Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Many Sherpas Are Striking

The situation is escalating. A few days ago most of the climbing Sherpa community came up with a list of 13 demands, from the government. Every year in the mountains high altitude workers die, it is part of the job, just like mining, forestry or fishing. While the pay is good for Nepal ($4500-7000 for two months of work) there are no benefits. When the chief breadwinner in the family dies, who is left to pick up the bills? This has been brewing for years. It just happened that a 16 person tragedy happened this year, so it has all come to a head. 

I won’t say most Sherpas are striking, and even using the term Sherpa is not the most appropriate as high altitude worker is more appropriate because there are other ethnic groups represented from other valleys. The number seems to be around 300 people that are gathering and voicing concern about their benefits and effectively closing the mountain. 

The ice fall doctors (SPCC?) have been given one week (now six days) to remove the ladders in the ice fall or the strikers will send volunteers up to take the ladders down. We were told that without the ice fall doctors, the mountain cannot effectively be summited. (I beg to differ, I happen to think I am the strongest I have ever been at altitude before and the arrogant American that I am I happen to think that if this route can be soloed, I am that man this year.) 

The problem is, most of the people striking, are paid on commission based on number of load carries to camps 2, 3 and 4. Our Sherpas, in Asian Trekking, are on salary with benefits, and are not taking part in the “mob”. This is complicated. These people paid on commission want to go home, in fact some of the most vocal live in Kathmandu and are more political, however they can’t go home and save face if anyone stays on the mountain. 

We, Asian Trekking, are staying. We are here to climb, it’s dangerous, we, and that means I, could die. I don’t know what the 13 demands were, but my guess is they are reasonable. Also staying are IMG and Himex, effectively the three largest teams. 

This is where the real conflict comes into view, between the high altitude workers and the government. I, and every other Everest climber, paid $10,000 to get a permit to climb this hill. Where does that money go? Where is the insurance or pension? This has been brewing every time a local here dies. Now that 16 perished in one day, it’s time to make some changes. 

Today is Wednesday, six days from the accident. No government worker has come up from Kathmandu to discuss the workers requests. Of the approximately 50 liaison officers supposed to be with their expeditions in base camp, only three are here. So those are the two things I am requesting, both on my blog and in an email I just sent to the US Embassy in Kathmandu.
  1. At least half of the liaison officers come to base camp and moderate and document the requests of the high altitude workers to calm the discussion and give it a professional atmosphere instead of being described, by a Sherpa in base camp as a “mob”. 
  2. Someone from the government with authority, negotiate with the Sherpas. I realize that this may be viewed as a simple labor dispute, not worthy of the government’s time, so I give the following appeal: Nepal, I don’t like being forced to go to your Pujas when I am a Christian. I saved money for three years to afford this, it is the most expensive thing I have ever bought. I had a wonderful experience in Pakistan, and it cost me around 40% as much. If I can’t climb this mountain this year, I’m not returning. 
There you have it. If we can’t climb, if we get kicked out of base camp, I don’t know what I will do. I came here to test myself on the highest mountain in the world. I don’t want to go to Alaska and climb a 20,000 ft mountain. It’s too early to go to Pakistan and try an 8000 meter peak there. Considering all the trouble we’re having in Nepal at the moment, I’m pretty much either Everest or bust. This could, and probably all will, change in the next few days. Not to mention I’m banned from China as an American climber at the moment.

I read this aloud to my teammates, and their two comments were to make sure I had 50 liaison officers instead of 15 (which I did) and to comment on me being an arrogant American thinking I could solo the route.

The situation is tenuous. While I don't feel in any danger, Asian Trekking, IMG and Himex are all together on the lower side of base camp while most of the drama is taking place on the upper side of base camp. I feel that if I tried to climb the route now, or even make a fuss in the upper side of base camp at the wrong time, I might not be as safe. Right now I'm sitting in a lodge in Gorak Shep and people are laughing and even singing like nothing is wrong. That is how it always is though, isn't it? I stuck my head out the window video taping as we drove through Abbottobad past Osama Bin Laden's house in 2009, I had no idea. Last year in Rwanda we were maybe 20 miles away from the war zone in the Congo, and you would have no idea. 

Welcome to my life. 

Finally, as I mentioned yesterday, please donate to The Juniper Fund, which provides assistance to families of those killed in the mountains. 

2 comments:

  1. "(I beg to differ, I happen to think I am the strongest I have ever been at altitude before and the arrogant American that I am I happen to think that if this route can be soloed, I am that man this year.)"

    Am I reading this correctly, or is "the arrogant American that I am" suppose to be snark? Whether or not intended to be snark, I respectfully suggest that as a visitor in a foreign country, one is always well advised to be a bit circumspect in one's actions and language. You may wish to google "Shezanne Cassim", to witness an example of "unintended consequences" that can result when "arrogance/ignorance" trumps circumspection.

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