THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN THE SHADOWS OF THE MOUNTAINS:
Think about your day job for a second. What does it entail? Do you sit at a desk all day watching the clock tic down? Do you deal with crazy customers who left their morals and basic human respect at the door? Do you chase bad guys or rush to the scene of an accident? Or run into a building engulfed with flames to save innocent lives? What ever your job may be, just think about why you do it. We spend most of our time devoting ourselves to these jobs so that our families can have security and comfort. We go through the constant daily grind just so that we can give our loved ones something that we may have never had. What ever job it is that comes across you head when asked to think about what you do for a living, you can find comfort in knowing that your neighbors, friends, and family are all doing what they do too because of the common goal to live a better life. But how far would you go to give your family everything they need and want? Would you put your life on the line everyday? Would you spend months away from them fighting extreme elements to help people get “the photo of a life time”? Would you risk your life constantly for a wealthy person who just wants to reap the benefits of being able to say “yup I did that.” Well there is a group of people that live in the high mountain ranges of the Himalaya's and most of them do exactly that. These people are called Sherpa's, and just like you and the people around you, they would do anything for their families and they are constantly proving that.
People often think of Sherpa's as people who just carry material and equipment up the steep mountain slopes, but that’s not the case. Guiding mountain expeditions and pampering their Western clients is just one of the jobs that many of the Sherpa people take on to provide for their family. With the Himalaya's being home to some of the worlds tallest mountains and challenging yet unique peaks it is a mountaineer’s paradise, and with tourism comes business. But aside from having one of the most dangerous and difficult job markets in the world, who are the Sherpa people?
The word Sherpa actually means people who live east. “SHER” meaning east and “PA” meaning people. The Sherpa's where Tibetan Buddhist that moved from the Kham region of Tibet across valleys and hill ranges to the high altitudes of the Himalayan mountains over 500 years ago. All of that be closer to the mountain they held most sacred, Mount Everest. At the high altitudes and difficult living conditions of 2500 – 4300 Meters (depending on the Sherpa community) above sea level, they have built societies that are not only sustainable but advancing. Sherpa people have very strong, tight knit bonds with their friends and family with most villages ranging in population from the thousands to just a few hundred. Walking though a Sherpa village you would see a multi coloured tin roofed buildings, men and women tending to their potato and rice patches, and Yak’s, Cow’s, or Dzho’s (yak and cow hybrid) pulling wooden trailers carrying goods or people. On the streets you would hear the locals speaking their native language called “Sherpa”. The language is similar to Tibetan, but the Sherpa's do not actually have a written part to their dialect. Many Sherpa people make their living by running small tea houses and providing accommodations for passing travelers and adventure seekers. With roughly 360 million dollars moving through the Himalayan mountaineering market it is easy to see why it attracts so many of the local Sherpa people to capitalize on the opportunity of showing tourist from all over their giant backyard. Many people are amazed at the connection and kindness that the Sherpa people show one another and everyone who visits these villages. Making life long friends with the family that gives them shelter and feeds them during their visits. The Sherpa people are truly interesting and have even been deemed superhuman due to the fact that they have adapted to live at such high altitudes, resulting in powerful lungs. Their muscles are able to work off less oxygen than your typical “low lander” giving them an abundance of energy. They live, eat, breath, and survive in the most extreme conditions with winter temperature dropping below -20 Degrees Celsius in some parts of the mountain range. They truly are an awesome example of being able to adapt to your surroundings. With most of the Sherpa people following the religion practices of their ancestors, most of them practice Buddhism. So, with the cold and harsh environments of the Himalayan’s you find the most selfless, kind people. They have adapted to their surroundings but are not controlled by them. The Sherpa people are truly wild.
When ever you see a picture of a person on top of Everest do you ever wonder who is holding the camera? When you hear somebody got stranded on the insane slopes of K2, but they made it down alive do you ever wonder how? The Sherpas who decide to get into the guiding industry are usually attracted to the job for the high pay. A typical guide will make anywhere between 3000-8000$ dollars over a two-month period, that is massive money in these Sherpa villages. For one season on Mount Everest a guide is able to feed his family for the year, and just like you and I that is all they want. What is another day at the office for these guides? ITS INSANE!! Yes, it is an absolutely incredibly insane line of work. The Sherpa guides start off the season typically in April/May by meeting their clients who each have payed thousands of dollars to summit one of the peaks that surround the homes of the guides. Soon after introduction and a few meals and drinks of home made hard liquor, the Sherpa guides load up their client’s belongings and gear on their backs and fore heads and start moving it all to the base camps 1300 meters from their starting village. After all the gear is moved the Sherpa's well set up camp and cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner for their clients. When ever the mountaineers go out on climatizing treks the guides will carry all the gear and direct all climbers for the treks. When day comes to summit these massive peaks the Sherpa guide is the backbone behind the whole ascent and descent, when they get to the top there is no celebratory pose only another day of “living the dream”. These Sherpa guides face difficult decision making everyday, if someone is facing altitude sickness, lost on the mountain, suffering from frost bite, or one of the many variables that can happen while climbing these massive mountains, the Sherpa guides are the first ones to respond… the first ones with action. Their job calls for these guides to bring down dead bodies, so families can give their loved ones a proper burial. To summit the highest peaks multiple times and deal with novice climbers with a “go get er” stubborn attitude, who could put everyone on the expeditions life on the line. They do all of this to supply their family with the sense of security and to put food in their bellies. The Sherpa mountain guides are “uncommon people among uncommon people” and put so much on the line just so that these adventure seekers can get their “yup I did that” ego boost. They live in the shadows of the mountains and are the unsung heroes of our adventure books.
With social media and the ability to share adventure stories, people want that feeling of being on top of the world regardless of their experience. This brings lots of novice climbers and even some with no experience at all to the Himalayan’s. They bring their cheque book with a mind full of ambition and hopeful thoughts, but sadly that will not get you to the top of these peaks. Mountaineering with a Sherpa or not,is no joke and it is a very dangerous sport/lifestyle. The people who do it dedicate lots of time and energy into their passion and careers. With novice climbers wanting to take on the big peaks, it puts a massive amount of pressure and responsibilities on the Sherpa guides. In 2016 the Sherpa's of Nepal started to get fed up and saying that they will not accept any more inexperienced climbers. They said "it is way to dangerous for them and everyone on the expedition". The Sherpa's demands were met and novice climbers are no longer allowed to summit Mount Everest, and many of the surrounding peaks. Ambition is great and it is inspiring when you see these wild people up on top of these incredible mountains, but remember who helped them get there and the amount of work that was put into make that summit. Because a picture is worth a thousand words.
STAY WILD AND STAY CURIOUS