Preamble: Tomorrow’s article on the ‘Process Sherpa’ will reference the Sherpas—porters and mountaineering guides of the Himalayas. My editor suggested that I include in that piece a paragraph on the Sherpa people and the relevance of their professions to the ‘Process Sherpa’ concept. What started as a mere footnote soon grew into this standalone article.
Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering
The Sherpas (literally “men of the east”) are legendary high-altitude porters and modern-day mountaineering guides in the Himalayas.
Originally, the mountain-dwelling Sherpas were part of a nomadic Mongolian tribe that descended from Genghis Khan. The Sherpas are deeply religious and, as part of their Tibetan-Buddhist faith, considered the mountains to house their deities. Out of deference to these reigning deities, the Sherpas historically possessed no desire to climb the sacred mountains.
The Sherpas settled predominantly in the villages of Nepal’s Solu-Khumbu valley, where westerners began their expeditions into the Himalayas. As interest in ascending Mount Everest ramped up, western expeditions started to rely on the Sherpas as porters. Their great strength, physiological ability to acclimatize to high altitudes, and dexterity in negotiating dangerous paths in the ice-covered mountains made the Sherpas formidable load-carriers. Since then, no expedition to the top of the Everest has succeeded without their assistance.
In the high mountains, the term ‘Sherpa’ is now synonymous with an expedition guide. Sherpas work as not only mountaineering guides in the Himalayas but also as expedition guides in places as far flung as Africa’s Kilimanjaro, South America’s Patagonia, and other mountain tourism hotspots around the world.
Sherpa Sirdar Tenzing Norgay
The most famous of the Sherpas is Sirdar (Chief) Tenzing Norgay who, alongside New Zealander-teammate Edmund Hillary, was the first to reach Mount Everest’s summit. In setting foot on the great mountain’s summit at 11:30 A.M. on 29 May 1953, the two defined a key moment of 20th century exploration.
For the incredible account of the personal triumph of a poor and illiterate but ambitious and deeply religious explorer, read Tenzing Norgay’s autobiography “Man of Everest” and Yves Malartic’s biography “Tenzing of Everest”. These two books were required reading for my eighth grade-language class.
Sir Edmund Hillary
No discussion on the Sherpa people would be complete without mention of one man’s extensive humanitarian efforts. Edmund Hillary’s endeavors so endeared him to the mountain people that his scaling the Himalayas pales in comparison. Since the 1960s, Hillary’s Himalayan Trust has raised funds to build schools, clinics, hospitals, bridges, and water pipelines for Nepal’s Sherpa communities. Beyond the achievement for which he is best known, Hillary’s entire life story is also incredibly inspirational. To learn more, read Whitney Stewart’s “Edmund Hillary”. I also recommend Hillary’s autobiographies, “High Adventure” and “View from the Summit”.
Leave a Reply