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This 9 page Class Notes was uploaded by Audrey Noonan on Wednesday December 30, 2015. The Class Notes belongs to POLI 307 at College of Charleston taught by Dr. Nowlin in Fall 2015. Since its upload, it has received 190 views. For similar materials see Environmental Policy in Political Science at College of Charleston.
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Date Created: 12/30/15
Noonan 1 Audrey Noonan Dr. ScottCopses HONS 110 21 November 2014 Sherpa and the Commercialization of Everest On May 11th, eight people met their end on Everest. As writer John Krakauer reaches the summit one o'clock in the afternoon, he remains there for a mere 5 minutes before noticing clouds off in the distance and deciding to return. As he begins his descent, he encounters more and more people in line to get to the summit. When he warns them of the weather, they continue upwards regardless. Further down the mountain, at around three o'clock, Krakauer runs out of supplemental oxygen as it begins to snow. By six o'clock, he has yet to reach camp and there is so much snow he can no longer see footprints from the ascent and is left to try and recall landmarks. When he finally arrives, it's dark and he crawls into his tent before passing out, assuming the rest of his expedition group made it back safely. In the morning however, he learns otherwise the snow developed into a full blown blizzard, and claimed eight lives. In his lackof oxygen induced delusion the night before, he saw people return to camp that never actually did, and now must wrangle with the fact that his expedition is leaving the mountain with only half of the group they began with (Krakauer). Noonan 2 If entire novels have been written about deadly experiences climbing Everest, why is it becoming more popular to attempt to do so? There are plenty of success stories as well, but how are the people conquering the mountain doing it? A majority of the accomplishments can and should be accredited to a group known as Sherpa, the people indigenous to the areas of Tibet and Nepal. While still fairly unrecognized in the western world, they have a huge influence with regards to the climbing industry. Since the first summit of Everest in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, Sherpa have filled a pivotal role in every successful expedition (Fisher). In addition to traditionally serving as a porter, they are entirely responsible for the fixing of ropes and ladders needed to get up the most dangerous parts of Everest's peaks. Their skills have always been needed to conquer Everest, but since the first successful ascent, tourism has increased, and their role becomes even more important with each climbing season. Because the job of sherpa is the same as that usually performed by Sherpa, tourists have come to see the terms as interchangeable ("When You Call Someone A Sherpa, What Does That Mean?."). Without differentiating between the cultural group of "Sherpa" and the career of "sherpa" we fail to understand the significance of the area and its people. By examining the history of Nepal and Everest's impact on the Sherpa we can better understand how the two terms have come to exist as separate entities. As the tallest mountain on earth, Mount Everest is considered to be a very remote and wild place. At an altitude of 29,000 feet, only a handful of nonmicroscopic organisms inhabit it's ridges. The same can be said for the SoluKhumbu region of Nepal. At 12,000 feet above sea level, it's inhabitants are some of the only in the world to be born and raised at such a high altitude ("News and Update."). That fact in itself helps to explain why they are so adept at Noonan 3 climbing. Most people that come to climb Everest live at sea level, and have incredibly high chances of developing what is commonly known as altitude sickness, with some becoming so sick they suffer from split ribs. To prevent this, expeditions go through a roughly two week period where they acclimatize. This refers to the act of climbing back and forth from base camp to camps one, two, and three for two or three weeks before finally making the final push to camp four and the peak. If a nonacclimatized person were to be dropped on Everest's highest peak, they wouldn't survive for more than ten minutes due to altitude sickness (Krakauer). After tens of generations being born and raised above 12,000 feet, Sherpa have a genetic advantage, sometimes referred to as the Sherpa "phenomenon". Because they able to breather thinner air, faster, it is extremely rare for them to suffer from even a small bout of altitude sickness, making them capable of doing the hardest work while climbing. While living at such a high altitude is certainly advantageous in the field of climbing, how and why did a group of people end up living in such an extreme climate at such a high altitude before climbing was even an industry? The history of Sherpa in Nepal can be traced fairly easily back to their immigration from Tibet to the SoluKhumbu region circa 1500. The