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Newsletter 15 May 2014

Namaste, Tashi delek!

Tibetan proverb: It is better to live for one day as a tiger than to live for a thousand years as a sheep

Foremost in our thoughts are the families of the 13 Sherpa and 3 other Nepalese high altitude porters who died in the Khumbu icefall on 18 April this year. As most will be aware, three of these men who perished were working with the Adventure Consultants team on our 21st expedition to the mountain. Several of the others had worked and climbed with us over the years and were good friends who I enjoyed meeting and spending time with when we’d cross paths on an expedition somewhere.

These were good hardworking men who were professionals in their industry who could bring a good level of income back to their families and pay for the best education for their children that they could afford. When I have worked with them over scores of expeditions, I have observed that there is a tangible sense of camaraderie amongst them, a little like a tribe that comes together for an annual event where they work hard, yet enjoy the shared objective of climbing the mountain and overcoming its challenges.

It has been very heart-warming to observe their very close friendships and the cohesiveness of kinship when family members work together; beautifully illustrated by the proud smile of a father whose son has come to work alongside him on the mountain. I very much admired the depth and uninhibited closeness of their male-to-male bonding that rarely exists in our western world, where personal space accounts for a more reserved level of contact.

When I first began working on Everest with the Sherpas in 1992 the majority of them did not have refined mountaineering skills. You could tell by watching them that their technical abilities were effective - yet essentially self-taught and often rudimentary.

Oh but how things have changed! Through a combination of training and a new found desire to know the techniques and to be playing a major role in the direction of their profession, the modern climbing Sherpa is a well-dressed athlete with an armoury of skills to back up his physical prowess on the mountain. Decisions that were once made by the foreign expedition leaders are now made by the Sherpas themselves through an accelerated evolutionary process that sees them taking the lead in almost all aspects of expedition climbing. Where their forefathers that I climbed with 20 years ago would unabashedly tell you they only did this for the money, many a modern climbing Sherpa views it as a career path. A few will even go climbing for personal recreation with an aspiration to achieve international guiding qualifications.    

It is because of all this that I take offence to some of the diatribe from uninformed sources who would have everyone believe the Sherpas are being exploited. The Sherpas are moving rapidly forward with their own destiny unfolding before them in a very positive way.  They are very much in control of that momentum that will see them succeed. Yes the accident on Everest this season was extremely tragic; we who live our lives in the mountains must frequently balance the euphoria of a shared success - with the intensity of tragic loss.  Even those of us who are way too experienced at enduring the gripping pain of loss of life cannot produce an appropriate amount of emotional reckoning to balance the loss/gain paradox. That there are people who would use this tragedy to further their own negative agenda and infer that these Sherpas were working in the mountains against their will is disappointing. But Everest creates a platform that can even be used by luddites from which to grandstand their nefarious negativism to which there is little we can do except expend countless hours offering a balanced perspective so the conversation isn’t so one sided.

But it is where to from here that matters. We hope the Nepalese Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation will finally respond to our call to enable changes that would see the Sherpas doing fewer trips through the icefall each season. We anticipate a greater degree of dialogue with the Sherpa community and conditions for the Sherpas to improve over time through a greater understanding by government bodies. But this can only come about as long as the administrators are retained and not moved on every time there is a change of government, an occurrence that happens all too regularly to be confident of that outcome.

I have been extremely impressed and grateful of the support offered and given from across the globe as a result of this event. It seemed everyone `got it’ when the magnitude of the event and the impact it would have right from the outset. The financial contributions to the Sherpa Support fund we have set up for this event will go a long way to help the grieving families of the lost men although we all can recognise the loss will be felt at a much deeper level for their sons and daughters, wives, sisters, brothers, parents, relatives and friends. While none of these people will have replaced what they lost they will have financial stability to ease the burden.

We will continue to support the families of those who are now gone and will set up a fund to offer ongoing assistance for schooling and other important commitments. Some who have contributed to the cause already have requested an opportunity to directly support individual children or families on their educational pathway and we are happy to assist in setting up arrangements directly with schools or families should you want to assist in that way.

Tibetan proverb: If I tell you my dream, you might forget it. If I act on my dream, perhaps you will remember it, but if I involve you, it becomes your dream too.

Warm regards,

Guy Cotter and the Adventure Consultants team



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