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How Much Do Sherpa Make? Unravelling the True Cost of Mountaineering and the Role of Sherpas in Nepal

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Sherpa – a term that instantly evokes images of snow-dusted peaks, frosty winds, and individuals battling against the unrelenting forces of nature. While the Sherpa people, hailing from the eastern parts of Nepal, have been etched into popular imagination primarily for their mountaineering prowess, there’s so much more to their story than what meets the eye.

Who are Sherpas? Known for their ability to thrive in high-altitude conditions, the Sherpa people have been instrumental in the success of numerous mountaineering expeditions.

But How much do Sherpa’s make? As expert guides, they pave the way for climbers by fixing routes, carrying heavy loads, and offering life-saving support in emergencies.

This dogged task in the hazardous Alps makes the occupation not just treacherous but an impeccable window of opportunities yielding substantial economic benefits.

why are they integral to climbing expeditions in the Himalayas?

Their intimate knowledge of the terrain and remarkable physical endurance make them indispensable allies on any Himalayan adventure.

How much do Sherpa’s Make? A Comparative Analysis 

Tourism, particularly mountaineering, is vital to Nepal’s economy, raking in millions of dollars in permit fees each year. However, the share of this income that trickles down to Sherpas, the backbone of the industry, is disconcertingly meagre.

The Disparity in Income

Despite their highly revered role and the immense risks they undertake, Sherpas often receive minimalistic pay that starkly contrasts with the earnings of their Western counterparts. On average, a Sherpa can expect to earn around $6,000 per expedition.

The Western Wage Gap

In contrast, a foreign guide can earn $40,000 to $45,000 per Season, a staggering seven to eight times what a Sherpa would make for the same period.

This disparity is all the more glaring, considering that Sherpas, due to their expertise and acclimatization to the high altitude, often bear the brunt of the physical work and risks involved in these expeditions.

The Need for Wage Reform

This discrepancy raises critical questions about wage structures in the mountaineering industry and underscores the urgent need for wage reforms.

As the true custodians of the mountains, Sherpas deserve to receive compensation that adequately reflects the level of their skill, expertise, and the dangers they face. Such changes would provide Sherpas with a wage commensurate to their crucial role and contribute towards a more equitable and sustainable mountaineering industry in Nepal.

How much does a Sherpa earn per Season?

Nepal’s mountaineering activities are primarily concentrated in two seasons: pre-monsoon (spring) and post-monsoon (autumn). However, spring, from March to May, is the best and busiest Season for climbing, courtesy of favourable weather conditions and relatively stable temperatures.

Calculating the Seasonal Earnings

Considering the demanding nature of high-altitude mountaineering and the recovery time needed between expeditions, a Sherpa typically undertakes one to two trips per Season.

Thus, taking the upper limit, a Sherpa could earn around $12,000 per Season. However, these earnings need to be tempered with the reality that not all Sherpas get opportunities to participate in two expeditions within a season, especially during the less busy autumn season.

Is the Climbing rate for Sherpa’s sufficient? 

When examining the climbing rate for Sherpas, one must consider the multitude of factors that make their profession uniquely challenging. These factors include the inherent risks of high-altitude mountaineering, the physical and mental toll it takes on Sherpas and their indispensable role in facilitating successful climbing expeditions.

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Although Sherpas earn substantially more than the average Nepalese worker, their remuneration seems significantly lacking when viewed in the context of the life-threatening risks they routinely undertake. They bear a disproportionate burden of the dangers in mountaineering expeditions, often performing the most dangerous tasks like setting up ropes, carrying heavy loads, and rescuing climbers in distress.

Moreover, their pay needs to reflect the high level of skills, knowledge, and physical resilience required in their work. The compensation only sometimes accounts for the potential long-term health consequences of repeated exposure to extreme altitudes and harsh weather conditions.

Therefore, while the climbing rate for Sherpas might seem sufficient compared to average incomes in Nepal, it needs to be revised when factoring in the extreme working conditions, high risks, and substantial expertise required for their profession. In essence, there’s a compelling case for a considerable increase in Sherpas’ compensation, reflecting the value of their critical contribution to mountaineering.

