‘I see no future’: Nepal’s Sherpas leave the job they made famous


KATHMANDU: It was a bring-your-child-to-work moment. The father’s intention, however, was not to inspire.
Kami Rita Sherpa, a renowned Nepali mountain guide who holds the record for most ascents of Mount Everest, took his 24-year-old son, Lakpa Tenzing, to the foot of the magnificent peak in late 2021 and told him that this was as close as he should think about coming to it. “It’s a struggle, look at me,” Kami Rita Sherpa recalled telling his son there. “I see no future. ”
It is an increasingly common sentiment in a trade that has often been passed down through the generations, as the risk-to-reward calculation for more Sherpa families argues for abandoning the mountain.
The dangers of guiding climbers to the world’s highest peak, with the ever-present possibility of falls, avalanches and extreme weather, are evident. Nearly one-third of the 315 recorded deaths on Everest over the past century have been of Sherpa guides, according to the Himalayan Database, a mountaineering record-keeping body. Just last month, three Sherpas died when they were hit by a column of ice at a glacier near the mountain’s base camp.
The pay is also modest for all but those who make it to an elite and decorated club of guides, after years of gruelling climbs and proven success. Sherpas early in their career make about $4,000, minus expenditures for gear, for their once-a-season Everest expedition, which accounts for the bulk of their yearly income. But what is pushing Sherpas to leave the industry, and to discourage their children from taking it up, is the scant security it offers. If a guide becomes disabled or ends up dead, there is little safety net for his family — insurance payouts are limited, and a promised government welfare fund for Sherpa guides has not materialised.
Some who abandon the mountain are migrating abroad. Others have found whatever work they can inside Nepal. “I won’t suggest my hard-raised children to continue the same risky mountain guide jobs,” said Kaji Sherpa, who quit in 2016 after eight years as a Sherpa guide and became a security guard. Kaji Sherpa survived one of the deadliest disasters on Everest, when an avalanche in 2014 killed 16 Sherpas.
Among those who have left the mountains behind is Apa Sherpa, a famed guide who held the record for most summits of Everest until Kami Rita Sherpa broke it in 2018. Apa Sherpa, who is now 63, moved to Utah, US, in 2006 and settled his family there. “It’s all for education,” Tenzing, the eldest son of Apa Sherpa and an accountant at a biotech firm, said. “Both my dad and mom were deprived of education, so he worked hard in the mountains. ” Kami Rita Sherpa’s son Lakpa, 24, is completing a degree in tourism management. “I plan to be a landscape photographer — that will keep me closer to the mountain, but from a distance. “


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