term "Sherpa" translates directly to "easterner", "the Sherpa pronunciation is Sherwa, from shar, "east" and wa, "people" (Fisher, 55). To reach the Everest's southern slopes, Sherpa are believed to have walked across the Nangpa La pass where they then settled and began earning livings in agriculture. Since then, they've become "the most famous minority in a country where there is no majority" due to climbing. Only 10,000 Sherpa remain in the SoluKhumbu region, and in Khumbu itself a mere 3,000 remain (Reid). Of the two paths to Everest's peak, the most popular Noonan 4 route, the south col, runs directly through the small and scarcely populated Nepal, located at 4,000 feet ("News and Update"). Though it's population is dwindling in numbers, the remaining residents of Nepal are extremely diverse with an incredibly rich culture. It is however, an impoverished, still developing country, consistently ranking among the lowest on the UN human development index ("Everest.. Nepal."). It's capital, Kathmandu, was built more than 2,000 years ago but is home to a mere 975,453 residents, and now has an economy built entirely around tourism ("News and Update"). Almost all of the residents indigenous to the area surrounding Kathmandu and other areas of Nepal are referred to as Sherpa, although the area is of composed numerous groups with distinct histories. The Sherpa and other clans differentiate themselves based on lineage, even though no one below 12,000 feet will take the time to do so. "Numerous other inhabitants of the region, closely akin to the Sherpa in language and customs, are known as Khambas and regarded as slightly inferior to the original Sherpas." (FürerHaimendorf, 23). While they all began earning their living in livestock and animal husbandry, 3 major innovations have altered their history and distinguished them: the introduction of the potato, the introduction of iodine, and the introduction of a tourist focused economy (Fisher). The latter is by far the most important, especially to those who refer to themselves as "true" Sherpas. "To be a "true" Sherpa nowadays is to belong to one of about eighteen patrilineal, exogamous clans", most of which are, as a whole, known for climbing Everest (Fisher, 61). Since their original migration to the SoluKhumbu region for unknown reasons, the rest of their history can be traced directly to all things Everest. While it didn't become an "industry" Noonan 5 until very recently, Everest has garnered large amounts of attention since as early as the 1700's. The need for extreme mountaineering skills has only become relevant within the past 100 years, and that's when we begin to see the definition of Sherpa change, as well as the addition of the lowercase term, sherpa. The first attempt at climbing Everest occurred in 1921 by the British Mount Everest reconnaissance expedition, and while their attempt is a landmark in the history of Everest, it had a very small impact on Nepalese Sherpa at the time, as foreigners weren't allowed through the country. Tibetan Sherpa however, were a part of the mission, which helps demonstrate the importance of Sherpa since the beginning of expeditions. When Sir Edmund Hillary and his infamous Nepalese Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, summited the peak in 1953, they both achieved overwhelming amounts of fame, and to this day Tenzing remains the most famous of all Sherpa. While this is an incredible feat, hundreds of Sherpa have accomplished equally incredible things without receiving even close to the same degree of recognition. 24 hours on the summit, summiting in 21 hours, and summiting 20 times are things that Sherpa have accomplished that no westerner could ever dream of, yet most westerners have ever even heard of. Babu Chiri, the man that holds the record for summiting twice in two weeks and spending the night at the summit describes it as "no more difficult than, say, boiling an egg" (Ganguly). As Krakauer describes in "Into Thin Air", some Sherpa climb to the peaks with 80 pound backpacks, while the average climbers bag contains only oxygen tanks, weighing a mere 10 pounds (Krakauer). With the help of the overwhelmingly talented Sherpa, nearly anyone can climb to different camps, and many can summit. So many however, that the Sherpa and economy of Nepal have become entirely dependent on the tourists each climbing season. Noonan 6 Without the growing climbing industry, most Sherpa would remain as porters, working for around 60 cents per day (Reid). A climbing sherpa working for one season (3 months) will make between $2,000 and $6,000 ("Tourism Ethics and the Sherpas of Mt. Everest."). But does the risk outweigh the reward? Statistically, a sherpa working in a climbing season is more likely to die than a soldier in Iraq. "Of the 175 climbers who have died on Everest, a third have been Sherpas"(Reid). 