Sherpas Demand More Job Protections After Deadly Avalanche

Image: Mount Everest

The 29,035-foot Mount Everest is seen from above Everest Base Camp, Nepal. Gurinder Osan / AP file

Reeling from the tragic deaths of more than a dozen guides in a monstrous avalanche, Nepal's ethnic Sherpa community is banding together to call for more protections in their hazardous work — as well as a climbing boycott that could unsettle the most lucrative industry on Mount Everest.

For the Sherpas who help mountaineers scale the world's tallest peak, the disaster Friday was a horrific kind of work-place accident. So now they are pressing Nepal's government for more insurance money, more financial aid for the families of victims, the creation of a relief fund and regulations that would guarantee climbers' rights.

As Buddhist monks mourned and cremated the remains of the late Sherpa guides Monday, a committee of guides, rescuers and others was preparing to make its recommendations to Nepal's government, Maddhu Sudan Burlatoki, head of the mountaineering department, told the Associated Press.

Sherpa Pasang of the Nepal National Mountain Guide Association told the AP the group has turned over a list of demands to the government seeking one million rupees ($10,400) each for the families of fallen, missing and wounded Sherpa guides in immediate financial aid.

They want guarantees that the government will enact stricter regulations to protect them in their work.

The Sherpas are also asking for the minimum insurance payment for those killed on Everest to be doubled to two million rupees ($20,800), and a piece of the climbing fee charged by the government to be reserved for a relief fund.

And they want the government to construct a monument in the capital city, Kathmandu, to honor those killed in the deadly avalanche.

The group will present its proposals Tuesday.

The "Sherpa guides are heating up, emotions are running wild and demands are being made to the government to share the wealth with the Sherpa people," said a blog post by Tim and Becky Rippel.

Tim Rippel, a veteran Himalayan guide and proprietor of the Canada-based company Peak Freaks, was at base camp Friday when a block of ice tore loose from the mountain and set off a cascade that buried teams of guides.


Sherpas are also clamoring for a climbing boycott, a move that could disrupt the Everest climbing season and disturb the livelihoods of thousands of Nepali guides and porters.

Hundreds of climbers journey to the Himalayas to scale Everest year after year, relying on Sherpas for a range of key responsibilities — from lugging gear to preparing food to navigating the treacherous mountain at perilously high altitudes.

“The word Sherpa carries big financial implications,” Peter Zuckerman, author of "Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2's Deadliest Day," told NBC News. “If you are Sherpa, foreigners want to hire you; if you’re not Sherpa, they don’t want to hire you.”

The job may be extraordinary dangerous, but it has nonetheless become the most sought-after work for many people in a remote region of the world.

A top high-altitude guide can earn $6,000 in a three-month climbing season, nearly 10 times Nepal's $700 average annual salary.

Nepal's government, which profits from the permit fees charged to the climbing treks, has already announced an emergency aid package of 40,000 rupees ($415) for the families of the disaster's victims, according to the AP.

But the Sherpas want improved treatment and a more robust government response to the disaster.

The Royal Embassy of Nepal estimates there are around 100,000 self-designated Sherpas in Nepal, a number that might be inflated because of the influx of Western climbers.

Burlatoki, the government official, said the Sherpas' demands would be considered, and Nepal already agreed to at least one request — the building of the memorial.

Jon Schuppe and Keith Wagstaff of NBC News, as well as The Associated Press, contributed to this report.