Lakhpa, Dorjee, Tensing, Nawang, Tashi - you
will soon get familiar with these common sherpa names. Often they simply
mean the days of the week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and so on. The
guys are conveniently enough named by the day of the week when they were
people really glorify the Sherpas as pure, natural and mystical gods of
the nature. Others view them as low-cast inhabitants of the third world.
The truth is of course that the Sherpas are just like the rest of us;
some are good, some are bad, and most are somewhere in between.
Sherpas are the inhabitants of the Khumbu-valley, the national park
surrounding Everest. Living at altitude for generations, they have
developed a genetic natural allowance for it. If you are well trained
yourself, you might find in Kathmandu that the Sherpas do substantially
fewer push-ups than you do. Donít get too excited. Once you go above
3000 meters/10000 ft most of them will easily outrun you. Their natural
advantage is strongest up to 8000-meters/23000 ft, there after they too
will face problems. Most sherpas will consequently require oxygen above
camp 4 in order to perform at their best.
The sherpas are usually happy and easy going. They take great pride
in their mountaineering heritage, just as another famous people of
Nepal, the Gurkhas, who take pride in their warrior skills.
Sherpas are stronger than us at altitude, they are very well suited for
alpine style expeditions in the Himalayas. You will need them to carry
the oxygen, the gear and as a safety on the summit push. Many "solo"
climbers actually bring sherpas with them all the way up. Sherpas are a
valuable aid to us, as the climb will be hard enough for you anyway, in
not being genetically adapted to that kind of altitude by birth.
To work with Sherpas will require good management on your part and to
find the good people to begin with. The trekking agency will recommend
Sherpas connected to them. Check if the Sherpa has made the summit and
when so (we asked for and were assigned 2 summit Sherpas once, but it
was never made clear that they last summited in 1978 and 1982).
Itís also wise to check if the Sherpa is motivated to go for the
summit again. Young non-summiteers could be hungry to summit, but lack
experience. Summiteers might be content with the higher rank and salary
that their summit has already entitled them and not really be motivated
to summit again.
Talk to other climbers about the sherpas they liked and try to hire
those people. Should you still have to work with Sherpas that you are
not familiar with - the most common procedure - remember that the more
self sufficient and skilled you are, the less dependent will you be on
them. In the end though, if the weather is good and they trust your
abilities, they will usually go for the summit, or close enough, with
a simple fact: you get what you pay for. Sherpas that are known to
perform well (this meaning being responsible and hard working) will
require higher salaries than their counterparts.
As you should be careful to save money on the wrong things, you might
think this over before you end up with people turning on you when you
need them most.
Again, have specified on paper with the trekking agency what you will
ask from your staff. Meet with the sherpas in Kathmandu about the very
same thing, so that you are all clear on whatís expected. Still though,
donít get surprised if whatís agreed on in Kathmandu will turn different
once on the mountain. It comes with the neighborhood and you will simply
have to deal with it there and then.
remember; the sherpas are not your servants. Use them for the important
tasks. They speak broken English and are usually not so schooled, but
they can think very well for themselves. They will need respect. And -
as any staff - motivation along with clear leadership.
Have meetings about the gear, climbing decisions and problem solving.
Make sure that you at all times know whatís going on in the expedition;
which tents are to be used and where, exactly how much fuel, food and
gear is at each camp.
Check the oxygen, regulators and masks together beforehand. Mark
everything with each person's name and so on. Donít leave it all to your
Sirdar (Sherpa leader): You are the expedition leader! Only then will
you get respect and your decisions will be trusted.