What is the cost of Climbing Everest? Through the lens of a Sherpa 

Venturing to climb Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak is a monumental physical challenge and a significant financial investment. The cost of an Everest expedition can be broadly divided into four primary categories: travel, permits/insurance, guides, and supplies/gear.

Travel Expenses: Journey to the Base Camp

The first element of the cost relates to travelling to Nepal and then to Everest’s Base Camp. Flight costs can range from a few hundred dollars for economy seating to over $5,000 for business class. Additionally, there’s the cost of the flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, which can add a few hundred dollars more. While this is the most common route, climbers can trek via Jiri or Salleri, considerably reducing costs.

Once at Lukla, the trek to Base Camp can take about a week, costing around $1,000 per person. Notably, prices tend to increase the further one travels up the mountain. With added costs of Visa (around $100) and immunization (around $200), the total travel expenses can range anywhere from $2,000 to $8,000.

The Cost of Permits and Insurance

Once in Nepal, the following significant cost is permits and insurance. To climb Everest, individuals need to pay a permit fee of $11,000.

However, this doesn’t include additional costs, such as the fee for a local company to organize your permit (around $2,500) and a refundable deposit (approximately $4,000). A Liaison Officer per team also costs about $3,000.

Factoring in the Guide, Gear, and Other Expenses

While all these expenses are considered, climbers should be prepared with a minimum of #20,000 if they are planning to climb Everest. This figure accounts for hiring guides and purchasing the necessary gear, food, and other provisions.

Through the lens of a Sherpa, these costs might seem astronomical. They’re a stark reminder of the economic disparities within the mountaineering industry, where the very people enabling these ambitious expeditions earn just a fraction of what climbers invest in their Everest dreams. This disparity underscores the need for a more equitable distribution of resources and revenue in the industry.

Why is Sherpa underpaid in Nepal?

To an outsider or a tourist climber, interaction with Sherpas is often limited to the expedition duration. However, beneath this transient relationship lies a less visible reality. For Sherpas, their profession, while fraught with risks, serves as a critical income source for them and their families.

Mountaineering: A Legacy, Not a Choice

For many Sherpas, mountaineering is less a choice than a legacy passed down through generations. Young Sherpas undergo rigorous mountaineering training from an early age, learning the intricacies of navigating the treacherous Himalayan terrain.

However, this constant emphasis on acquiring and honing mountaineering skills comes with its own drawbacks.

The Sacrifice of Education

The cyclical nature of this profession often leads to an under-emphasis on education within the Sherpa community.

A significant number of young Sherpas miss out on educational opportunities due to their early initiation into the demanding world of high-altitude climbing. This lack of education subsequently restricts their prospects outside mountaineering, further entrenching them in this high-risk profession.

The Survival and Duty Dilemma

Additionally, the dual pressure of survival and societal duty often compels Sherpas to accept underpayment for their services. With limited alternative sources of income, many Sherpas continue to work in conditions that often fail to compensate them adequately for the extreme risks they undertake.

Ultimately, the question of underpayment of Sherpas in Nepal is rooted in a complex web of societal expectations, economic necessities, and the harsh realities of life in the Himalayan highlands.

Everything on Sherpa 

The term “Sherpa”, meaning an inhabitant of Tibet, is often associated with the hardy and resilient individuals who reside on the southern slopes of the Himalayas in the eastern region of Nepal.

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Renowned globally for their invaluable assistance in aiding climbers to ascend and descend the unforgiving mountains of Nepal, the Sherpas are not merely mountain guides but a distinct ethnic group with a rich cultural heritage.

Sherpa Demographics: A Home Amidst the Peaks

The Sherpas, in large concentration, reside in the Khumbu Valley, the southern gateway to Everest. Living at high altitudes, they have acclimatized over generations to thrive in conditions that most find daunting, even deadly.

The Etymology of Sherpa

The name ‘Sherpa’ translates to ‘People from the East.’ They were initially a nomadic group who migrated from eastern Tibet over a thousand years ago, eventually finding a home in the Solukhumbu District of Nepal, which later became renowned as the Everest region.  

