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Asunto:[CeHuNews] 211/03 - Sherpas on Everest
Fecha:Domingo, 29 de Junio, 2003  03:22:39 (-0300)
Autor:Humboldt <humboldt>

CeHuNews 211/03

Sherpas on Everest

by Audrey Salkeld and Liesl Clark

"You cannot be a good mountaineer, however great your ability, unless you are cheerful and have the spirit of comradeship. Friends are as important as achievement. Another is that teamwork is the one key to success and that selfishness only makes a man small. Still another is that no man, on a mountain or elsewhere, gets more out of anything than he puts into it." -- Tenzing Norgay

Sherpas have an unmatched spirit and positive outlook that has been written about the world over. From the early days of mountaineering, their prowess at high altitude has not gone unnoticed. It is generally believed that the first person to recognize the value of employing Sherpas for expeditionary work was the Aberdeen physiologist, Dr. A.M. Kellas. At the beginning of this century, he taught chemistry at Middlesex Hospital in London, and spent several months every year exploring the more remote passes and valleys of the Himalaya with trusted bands of Sherpas assisting him. General Bruce, too, appreciated the hardiness of Sherpas. For the pioneer Everest expeditions of 1922 and 1924 he engaged his porter force from among the considerable expatriate Sherpa community in Darjeeling.

These men performed so well, climbing and carrying to the highest camps, that it very soon became the custom for all Himalayan climbing expeditions to hire Sherpa help in Darjeeling. A system of registration came into force that contributed to the recognition of Sherpa "Tigers" and the creation of an elite force. Word filtered back to the Sherpa Homeland in Nepal, which was out of  bounds to Westerners, and every year more Sherpas would make their way to Darjeeling to take on this kind of work. Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, hearing of the continuing British climbing expeditions to Mount Everest, came to India in 1933, hoping to be taken on for that year's expedition. He was not among those selected, but in 1935, at the age of 19, he was picked by Eric Shipton to take part in the exciting reconnaissance he was leading to the Everest area. Tenzing stayed on in Darjeeling and took part in no fewer than seven Everest expeditions, culminating in his successful first ascent of the mountain with Edmund Hillary in 1953. By that time, Nepal was opening up to outsiders, and Sherpas were hired locally and brought down to Kathmandu.

The first ascent of Everest, far from marking an end to interest in the accessibility of the highest point on Earth, opened the floodgates to hordes of other climbers, trekkers, and tourists into the Solu Khumbu region, noticeably changing the local economy and lifestyle of the Sherpa people. With the arrival of modern climbing and the desire to conquer the world's highest peaks, theirs became the gateway culture to Everest and other peaks for visitors in search of mountaineering glory.

Are the Sherpas and other highland peoples physiologically different from the rest of us?
Dr. Cynthia Beall of Case Western Reserve University and Physical Anthropology Advisor to the MacGillivray Freeman Films Everest IMAX/IWERKS film, postulates that there may be a genetic factor involved in Sherpa strength at altitude: "The Everest climbers must not only exert great physical effort to climb the mountain, but do so while under tremendous hypoxic stress. This stress is not something that can be mitigated in the way, for instance, that we would put on extra clothes when we are cold. We must adapt physiologically. How the Sherpas do this more effectively than others has been a puzzle to anthropologists and physiologists, and we don't really have the answer. There is evidence of a gene that allows their blood to carry more oxygen, but there are other factors that affect this, as well."

 Sherpas have played quiet but critical roles in Everest achievements. From the beginning of their involvement with high altitude mountaineering, Sherpas have paid a disproportionately high price in life and limb. In 1922 seven Sherpa porters were buried under an avalanche on Everest's North Col. In the first seventy years of Everest activity, 43 Sherpas were killed, more than a third of the total deaths in that period. Even this year, on the south side of Everest, two of the three evacuations from the mountain thus far-- due to serious injury -- were Sherpas.  Because of their contribution to route fixing and ferrying supplies, they find themselves exposed to the extreme risks of high mountain climbing more frequently than their employers.

On our way up to Base Camp, we passed by a sacred site in the Khumbu valley, a testament to the Sherpas that have lost their lives on the surrounding peaks. Dozens of memorial chortens, each commemorating a death on the nearby mountains, line a ridge that looks out on a 360° view of snow-covered peaks. Although history has recorded their deeds as mere footnotes to greatness, it is the Sherpa contribution and effort that has been the backbone of most expeditions on Everest.