For The Lives of Sherpa

For The Lives of Sherpa

This is not Ngima Tenji. But this photograph of an unnamed Sherpa climber was inspired by the man who was the first known casualty of the 2022 Mount Everest climbing season in Nepal. The Full Circle Everest Expedition had begun with the trek to BaseCamp just a few days earlier when we heard reports of this tragic death. On April 14, Mr. Tenji was carrying loads from Camp 1 to Camp 2 above the Khumbu Ice Fall. He was found in a seated position still wearing his backpack. There was no sign of an avalanche or a fall. Leaders of the International Mountain Guides expedition, of which he was a part, speculate that this climber, who had submitted Everest four times in previous seasons, sustained an unknown medical emergency. He was 38 years old.

The long journey to the highest summit on Earth is fraught with many dangers. This incident illustrates the disproportionate toll that the enterprise of high altitude mountaineering takes upon the Sherpa people. I know now from personal experience that the trek to even Everest BaseCamp is only possible because men stronger and more physically fit than I are able and willing to carry my very heavy bags. Sherpa guides and climbers transport these weighty burdens literally on there backs along narrow, rocky trails with ever-decreasing levels of oxygen as the air becomes thinner and thinner with every step. I am truly grateful to the many guides on our trek who also were there to offer a steadying arm to lean on as I stumbled along the way gasping for breath. In particular a young man named Kamal, kept me from slipping more than once. Those of us who aspire to adventure in the high mountains of Nepal owe the Sherpa people a debt that we can never fully repay with our trekking fees or even lavish cash tips. For the lives of Sherpa we must do more.

On the trail to Everest BaseCamp with Kamal Sherpa

Fortunately, over the last decade the number climbing deaths among the Sherpa people has dramatically declined. Thanks to the advanced skill training they now receive through the Khumbu Climbing Center based in Phortse, local guides have the technical expertise to not only be more proficient leaders in mountain terrain, they also have the ability to function as effective organizers of expeditions so that they can better manage their own guiding services for clients as entrepreneurs and not just hired laborers.

Established by Everest Climber Conrad Anker and his wife Jennifer Lowe-Anker in 2012, the Khumbu Climbing Center is making a big difference in the success of local Nepalis whose livelihood depends upon a thriving tourist economy centered on trekking. The skills they receive help to improve the margin of safety not only for Sherpa climbers but for the many expedition members they lead. But as the death of Ngima Tenji earlier this month demonstrates, the risks of climbing Mount Everest remain high. The loss of a climbing guide often leaves behind as well a surviving spouse and minor children in need of financial support.

Another organization called the Juniper Fund was established to provide families with cost of living grants, start up capital for the creation of a small business or vocational training for career development. Founded by Everest climbers Melissa Arnot Reid and David Morton, the fund has offered survivor benefits to more than 48 spouses and has directly impacted the lives of at least 200 individuals since 2013. Though the loss of life among Himalayan mountain guides will never be zero, the best efforts of these philanthropic agencies can help to minimize the impact.

The Full Circle Everest Expedition required the support of 25 Sherpa Climbing Guides. We are grateful for their expert assistance.

In the hopes of making a financial contribution of $15,000, the estimated amount of the cost of living grant offered over 5 years to the surviving spouse of Ngima Tenji, the Joy Trip Project will donate all proceeds of book, photography, art and sticker sales to the Juniper Fund through the duration of the Full Circle Everest Expedition. For the many who are inspired by stories of climbing to great heights in the mountains of Nepal this contribution aims to acknowledge the dedication and sacrifice of the Sherpa people who ease our passage through an otherwise hostile environment that could claim the lives of so many more of those who to dare to visit it amazing corner of our planet.

There are a limited number of Full Circle Everest Expedition (82) and Joy Trip Project (44) stickers that were carried to Everest BaseCamp by Nepali Sherpa Guides. You can purchase one for $25 and receive a 4×6 printed photograph of the Unnamed Sherpa Climber. Click the link below to buy now.