Many Sherpas are going home to give Mount Everest 'a rest'

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. May is considered the ideal month to climb Mount Everest. That's when the weather tends to be best. But there might not be much action on Mount Everest this May because the Sherpas who provide crucial support for climbers may not be there. At a key time of preparation on the mountain, many Sherpas have packed and left Everest base camp. Their walkout comes after an avalanche last week killed 13 Sherpas and left another 3 still missing. Jamlin Tenzing Norgay is from the Sherpa community in Nepal. He's the son of Tenzing Norgay who accompanied Edmund Hillary on his ascent of Everest. Do you think the climbing season is over this year or should be cancelled? Jamlin Tenzing Norgay: As per our thoughts and from most of the Sherpas point of views, we believe that maybe they should call off the climbing season this year as a mark of respect to the people who perished on the mountain trying to get the Western climbers to the top. Werman: Have you been speaking with any Sherpas back in Nepal who do want to return to the mountain? Norgay: There's still a debate going on up there. There's a few groups of Sherpas that want to continue the climb and there's a majority of them that feel that they should not go up to mark respect because they do not want to go up on the same path where their brothers are - some bodies have still not been found. I talked to a Sherpa, a good friend of mine, about this a few minutes ago. They were saying that about 90% of them were thinking about not going on the expedition any more for this year. I think you need to respect their decision and maybe give Chomolungma a rest for a year or so. Werman: Chomolungma, that's the local name for Everest. I'm curious, your father was well known as a Sherpa and you've only climbed Everest once. Why didn't you follow in your father's footsteps? Norgay: I did - he climbed it once and I climbed it once. But he tried to climb this mountain six times. Before in 1952, he climbed it just about, he was about 400 meters and had to turn away from the summit because of bad weather. In 1953, he got lucky with the weather and was able to make it with Edmund Hillary. I don't have any reason to go back to Everest again. I climbed Everest because of my family, my father climbed it, I wanted to be just like him, he was my hero. Werman: What was that experience like for you? Was there one moment that captured what climbing Everest was all about? Norgay: I think it was the journey that was important on this climb. Basically climbing this mountain was more of a pilgrimage, more of paying homage to my late father, since I didn't get to know him as well as I wanted to growing up. It was more of a passion for me to climb this mountain but unfortunately for most of the other Sherpas who climb the mountain, it's a way of living for them. It's their bread and butter on the mountain. Werman: Considering the Sherpas are the key to wealthy foreigners who spend tens of thousands of dollars to get up Everest, do you think Sherpas are treated fairly? Norgay: They are treated well on the mountain but I think they need to get paid a little bit more. The life insurance they have does not cover much. In case of death to one of the Sherpa climbers, the insurance does not pay enough to educate the children and take care of the widows who have no work because they are the sole bread owners of the family. I think this is one of the issues they have demanded. The Sherpas risk their lives a lot more than most other climbers. They go up the Khumbu Icefall, where the accidents took place, up and down this mountain about 25-30 times in one season. Whereas the Western climber would probably go up through the Icefall about 4 or 5 times at the most. Werman: Do you think the Western climbers are really, truly sensitive to the kind of risks the Sherpas put themselves in? Norgay: I'm sure they know of the risks involved because they don't go on it as much as the Sherpas do. They're carrying on the loads, carrying everything up and today climbing Everest has become almost like an overnight mountaineers - people with a lot of money, they throw the money away to commercial companies giving $70,000-$80,000 to take them up on the mountain. If they're not there, there would be no jobs for the Sherpas on the other hand also, so there's a fine balance there. Werman: What do you think the attraction of Mount Everest continues to be? Norgay: People ask the same about K2, "Why don't people climb K2?" Werman: K2 is the second highest. Norgay: Yes, or Kangchenjunga, the third highest, "Why don't people climb that as much as they do Everest?" The bottom line is people don't want to climb the second highest, they want to climb the highest. Werman: Jamlin Tenzing Norgay is a veteran Sherpa. He's also the son of Tenzing Norgay. Thanks very much for speaking with us Jamlin. Werman: You're welcome, thanks a lot.