Monday, February 18, 2013

The Sherpa's Mountains

“They work incredibly hard for not very much money by Western standards. I want you all to remember we would have absolutely no chance of getting to the summit of Everest without their help. I’m going to repeat that: Without the support of our Sherpas none of us has any chance of climbing the mountain.” (Rob Hall, Krakauer, 55/56)
            When I read this passage, I was incredibly relieved. Hall realized not how helpful, but how vital the Sherpas were to the success of any trip, especially a climb like Everest. When I took this course I knew basically what I was getting into: the traumatic, amazing, sometimes heart-stopping stories of adventurers. The whole idea of having someone like a Sherpa was completely foreign to me. But I now realize these sort of expeditions would be entirely impossible without them. I guess the reason non-expeditioners like me know nothing about the Sherpas is because they get so little fame, in fact in Herzog’s book they were pretty much thrown in as a side note. Hall gives them a great shoutout- but it’s sad and honestly astonishing that his mention of the Sherpas was so surprising. Not all of them are this grateful. Although most of the expedition members in Into Thin Air seem aware of the immense duties of the Sherpas, Kraukauer comments on how self-concerned and sheltered many Westerners are. He says, “It seems more than a little patronizing for Westerners to lament the loss of the good old days when life in the Khumbu was so much simpler and more picturesque.”  (Krakauer, 48) I would love to hear the stories of these expeditions from a Sherpa’s perspective, especially because I think Westerners often think they can “step into a Sherpa’s shoes” when in reality I believe we have no idea what they think about these climbers, or any foreigner. The way that Hall mentions the Sherpas gives me a better idea of how strong in character he is; and in fact gives me more respect for the expedition as a whole. We speak a lot in this class about what the mountains are a metaphor for; and I bet the Sherpas would have some fascinating descriptions of the mountains, of what for them is their home but not land they own. 

1 comment:

  1. I was similarly pleased by Hall's recognition of the importance of sherpas/porters on the expedition. Up until Krakauer's book, the lack of proper acknowledgement of porters has left me dissatisfied and almost guilty feeling. Porters are obviously a quintessential part of a great deal of climbing expeditions and unfortunately often assume an inferior role to the climbers. This power dynamic largely stems from the porters' financial reliance on their jobs and the climbers' roles in providing economic incentives. In the case of Sandy Pittman, for example, her extreme wealth granted her the apparent privilege of treating porters like disposable human beings without physical limits. Was that 30 lb satellite phone really necessary?! On a personal note, my only experience climbing with porters left me similarly guilty and questioning of the power dynamic on the mountain. While I was certainly grateful for the porters' assistance throughout my climb, I was saddened to see their sometimes pained expressions while lugging enormous weight up the mountain. I tried to assuage my feelings with ample tips at the end of the climb, but in the end the realistically mediocre payment left me feeling more guilty.