The Mount Everest avalanche accident has stunned the Sherpa community and stopped all Everest expeditions in their tracks. Depending on how long the stoppage goes on, expesditions could be delayed, or even canceled.
"After losing so many of our brothers and friends, it is just not possible for many of them to continue,'' said Pasang Sherpa, who wasn't near the avalanche. "So many of us are scared, our family members are scared and asking us to return.''
At least 13 Sherpas are dead and a handful are still missing. The surving Sherpas said in a statement that a Nepali government offer of $400 in compensation for the families of the deceased was not sufficient. With an average income of between $3000 and $5000 per climbing season, Sherpas say the government's offer doesn't go far enough. The Sherpas are also calling for better rescue and treatment facilities, threatening a work stoppage if they're not better compensated.
Peter Hansen is the author of The Summits of Modern Man, a book that examines the controversies over "who was first" to reach the world's highest peaks, as well as the emergence of modern mountaineering. He visited Everest Base Camp last week and was hiking back to Namche Bazaar, the Sherpa capital of Khumbu region, when he heard about the avalanche. He talked with one Sherpa who was on the way to tell a family that their loved one had died on the mountain.
"It was devastating. You could see it in his face, and in the reaction of the Sherpa that was with me," he said.
Later that day, the bodies of three victims were brought to Namche by military helicopter. "You could see it in everyone's face and it was all people talked about," Hansen said. "Climbers were upset, everybody was upset. For so many it was the worst news possible."
Hansen says anger and frustration has built up over recent years, directed mostly at the Nepali government. "They want better compensation, better protections, and more of the income that right now is going to the Nepali state that instead should be going into a fund to support Sherpas who are in distress or have been killed," Hansen said. "The Sherpas aren't so much angry at the Western climbers as they are at the whole system in which they see the Nepali government as the barrier to a fairer treatment."
In short, Hanson says there's frustration with years of undertaking severe risk for small rewards.
"It's the gulf between how the Sherpas get treated when they're killed versus how other people seem to be treated in the Nepali government that's upsetting," he said.
In other words, the Sherpas want a bigger share of the rewards the expeditions generate, in exchange for the sacrifices they make day-in and day-out during the climbing season.