A Glimpse into Sherpa History

The history of the Sherpas is intricately tied to the Himalayan landscape, their migratory patterns, and eventual settlement shaped by the rugged mountainous terrain.

Their role in mountaineering was born out of necessity, morphing into the globally recognized profession it is today.

Unpacking Sherpa Genetics: A Biological Advantage

Genetic studies reveal fascinating insights into Sherpas’ unique physiological adaptations, which provide them with distinct advantages in surviving the thin air and frigid temperatures of high altitudes.

Their genetic makeup is a testament to nature’s incredible power of evolution and adaptation.

The Role of Religion in Sherpa’s Life

The Sherpas are predominantly followers of Tibetan Buddhism, which profoundly influences their worldview and daily life. Their religious beliefs have fostered a profound respect for the mountains, considering them abodes of gods and spirits.

Sacred Land

To the Sherpas, the mountains are not just rocky heights to be conquered but sacred lands that command reverence.

The spiritual perspective informs their interactions with the environment, promoting a culture of respect, preservation, and harmony.

Notable Sherpas: Heroes of the Heights

Throughout history, several Sherpas have left indelible marks on mountaineering. Figures like Tenzing Norgay, the first man) alongside Sir Edmund Hillary) to reach Everest’s summit, and Apa Sherpa, who holds the record for the most Everest ascents, are but a few of the many Sherpas who have shaped mountaineering history.

Are there female Sherpas?

The landscape of mountaineering, traditionally dominated by men, is witnessing a surge in participation from female Sherpas. These women are not only breaking barriers but also scaling new heights, both literally and metaphorically.

Dawa Yangzum Sherpa: An Inspiration to a New Generation

Dawa Yangzum Sherpa stands out as one of the most inspiring and accomplished high-altitude climbers in the Sherpa community.

She is the first Nepalese woman to become an IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations) mountain guide, creating a path for future female climbers to follow.

Lhakpa Sherpa: Trailblazing the Everest Summit

Another noteworthy figure in the annals of mountaineering history is Lhakpa Sherpa, who, in 2000, became the first Nepali woman to summit Mount Everest after the late Pasang Lhamu Sherpa. Her feat highlighted the potential of women in high-altitude mountaineering, challenging traditional norms.

Maya Sherpa: Setting New Records

Maya Sherpa, the president of the Mount Everest Summiteers’ Association, is yet another record-setting Nepali woman who has demonstrated exceptional strength and endurance in high-altitude expeditions.

She has scaled Mount Everest and K2, the second-highest mountain globally and known amongst climbers as one of the most challenging peaks.

Mountaineering and Deaths in the 2014 Everest Avalanche

Mountaineering pursues formidable challenges, demanding the scaling of steep rock faces, crossing harsh terrains, and surviving in rarefied air and high altitudes.

The erratic weather, coupled with the potentially deadly snow and ice landscapes, adds complexity to an already demanding endeavour. While physical strength is a requisite, climbers’ knowledge of the environment and ability to react to unforeseen circumstances often determine their survival.

The 2014 Everest Avalanche: A Tragic Morning

The 2014 Everest avalanche is one of the most devastating incidents in Everest mountaineering history.

The tragedy struck on a Friday morning, around 6:30, when a massive avalanche barreled down the Khumbu Icefall. Thirteen Sherpas were reported dead, with several injuries and search parties frantically seeking the missing climbers.

The Fatal Fall of Khumbu Icefall

Eyewitness accounts detailed the awful moment when an avalanche from the West Shoulder swept across the “popcorn field” area where Sherpas carried loads for climbers.

Conrad Anker, a renowned American rock climber, summed up the tragedy by stating, “It was only a matter of time,” a grim testament to the Khumbu Icefall’s notorious reputation as one of the most treacherous locations in the climbing world.

The Loss of Veteran Sherpa: Ang Kaji Sherpa

Among those who tragically lost their lives were Ang Kaji Sherpa, a respected Sherpa and father of six. A veteran of over half a dozen expeditions to Everest, Ang Kaji was the first to summit Everest in the previous Season.

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His tragic death in the “Death Zone” was a stark reminder of the immense risks Sherpas take in their line of work, often overshadowed by the glory according to the climbers they assist.

