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."
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.