Colonizing Everest

The use of “native guides” might seem a peculiarly nineteenth-century mode of exploration. Not so. In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary would never have been the first to climb Everest if he hadn’t in fact been the second — hard on the heels of Sherpa Tenzing, without whom he’d never have made it. And so it still goes. Some 600 people now summit Everest each year, but most are not westerners paying up to $100,000 for the privilege. They’re Nepalese sherpas, “at least” thirteen of whom were killed in an avalanche last week. And those huge sums don’t go to them, but to the mountaineering outfits that hire them at minimal wage to do the dirty dangerous stuff and ease the way for their wealthy clients.

That’s two underpaid, heavily-laden sherpas per overpaid, lightly-laden westerner. Sound familiar? Since I’m more of a desert rat than an icepick-and-piton type, I think instantly of another climb much boasted of, as in Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad, which includes his account of an 1867 trip to Egypt:



and this photo from 1870:



Heave ho, my hearties.  Anyone for a spot of post-colonialism?

10 Responses

  1. You are absolutely right! I felt very sorry for the guides that lost their life’s . My cousin wanted to go to Napal for one year to write a book. I asked her, why Napal? She said coast of living is so cheep that her savings will be sufficient to took one year off from her work. Minimum wage is there must be way less than here. May be a dollar or less. So they were really underpaid for the one of the most dangerous job on the planet.

  2. Extremely sad about the Sherpas….They are backbone of all mountaineering expeditions…It is surely true that Sherpa Tensing reached the summit first, and possibly Hilary recognized that.
    It is not the first instance of subjugation nor the last, unfortunately, as also was the case When Matthew Henson, who was black, went unrecognized for almost 100 years after he reach the North Pole footsteps in front of Peary
    Onward and Upward, Lesley!

  3. the “colonising” spills on to many other areas in India, Lesley.
    the anger/ frustration/helplesslessness of the rest of us
    ‘privileged’ class, makes us feel shameful for not pursuing/demanding “accountability” on the exploiters part.
    this malaise is still a long way from being reduced, leave alone eradicated. Sad.

  4. Edmund Hillary committed his life to doing whatever he could for the Sherpas. His family continues that tradition. I don’t know whether the Sherpa’s conditions of living were a revelation or already known to him before the expedition. A very decent man and a rare hero with feet of something more sturdy than clay.

  5. yes, true again, Hilary devoted his life to the Sherpas….he was an honourably man, who worked tirelessly to alleviate suffering.

  6. When I was in Kenya 10 years ago, in the Masai Mara, I paid 200GB pounds to take a hot air balloon flight. Several of the Masai were employed to help fill the balloon and follow in a 4×4 to our landing point, and setting up our champagne breakfast. There was only 1 white guy in the team – the pilot. At the breakfast we were asked to put tips into a box for the crew. Now why, out of 8 x 200 pounds, were the crew not paid a living wage? Unfortunately I was too shy to ask. Watching the expats in Nairobi, and the way they treated their “servants” was also an eye opener.

  7. yes, and ad infinitum……..likewise on a cruise ship.

    where are u Leslie….? need some of your enthusiasm

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