84 died from 1950 through mid1989, from 2000 to 2013, only 12 ethnic Sherpa have died on the mountain. While those odds may not seem too terrible, 16 died just this year in a massive avalanche (Reid). Not every sherpa climbs high enough to put himself in immediate danger any sherpa may progress through all the ranks of trekking jobs in their lifetime. They begin as porters and kitchen workers, then "sherpa", then serious mountaineering may begin, followed by cook or another leadership position depending on their particular skill set. This is exemplified by Sherpa Babu Chiri, who has climbed for a living since 14 years of age. "He became a porter, earning barely 50 cents a day, gradually working his way up to kitchen boy, and then cook. His aim all along was to join the exclusive club of "climbing Sherpas," highaltitude experts" (Ganguly). The reason that Chiri refers to said club as "exclusive" is because that of all "climbing Sherpa", only a small percentage are able to do what he does, "Western companies hire Sherpas like Babu Chiri to lead the first assault, laying the ropes and ladders. The rest of the expedition simply follows in the Sherpa's wake" (Ganguly). This alleviates the hardest work from everyone else. While tourists have a harder time accomplishing the simplest tasks, such as breathing, the skilled Sherpa are left to make the most difficult of tasks doable, such as crossing the Khumbu Icefall. The Icefall is, in the simplest of terms, a frozen waterfall. While that may seem safe Noonan 7 enough being frozen, it's actually the most dangerous of the entire trek up south col, including the "death zone". Some geologic features typical to the Khumbu Icefall include massive columns of ice, which with global warming, are shifting and falling more than ever before. "You have this river of ice that's tumbling down the side of the mountain, and these huge, teetering, apartment sized blocks of ice, that are constantly shifting" ("Tourism...Everest".). Most Sherpa however, won't attribute to the increase in accidents on the Icefall to global warming, but instead to the angering of the deities residing on Everest. "The religious beliefs of the Sherpas are basically those of Tibetan Buddhism" (Fürer Haimendorf, 175). Before each season, ascent, or trip to even base camp, Sherpas pray to ensure that the mountain is not upset, allowing themselves or anyone else to climb. "Every time an expedition goes up, Sherpas do a pujah a ritual to appease the deity and allow them to climb safely" ("When ...mean?") Because of the avalanche that killed so many this year, the Sherpa are taking it as a sign to stop climbing, but can you blame their deities for being mad? Everest now has so much trash along its ridges that several intensive action plans have been put in place to clean it up within the coming years. A new Nepalese law requires climbers to clean up 8 kilos of trash in addition to their own before leaving the mountain. In 2013 alone, a joint IndianNepali team picked up 4.4 tons of garbage, including anything from empty oxygen tanks, torn tents, human waste, and even frozen corpses. ("Everest...Nepal."). Throughout the existence of Sherpa in Nepal, Everest has played a role in their development, though it has definitely grown exponentially in the past 60 years. What started as a single sherpa helping a single westerner climb Everest has developed into the economic basis of Noonan 8 an entire country. While without tourism, Nepal would suffer financially, is is also questionable how much they are benefitting from the industry when looking at other aspects of Nepalese life. Ecologically, Everest is beginning to suffer, and it's also taking it's toll on the surrounding countries. Culturally, significance is lost, and will continue to diminish throughout years to come as tourism grows. Sherpa has come to be much more than a cultural term and developed into a career that has become so relevant to people outside the country that it's developed it's own label, sherpa. Works Cited "Everest Summiteers Association, Kathmandu, Nepal." Everest Summiteers Association, Kathmandu, Nepal. Everest Summiteers Association. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. Fisher, James F. Sherpas: Reflections On Change In Himalayan Nepal/James F. Fisher; With A Foreword by Sir Edmund Hillary. n.p.:Berkeley: University of California Press, c1990., 1990. Library Catalog. Web. Oct. 25 2014 Noonan 9 FürerHaimendorf, Christoph von. The Sherpas Of Nepal: Buddhist Highlanders. n.p.: London, J. Murray [1972, c1964], 1972. Library Catalog. Web. 23 Oct. 2014. Ganguly, Meenakshi. "Ruling The Top Of The World." Time International (South Pacific Edition) 23 (2000): 47. Business Source Complete. Web. 27 Oct. 2014. Krakauer, Jon. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster. New York: Villard, 1997. Print. "News and Update." Kathmandu Metropolitan City Office. Web. 16 Nov. 2014. <http://www.kathmandu.gov.np/>. "Tourism Ethics and the Sherpas of Mt. Everest." Living on Earth 21 Apr. 2014. Academic OneFile. Web. 26 Oct, 2014. "When You Call Someone A Sherpa, What Does That Mean?." PRI's The World (2014): Academic OneFile. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
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