A Report of Sherpa’s Death on Everest

Everest, the epitome of mountaineering challenges, has claimed numerous lives since the onset of the race to its summit in 1992.

Sadly, the death toll has reached 193, with an alarmingly high number of Sherpas among those who succumbed to the mountain’s deadly challenges. As of 2023, 125 Sherpas have tragically lost their lives on Everest’s slopes.

The Deadliest Season: A Grim Milestone in 2023

The year 2023 marked one of the deadliest seasons for Everest expeditions, experiencing a toll of over 13 deaths. These numbers further highlighted the immense risk Sherpas undertake in their profession, a reality often understated in mountaineering narratives.

Tragic Losses: Da Chhiti Sherpa, Pemba Tensing Sherpa, and Lhakpa Tendi Sherpa

Among the brave souls lost to the mountain’s unforgiving environment were Da Chhiti Sherpa, Pemba Tensing Sherpa, and Lhakpa Tendi Sherpa.

These experienced guides were tragically swept away by a collapsing icefall on April 12, adding to the long list of Sherpas who have made the ultimate sacrifice in pursuing their duty.

Other deaths in 2023: A Somber Tally

Mount Everest, while the highest peak, is not the only mountain that poses grave risks to climbers. The year 2023 witnessed a series of tragedies across different mountains, underlining the relentless dangers associated with high-altitude mountaineering.

A Tragic End at Makalu: Tularam BK

On May 27, climbing porter Tularam BK tragically lost his life at the base camp of Makalu, the fifth-highest mountain in the world. His untimely death is a stark reminder of the perils at the summit and even at the base camps of these formidable peaks.

Dhaulagiri Claims Amrit Rai

April 23 marked a grim day in Dhaulagiri, the seventh highest mountain when climbing porter Amrit Rai fell to his death. His tragic demise highlights the precarious conditions even seasoned climbers can find themselves in.

The Loss of a German Alpinist on Kanchenjunga

In another sorrowful event, a renowned German alpinist, who had set out to ski down Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain, was found dead after being missing since May 25. His audacious attempt at skiing down the formidable slopes ended in a tragic fatality, adding to the year’s sombre tally.

Annapurna I Proves Fatal for Noel Hanna

Annapurna I, known for its high fatality-to-summit ratio, lived up to its fearsome reputation when Irish climber Noel Hanna lost his life on April 18 while returning from the summit.

This tragedy serves as a sombre reminder of the fickle nature of success on these mountains, where reaching the top does not guarantee safe passage back down.

1. What do Sherpas do?

Sherpas serve as expert guides, carrying heavy loads, fixing routes, and providing crucial support to climbers during high-altitude mountaineering expeditions.

2. Who are the Sherpa people?

The Sherpa people are an ethnic group residing in the eastern region of Nepal, known for their resilience, mountaineering skills, and cultural heritage.

3. How much do Sherpas get paid?

The income of Sherpas can vary depending on various factors such as the specific job, experience, qualifications, and the trekking season. On average, Sherpas can earn between $2,000 to $6,000 per climbing season, with experienced and highly skilled Sherpas earning more.

4. What factors influence the income of Sherpas?

The income of Sherpas is influenced by factors such as their level of experience, the difficulty and duration of the climbing expedition, the size of the climbing team, the reputation of the guiding company, and the negotiation skills of the Sherpas themselves.

5. Do Sherpas receive additional benefits or incentives apart from their income?

Sherpas often receive additional benefits such as food, accommodation, trekking gear, and transportation provided by the guiding companies. Some companies may also offer bonuses or tip-sharing arrangements based on the success of the climbing expedition.

6. How does the income of Sherpas compare to the average income in Nepal?

The income of Sherpas is generally higher compared to the average income in Nepal. This is primarily due to the specialized nature of their work and the risks involved in high-altitude mountaineering expeditions.

7. Are there any risks or challenges associated with being a Sherpa?

Yes, being a Sherpa comes with various risks and challenges, including exposure to extreme weather conditions, high altitude sickness, physical exertion, and potential accidents or avalanches. Sherpas play a crucial role in supporting climbers and ensuring their safety during expeditions.

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