Sherpas considering strike after devastating Everest avalanche

Sherpas in Nepal are pondering whether to move forward with the climbing season after 13 were killed Friday when snow and ice swept down the world’s highest mountain. (Reuters)

The legendary Nepalese guides who make it possible for climbers to ascend Mount Everest are considering a strike in the wake of Friday’s deadly avalanche.

After a meeting, they issued a “seven-day ultimatum” to the government of Nepal Monday, calling on it to “address their demands” or they would stop climbing.

Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association told the Associated Press that several Sherpas have already quit and others are considering a strike.

The avalanche at the treacherous Khumbu Icefall was the deadliest in Everest history, killing 13 Sherpas who were carrying oxygen, tents and other gear up the mountain for climbers preparing for the adventure of Everest. Three other Sherpas are still missing.

(Read: A closer look at the dangerous work Sherpas undertake on Everest for Western climbers)

“The mountains are a death trap,” Norbu Tshering, a 50-year-old Sherpa and mountain guide told the AP. “But we have no other work, and most of our people take up this profession, which has now become a tradition for all of us.”

“After losing so many of our brothers and friends it is just not possible for many of them to continue,” Pasang Sherpa told the AP. “So many of us are scared, our family members are scared and asking us to return.”

Disappointed that the government of Nepal has not offered more than the roughly $400 compensation to families of the dead, some Sherpas gathered at the Everest base camp Sunday to discuss a strike that could disrupt the 334 expeditions planned for the 2014 climbing season, the New York Times reported.

The Los Angeles Times said more than 300 Sherpas have signed a petition asking the Nepalese government, which takes in $3.3 million a year in Everest climbing fees, to increase to $10,000 the compensation paid to the victims’ families and to offer medical and disability benefits for work-related injuries. They are also asking the government to suspend summit attempts this year out of respect for the dead.

“I would feel better if all the expeditions for this year are canceled because 15 to 20 people have been killed. It would be in respect for them. If all the climbing sherpas were to do this, it would solve the problem. Plus the Nepal government should try to convince the expedition team and trekking teams as well,” guide Jyagba Sherpa, told Reuters.

Other Sherpas oppose closing the mountain early because expeditions are their main source of income, Reuters reported.

Tourism, an important source of revenue for the impoverished country, will suffer if a boycott causes climbers to cancel their plans in the midst of peak season.

Discovery Channel announced Sunday the cancellation of a film stunt. Climber Joby Ogwyn was to jump from the peak of Everest in a wing suit. The channel acted “in light of the overwhelming tragedy at Mount Everest and out of respect for the families of the fallen,” a Discovery Channel statement said.

The decision came after Ogwyn said via Twitter on Saturday that the jump would continue as planned, but with a new meaning, and a charity would be set up to help the families of the Sherpas who died.

Some climbers may also reconsider plans in the wake of the tragedy. Ed Marzec, a retired lawyer from Los Angeles who spent two years and $100,000 training for his upcoming Everest climb had hired one of the missing Sherpas, Asha Gurung, for his expedition. Gurung, now presumed dead, had saved Marzec’s life on a previous trek. Marzec told the Times that he would cancel his expedition if the Sherpas declared a strike.

“This is the least I can do,” he said. “If you see people going up, they are people so wrapped up in themselves that they don’t understand the bigger picture. The mountain will be there next year, and for the next thousand years. This is the first chance the Sherpas will have to put themselves out there, and I hope they get some benefit from it.” Mr. Marzec said on his Web site that large American tour operators were pressing the Sherpas to back off the threat of a strike. “I am ashamed by our greed and embarrassed by our lack of compassion,” he wrote.

Here are some of the Sherpa demands:

• Increment in immediate relief announced for the victims.

• Provide Rs 1 million (1 million Nepalese rupees, or about $10,000) each to families of deceased.

• Establishment of a memorial park in the memory of the deceased in Kathmandu.

• Cover all expenses for treatment of the injured.

• Provide Rs 1 million to critically hurt who cannot rejoin mountaineering activities.

• Set up mountaineering relief fund with 30 per cent of royalty collected from issuing permits to different mountains.

• Double the insurance amount to the mountaineering workers.

• Provide additional chopper rescue to mountaineering support staff if insurance fails to cover the cost.

• Provide perks and salaries, except summit bonus, through concerned agencies to Sherpas if they want to call off climbing this season.

• Manage chopper to bring logistics and equipment from different camps if mountaineers decide to abandon climbing this season.

• Don’t take action against SPCC icefall doctors if they refuse to fix ropes and ladders on the route this season.

• Let the expedition members call off this season’s climbing if they wish to do so.

 

 

 

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
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