The recent tragic avalanche that claimed the lives of 16 Sherpa guides at Mount Everest, three of whom remain encased in snow and ice, may change the Nepalese tourism industry for years to come.
The guides risk their lives on a daily basis while leading climbers to the top of the iconic mountain. The prime climbing season, the duration of which is dictated by weather conditions, brings in millions of tourist dollars each year. For this short period, about three months, the Sherpas receive between $3000 and $6000. This is significantly more that the average Nepalese annual salary, but just a fraction of the cash poured into the government coffers by those wanting to scale Everest.
This accident has brought things to a head and the disgruntled Sherpas are threatening to go on strike for the remainder of the season. No Sherpas means no climbing.
All of this brings to mind various North American professional sports strikes. When hockey or baseball players threaten to go on strike it’s usually because they want a bigger piece of the profits that go into owners pockets. No one can deny that most professional athletes, at least those playing major sports, are extremely well paid. And when you consider they play a game to make a living it can be hard to understand a strike. But it’s all relative, without the athletes the profits wouldn’t exist, so they want a bigger cut.
While that sense of being short-changed is also true for the Sherpas, it can’t be overlooked that they earn their keep by putting their personal safety and, in fact, their lives, on the line every time they climb. In addition they have often been overlooked – not just financially – almost as if they were some kind of climbing drone or bot. Only recently has Tenzing Norgay, Edmund Hillary’s Sherpa guide, been mentioned when reference is made to the first climb to the peak. More often Sir Edmund is the only one mentioned, yet there seems to be someone standing beside him in the photos!
While millionaire athletes wanting a bigger share of the takings may invoke derisive chiding, the Sherpas should keep the Nepalese government from cashing in on them until a more equitable arrangement can be agreed upon.