National Geographic : 1992 Dec
borders in 1949, Sherpa culture has been tested. The economy has been restructured by mountaineering and commercial trekking. Forests have been denuded for visitors' campfires, Gore-Tex parkas have replaced chubas, traditional robes, and Snickers bars have become as common as yak butter. Although the Sherpas' lives improved materially, some feared for their culture and in the mid-1980s began an effort to regain their ethnic bearings, reviving traditional cer emonies and building cultural centers. And a 32-year-old guide named Lopsang Sherpa, who was once a servant, began dreaming of an all-Sherpa Everest climb to pay homage to legendary Sherpa mountaineers. "We want to take pride as a people apart," he said. American Peter Athans, who had scaled Everest in 1990 with Lopsang's assistance, helped raise money for the expedition, and I was invited to write about the Sherpa people through the window of this historic climb. I would rendezvous with the team at the Ever est Base Camp, and as they tackled the mountain I would undertake a parallel jour ney: I would visit their homes, meet their rel atives, hike along their village trails. As they reached for the heights of the earth, I would explore the heart of their culture. W HEN I FIRST VISITED Khumbu, the Sherpa region closest to Mount Everest, in March 1991, I as dispirited by the commercial ization. At the closest airport, at Lukla, I was greeted by a sign reading "Sherpa Coffee Shop" and by vendors selling imitation Tibetan jewelry, actually made in Kath mandu. A line of people awaited work; dur ing the spring season thousands of trekkers and two dozen expeditions arrive here need ing guides and porters. Sherap Jangbu, my guide and interpreter for the next three months, had hired a second Sherpa and two zopkios (male cow-yak cross breeds) to carry our duffels to Base Camp. As we made the two-day hike to Namche Bazar, usually called Namche, the unofficial JIM CARRIER is a columnist for the Denver Post. His first article for the GEOGRAPHIC, "The Colo rado: A River Drained Dry," appeared in the June 1991 issue. Photographer ROBB KENDRICK is a free-lancer from Austin, Texas, and a former GEOGRAPHIC intern. This is his first assignment for the magazine.