so many people dead here… ». (Discovery Channel, Sherpas: Trouble on Everest)
On 18 April 2014, 16 people died in an avalanche between Base Camp and Camp One. All the victims were Sherpa guides, who were working to realize others’ dreams. It was the worst tragedy that ever happened on Everest. After this, the guides decided not to climb Everest for the rest of the year in memory of their friends.
BEING CLOSE TO DEATH MAKE THEM FEELING ALIVE
THE CONQUEST: “THEY DID NOT KNOW IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE, SO THEY DID IT“ – MARK TWAIN
The 29th of May 1953, two men walk for the first time of the humanity on the top of the world, the Mount Everest. Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were not the first to brave the limits of the possible, but on this day they were the first to succeed. Heidi Sand, a German mountaineer that summited Mount Everest in 2012 as a remission cancer gift said about the top of the world “I still feel ice-coldly the back down when I think of this magic moment.“ Probably Hillary and Tenzing had a similar feeling. Edmund Hillary said later that he would never come back alive without the help of Tensing that bear him on the descent. This event completely changed sherpas lives thanks to the media coverage of Tenzing Norgay. He became a national hero, almost consider as a god for some. Tenzing is part of the ethnic group of Sherpas. Indeed, Sherpas became the guide of Himalaya. This event also made of them the wealthiest Nepali cast. Nowadays hundreds of expeditions go on the high Himalaya summits as Everest. These expeditions need people to bring their equipment to the different altitude camps. Sherpas guide makes this work. They carry about 20kg of equipment per trips at altitudes where life is almost impossible. Sherpas guide don’t make it once or twice as the mountaineers; they do it about 30 times in the season. More trips they do better pay they are. On the final ascent to the summit, they became the guarantors of mountaineers’ lives by holding their oxygen and often saving their lives. Sherpas have a huge respect to mountains, Ngima Sherpa, a young 25 Sherpa guide said: “Mountains are our god gift.“
THE LIMITS OF LIVING: “IF YOU CAN DREAM IT, YOU CAN DO IT“ – WALT DISNEY
Nowadays, people used to think that summit the Everest became accessible to almost everyone. Yes, the ascent is considerably easier than in 1953. However, the risk of dying is still high. Nowadays, Sherpas called Ice Fall Doctors take almost all the physical risk by creating a way to the summit. At the beginning of the season, they have to put ladders above crevasse and move it every day to adapt to Ice Fall modifications. Indeed, the Ice Fall because of the climate change is moving of about 1m per day.
The main risk for mountaineers today is altitude. In mountaineering, we call the zone above 7500 m, the death zone and it bears well its name. In altitude, 1/2 of people suffers from hypoxia (oxygen deficiency) which affect the cerebral ability and the proper functioning of organs. This issue can lead people to commit suicide or to take inconsiderable risks, it also leads 1/5 of people to pulmonary or cerebral edema. Most of the people died on the Everest suffered from this mountain sickness. Scientists agree on the fact that life is impossible on a long term above 7500m. People that died above this altitude stay forever there, it’s too dangerous to take down their body. It’s like a warning that mountains are making its law. Sherpa people are living in Himalaya mountains for centuries and developed a blood modifications that permits to them to better support altitude. Sherpas people have an optimized blood with a higher number of red blood cells to transport faster oxygen. Usual people can benefits of this modifications too but with a long exposition to altitude.
With so much risk why doing that? Why smelling every time in that conditions? The minds about it are quite different between mountaineers and Sherpa. Peter Hillary, New Zealander mountaineer who summited the top seven summits of the world and son of Edmund Hillary thinks “We