As many of you know, the Mountainstroh name came from my years of trying to climb mountains in the Cascades. I had many attempts but few successes. However, each and every time I climbed, I truly loved it. There is something about being in the mountains (the higher the better) that truly inspires me. My friends thought was nuts, my mom worried each time, but honestly I miss it sometimes.
So, when I awoke to hear about the avalanche on Everest it struck a chord with me.
For those who don’t know or haven’t heard, there was a massive avalanche on Everest. It was just below camp two. On Everest, a series of camps are set up, climbers move up and down between them to acclimate. There is basecamp, then the next is camp 1, then camp 2 etc…
At the time, the people at the wrong place at the wrong time were all Nepalese Sherpas.
I want to dispel some misconceptions about Sherpas really quick. I have heard the term used, and shoot I use it myself, to reflect someone who does the carrying (Sherpa dad and Sherpa hubby I’ve been called.) Carrying people’s packs is NOT the job of a Sherpa. They are guides, and expert climbers. Yes, they do lug equipment between the camps, but so does each and every climber, Sherpa or otherwise. Give a Sherpa your pack to carry and he will spit on you.
I have had the rare pleasure to climb with Nawang Gombu Sherpa (he summited Everest with the first American to do so Jim Whittaker) on Mt Rainier. If I would’ve given him my pack to carry, he woulda pushed me into a crevasse. He was pushing 70 at the time and in better shape than I will ever be. He was there to make sure I stayed alive, so I better damn well carry my own gear.
And making sure people didn’t die what was going on when the avalanche hit. Wise climbers know, getting to the summit is optional; coming home from the mountain is not! That being true, the Sherpas were installing ‘fix lines’ (securely anchored ropes to clip onto when climbing treacherous slopes). However, even though you can do everything you can to minimize danger on a mountain, sometimes the mountain gods have a mind of their own, yesterday was one of those days.
Very soon, I am waiting for people to start spouting about these poor men being put in harm’s way because of rich SOBs wanting an adrenalin rush in climbing a mountain. It happens EVERYtime someone dies on Everest, and has ever since “Into Thin Air” was popular.
What people don’t understand (and I am no expert here, but I have read many books and articles) is being a Sherpa is the ultimate goal of every boy in Nepal. Aside from the fact that it is the highest paying job in the country, it is the occupation with the most honor and prestige. I semi joke about mountain gods at times, though even I can feel the mystic qualities while in the mountains. For those in Tibet and Nepal, the mountains are sacred. And Everest is the mother of them all.
Those few who are selected as the high altitude Everest Sherpas,and therefore can reach the summit, are some of the most revered. They know the risks. In fact, its part of their pride to challenge the risks. They make sure every climbed is blessed to appease the mountain, and they “know” what the mountain is thinking better than anyone else does. The trouble is, a mountain is alive and can change its mind in a split second. It is why I try to bank as mush good mountain karma as possible.
To a Sherpa, to die on a mountain, especially Everest is an honor. They do NOT want todie there, nor do they take unnecessary risks. It is a labor of love. Without the work of men like these, the mountain would never have been climbed (no mountain is ever conquered) and many more people would have died climbing it.
If you want to learn more about them, I recommend Tigers of the Snow: How One Fateful Climb Made The Sherpas Mountaineering Legends by Johnathon Neale
So raise your glasses this weekend to those we know are gone (there are others who are still missing): Mingma Nuru Sherpa, Dorji Sherpa, Ang Tshiri Sherpa, Nima Sherpa, Phurba Ongyal Sherpa, Lakpa Tenjing Sherpa, Chhiring, Ongchu Sherpa, Dorjee Khatri, Then Dorjee Sherpa, Phur Temba Sherpa, Pasang Karma Sherpa, and Asman Tamang. They died doing what they loved, in a place they revered, making things safer for others.
They are with the mountain gods now!