How Much Do You Pay Someone To Risk Their Life For You on Mt. Everest?


Thirteen Sherpas, or professional specialized mountain guides, died this week in an avalanche on Mount Everest, while another three remain unaccounted for, and the rest of the Nepalese Sherpa community has decided to close out the season early:

The accident underscored the huge risks faced by Sherpas who maintain and prepare the icy slopes for climbers and trek the routes carrying equipment for their clients. In a season, Sherpas can earn from $3,000 to $6,000 (2,171 – 4,342 euros), which is about 10 times the average annual pay in Nepal.

On Tuesday, Nepal’s Tourism Ministry announced an agreement to establish a relief fund for guides killed or injured while climbing the mountain, one of the key concessions demanded by the Sherpas following last week’s disaster. Funding is thought to be well below that requested by the guides.

Minimum insurance cover for Sherpas on the mountain, the government said, would be raised by 50-percent to around $15,000.

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world: “More than 30% of Nepalese live on less than US$14 per person, per month.” When opportunities are scarce, it can be a no-brainer to make $3,000 – $6,000 by helping international tourists kick something off their bucket list, as my mom, a very fit 67-year-old widow, did just this past fall. (She hiked up to base camp; the mountain only truly gets deadly higher up as adventurers try to summit.) Certain transactions have become so commonplace that we take them for granted, and we balk only when we hear of new twists, like first-world women asking third-world women to carry children for them. Pregnancy can be a life threatening condition, too.

Sherpas train, even compete, for the job. Still, it is worth asking, is it right? As the essay “The Disposable Man: A Western History of Sherpas on Everest” asks, what is the morality in paying someone else to risk their life for you?

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6 Comments / Post A Comment

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

Whenever I hear a story about unnecessary deaths in an extreme sport environment it always leads me to wonder if we shouldn’t restrict this sort of activity. It’s known to be dangerous, it’s already been done so there’s no significant knowledge to be gained from it. Governments often restrict other dangerous recreational activities I always wonder why these sort of “physical challenge” risks fall into a separate category.

guenna77 (#856)

we pay people to risk their lives for us every day for safety – police, fire, military – and we also pay people to risk their lives for our entertainment with professional sports and movies involving dangerous stunts. we’re only asking the question about morality right now because of the *amount* the sherpas are paid for risking their lives doesn’t seem commensurate.

laluchita (#2,195)

Hey guys! fun fact: Sherpa is an ethnic group in Nepal who have traditionally worked as porters and guides on Everest. But not all Sherpas are porters and not all porters are Sherpas! So as a general sense of respect, it’s good to try and call them by their job title rather than their ethnic group.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@laluchita Yeah while all were sherpas, not all were Sherpas — I believe there were three non-Sherpa sherpas in this group.

SnarlFurillo (#2,538)

I think Nepal and China should close the mountain permanently and make Base Camp the destination, with the money going to and run by porters who live in the area. It can be like a combination voluntourism and adventure hike. You pay some amount less than the current tag of ~$75,000, you need less acclimation to the altitude, and nobody dies. You get to hike into Base Camp, which is an adventure in and of itself, hang out for a week, learn about Nepal and the fact that Everest is a sacred site to many local people, and maybe if the porters think you are fit enough/strong enough, you get to go up to Camp One and bring down some of the accumulated garbage lying around up there. I vote “nobody climbs it again” but I would support an “If you’ve climbed at least three other 8,000 meter peaks and can carry all your shit yourself, you can go” exception. It’s one thing to go up there and know YOU might die. It’s another thing to be willing to kill 16 people in the process.

AitchBee (#3,001)

@SnarlFurillo SECONDED.

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