Nepali Sherpas climbing a mountain in Nepal with heavy load on their backs

The Plight of the Sherpas in Nepal

Nepali Climbing Agencies are exploiting Sherpas for their service on Mount Everest says Elisa Zoltick

Mount Everest: The top of the world.

It is known that Mount Everest drives climbers from all around the world to summit its peak. What is not known is the underlying factor enabling climbers to physically edge up the mountain. 

Sherpas, a Nepalese ethnic group, are the hidden gem of Everest. Known for their climbing skills and ability to thrive in high altitudes, they perform tasks ranging from acting as guides and porters to setting up camps on the mountain. Every year, they layout a yellow brick road for climbers to ensure that a proper path is in place before the climbing season begins.

The Wage Gap

Nepal’s economy relies on tourism; specifically, the constant flow of cash from climbers. The Nepali government pockets nearly 20 million dollars in permit fees, leaving a slim amount for Sherpa guides. While Western Guides make around 50,000 dollars each climbing season, Sherpa Guides make a mere 4,000, barely enough to support their families. Although this is more money than the average person in Nepal makes, their earnings do come at a cost – Sherpas risk their lives with every climb. 

The 2014 Season

In April 2014, a piece of ice on Everest’s West Shoulder broke off, resulting in an avalanche that killed sixteen Sherpas. Following the incident, tensions between Sherpas and the Nepali Government intensified due to the refusal of the government to provide benefits for those injured.

As a result, the Sherpas decided to stop working so that they could mourn those lost, which resulted in the 2014 climbing season to be suspended early. The government’s lack of support to the Sherpas demonstrates how revenues are valued more than the lives of their own guides.

The government’s neglect towards the Sherpas demonstrates how their greed for revenue has become more important than the lives of their own guides.

Lack of education opportunities

Sherpas have no choice but to perform this dangerous job. Education opportunities for them remain limited.  Instead of traditional schooling, young Sherpa children are taught mountaineering skills because of the known idea that they will be working in the mountains. This never-ending cycle detracts them from the most important aspect of their childhood: education. As Geljen Sherpa notes, “This climbing also I don’t like. I’m doing for my family because I don’t have education. If we don’t have education, we cannot get good job.”

What should the Nepal Government do?

The first step the Nepal Government should take is ensuring that their Sherpa Guides are safe during their expedition. This means checking that all prospective climbers and clients have a strong background in mountaineering and that they’re in good health. Climbers who are not suited for an Everest expedition should not be allowed on the mountain, as they pose a threat to both the Sherpa and other climbers. 

Second, all Sherpas should be provided a relief fund in the case of an injury. This will provide for the welfare of bereaved families and also pay for the education of their children. Most importantly, the government needs to dedicate more money towards the funding of their education – focusing on the towns right outside of Base Camp including Thame, Namche, and the farming village Phortse. Having a proper education will evoke more job opportunities, ultimately leading the young Sherpas to both a happier and safer future.

The Apa Sherpa Foundation

Apa Sherpa has stood on top of the world more times than any other human being, but he now wants to ensure that no one feels obligated to take on the duty of being a guide on Everest. 

Founded by Apa Sherpa, the Apa Sherpa Foundation strives to “provide the opportunities (Apa) never had to the next generation, starting from his home village in Nepal.” The foundation raises money and awareness to help Apa’s home village through both donations and third party sponsors. Apa returns to his home village, Thame, every year to provide financial assistance to village schools.

What can we do?

The ideal step we can take is to donate to the Apa Sherpa Foundation, as all of their proceeds go directly to education funding. If this isn’t a viable option, spreading awareness about the challenges Sherpas struggle with can evoke a chain reaction. With more people involved, more money can be raised to open up opportunities for the Sherpa. I know I’ve been fortunate enough to be given access to public education. It is now our time to spread this opportunity elsewhere.


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The Plight of the Sherpas in Nepal

by Elisa Zoltick Reading time: 3 min