Asia

Mt. Everest and the Class Struggle

Mt. Everest. The Nepalese call it Sagarmatha and the Tibetans call her Chumalongma

Mt. Everest.
The Nepalese call it Sagarmatha and the Tibetans call it Chumalongma

Who would have thought that the class struggle would reach Mt. Everest? My wife and I got into watching documentaries about climbing Mt. Everest. Every video shows the brave,  adventurous climbers (almost all from the US, Europe and Australia) struggling heroically to reach the world’s highest mountain peak. They go through organized expedition companies.

$5,000 for the world’s most dangerous job
Along with them go some 30 Sherpas per expedition team. They cheerfully make these

Edmund Hillary (left) and Tenzing Norway (right). These were the first to people to reach the top of Mt. Everest. Tenzing - the Sherpa - went ahead, reaching the peak first, but Hillary got most of the credit... and money.

Edmund Hillary (left) and Tenzing Norway (right).
These were the first to people to reach the top of Mt. Everest.
Tenzing – the Sherpa – went ahead, reaching the peak first, but Hillary got most of the credit… and money.

climbers tea and breakfast in the morning, dinner in the evening, and pack the tents and all the supplies to the camps along the way up the mountain. They get paid a maximum of $5,000 for what is most certainly one of the world’s most dangerous jobs.

Several of the documentaries we watched contain footage of Russel Brice owner and operator of Himalayan Experience, Ltd. He charges his clients something like $100,000 a piece. If a sherpa is killed, their family gets a few hundred from the Nepalese government (not enough to even cover funeral costs) and zero from the likes of Brice, who in many of the videos expresses oh-so-much concern for “his” Sherpas, but pays as little as he can get away with.

All went on swimmingly until the climbing season of 2013, when one of the climbers called a Sherpa a “Motherf____r” and was attacked by the Sherpa. We see the scene (not a reenactment, the real scene) in the video “Sherpa.” There is a near riot, but Brice manages to calm things down.

2014 Strike!

Sherpa Strike Meeting This is the actual scene where the Sherpa guides organize to go on strike.

Sherpa Strike Meeting
This is the actual scene where the Sherpa guides organize to go on strike.

Then came the 2014 climbing season. Carrying packs up the Ice Fall, disaster struck. A 14,000 ton block of ice came tumbling down, killing 16 sherpas. (This section of the climb has become increasingly dangerous due to global warming.) Then the class struggle broke out in the open.

 

The Sherpas hold a mass meeting, shouting and voicing their anger. Brice (and his fellow capitalist mountaineering company owners, presumably) call in the government, who send emissaries to try to get the Sherpas back to work. But they aren’t convinced. They are determined to walk off the job… strike for the entire 2014 climbing season.

Brice complains about how “irrational” they are, and at one point he is seen talking with his clients, claiming that “his” Sherpas want to stay and climb, but that they’ve been threatened by others “hotheads”.

Solidarity
Brice talks with his clients, complaining that there are just four or five agitators among all the Sherpas (for all the different companies). One of the clients suggests that he find out who they are so they can be run off the mountain, but Brice says it’s not so easy. Evidently

Russel Brice, owner and operator of Himalaya Experience, Ltd. He expresses so much concern for "his" Sherpas, until they stand up for their interests.

Russel Brice, owner and operator of Himalaya Experience, Ltd.
He expresses so much concern for “his” Sherpas, until they stand up for their interests.

the Sherpas are sticking together.

Brice sits there trying to get the Sherpas to talk. They sit there, expressionless while he comments that normally you guys are so cheerful. “I want to hear you,” Brice says. “If any of you has anything to say, I’m listening. Say it.” I’m thinking: “He wants to see who leaders are so he can fire them.” None of the Sherpas says a word. He says he knows that they want to climb but they’ve been threatened. Silence.

One of the American climbers complains that it’s incredible, he’s being prevented from climbing by a few “terrorists”. Yes, that’s the term he uses!

Anyway, this is an absolutely classic and real-life exposition of all the tricks that a union busting boss tries to play as well as the arrogance and racism of these privileged climbers. Well worth seeing. We got it from our public library, but I imagine it’s on Netflix. Simply called “Sherpa“, it’s definitely worth seeing.

Categories: Asia, labor, movies

2 replies »

  1. Did I miss something or did you forget to mention the actual name of the film? Also, I have read that the devastating April 2015 earthquake in Nepal sharpened the class issues there and the relationship between the sherpas and their employers. The avalanche caused by the earthquake was devastating resulting in more loss of life than any other previous event, this in addition to the flattening of the villages where the sherpas and their families live. The exploitation of the sherpas and their families came into even sharper focus at this point as they struggle to recover. When a sherpa dies on the mountain, their family is left with no means of support and there is the expectation that they will be taken care of by the expedition companies, who have set up one sort of tax deductible aid or another for show with some benefiting. I’ve also read that there are divisions now amongst the “adventurist community” over the treatment of the sherpas and whether or not people should even be climbing Mt Everest anymore considering the danger to all. Here’s a wikipedia link about the 2015 earthquake; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/April_2015_Nepal_earthquake

    • Thanks, Windyriver. Yes, I forgot that detail (corrected now). The film is called “Sherpa”. Maybe now the expedition companies have a tax deductible fund for Sherpas who die on the mountain, but we’ve watched several other videos of those climbing Mt. Everest, and none of them ever mentioned such a fund. A few did mention the fact that the families are left without an income.

      As far as climbing Mt. Everest at all, it seems absolutely insane. I think there’s something like a one in eight chance of dying, and the experience is absolutely miserable – cold, complete exhaustion… Why would people do it except for bragging rights? And it has become even more dangerous due to global warming, which has increased the risk of avalanches. As for the expedition companies: They’ve got some 30 or so sherpas and have set up what for all intents are high adventure resorts for these (usually rich) clients.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s