National Geographic : 2014 Nov
72 national geographic • November 2014 doing most of the work above 7,500 meters,” All said, “but Rai and Tamang mountain workers now commonly carry loads to Camp III.” When I asked SPCC chairman Ang Dorjee Sherpa about the rumors of Sherpas threaten- ing other Sherpas, he was quick to play them down. One gets the sense sometimes that the Sherpas themselves, so long esteemed for the better angels of their nature, feel they can’t afford to tarnish the ways in which outsiders idealize them as the peaceful, unselfish inhabitants of an idyllic mountain land, far from the perturba- tions of modernity. “You have to understand the culture,” Ang Dorjee said one afternoon in the Panorama Lodge in Namche Bazar. “It’s perfectly normal for us to say you are going to break someone’s legs, as long as you don’t actually break them. Every year there are four or five fights during the Dumchi festival in Namche. It’s normal for us to exchange blows while drinking chang, and then tomorrow we’re friends again, and everything is fine. Ninety-nine percent of Sherpas are very loy- al and honest and hardworking. That tradition is carrying on. If we lose that tradition, then we will have a problem. Anyone can be a good climber, but being honest and loyal and hard- working is what makes us different.” Into the villages T he havoc of the avalanche that buried 16 men did not stop in the icefall. It barreled on—into the villages under Everest and beyond. In Kathmandu the office manager of Himalayan Ascent called Chhechi Sherpa, the 19-year-old daughter of Ankaji Sherpa, with the news that her father had been killed, sparing the detail that the vet- eran guide’s helmet had been split open. Ankaji had promised to watch out for Pem Tenji Sherpa, a 20-year-old Everest rookie who was married to his niece; he’d helped Pem Tenji get the gig that season as a Camp II kitchen assistant—a job considered among the safest because it required only one round-trip through the icefall. But Pem Tenji had also been killed, and his wife, Dali, did not even have a body to mourn; her husband was still entombed somewhere in the icefall. During the Kathmandu funerals for six of the avalanche victims, there was no more poignant emblem of loss than the pictures that flashed around the world of Chhechi’s crushed expres- sion and of Ankaji’s 76-year-old mother, Nimali, her face knotted in the anguish of a mother who has outlived her son. In Khumjung the widow Ngima Doma heard the news from a teahouse television and knew her husband, Lhakpa Ten- jing, was among the dead when she came home and found her in-laws weeping. “I’ll never put on crampons again,” said Lhak- pa Tenjing’s older brother Nima Sherpa, who might have died had he not left Base Camp a week before the avalanche to have a throat infec- tion treated in Kathmandu. For his part, Nima Chhiring, the man with the crying ear, wasn’t eager to return to Everest next season but didn’t see any choice. He didn’t have much education, and now he had a wife, two kids, and no house of his own or money to pay for schools. He would be heading off from Khumjung soon to tend the five yaks he’d bought in 2009, but he wondered if the hard One gets the sense that Sherpas feel they can’t afford to tarnish how outsiders idealize them as peaceful and unselfish.