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Climbing the World to End Alzheimer's
Apr 222014
 

Alan and Kami on Lobuche summitAn editorial

As the Everest 2104 season remain in limbo,  Sherpas are home reflecting on their collective loss and worried about their future.

Climbers are at base camp processing a range of emotions from associated guilt to lost dreams. Families are simply worried about their loved one.

This tragedy has no simple answers. It is not about money, it is  not about safety, it is not about anything more than the human condition. Anyone who professes to know the answer has not been there. Those who’ve been there, don’t know what the future holds.

Opinions and position based on morality are just as valid as those based on experience. It is this diversity of thought that fuels debate, develops solutions and brings people together. It is only a polarized position that doesn’t allow for movement, that stifles progress and creates conflict. No one, nobody has the only answer.

Having climbed in the Himalaya eight times, four on Everest; all with Sherpa from the solo Khumbu area. My relationship has ranged from a simple hello to a life long friendship based on mutual respect.

I would like to briefly tell you about my Everest 2011 climb and Kami Sherpa.

Kami was 47 years old at the time. He had five children. His oldest son was an Everest guide working for IMG, just like his father. His second son was a monk at the Tengboche Monastery. He and his wife had two daughters and a son in boarding school in Kathmandu.

His full name was Kami Sherpa (Ang Chhiring Sherpa – Pangboche). His mother changed it to Kami after an infant illness believing the illness would not return if she changed his name.

Kami’s father was an Everest guide, something he spoke of with great pride. Kami had seen death on the mountains, including Everest, including relatives.

Kami on EverestOur climb was one of his many on Everest. He  had already made it to the top 12 previous times plus had climbs on many other 8000m peaks including K2.

One day we took a climb from Camp 2 towards the West Ridge for “exercise”. Who climbs towards the West Ridge of Everest for a workout? Well Kami did and he dragged me along. We slowly made progress until Kami saw my struggle. We stopped and looked back towards Nuptse, the Western Cwm and the top of the Khumbu Icefall; Pumori’s snow cone summit loomed to the East.

Regaining my breath, I took in the view. I was awestruck even though I had seen this view during my three previous climbs on Everest. “This is beautiful Kami.” I said as a question. “Yes” was his reply. “What do your think when you look at this?” A shoulder shrug came followed by “It’s a job.” Deflated by his answer, I followed him back to Camp 2. “It’s a job”. Yes it was a job that provided for his family. It was a job.

When I first met Kami, he impressed me immediately. Arriving at Everest Base Camp, Jangbu, IMG’s Base camp leader called out my name as I approached. “Alan, I want to you meet your Personal Sherpa, Kami.” He shook my hand firmly, with confidence as we walked together towards my tent.

Kami on EverestI felt a bit uncomfortable as he seemed so eager to please, so eager to take care of me; even in the first few minutes. I silently asked if this was about getting a summit tip, or something else. Yes he was getting paid, actually the highest wage for a climbing Sherpa given he was a Personal Sherpa meaning he would be by my side the entire climb. I had climbed with Sherpa before but not like this.

It didn’t take long for my cynicism to be replaced with total respect. This was not about money, yes he was doing a job, but Kami cared about me.

Back at Camp 2, I went to my tent after eating dinner. I didn’t feel well. Lying in my -20F down sleeping bag, my stomach turned. I tasted dinner in my throat. I fell asleep only to wake up with a start an hour later. Hurtling to the tent door, I vomited everything into the vestibule. Wiping the remnants from my mouth and sweat from my forehead, I told my tent mate, “Well, that was fun.” The rest of the night was uncomfortable. We were schedule to return to Base Camp after this acclimatization rotation and wanted to leave early to go through the Icefall before it got too hot creating more instability.

Kami came over to our tent and unzipped the door. Seeing my vomit on the ground he looked at me with concern, his eyes betrayed his “job”. Kami on Everest“Are you OK, Alan?” he asked. I told him what happened and that I felt OK now. With a sadness in his eyes and voice, he simply replied “You should have called out for me.” It was then I knew that Kami was not doing a “job” he cared about me as a person.

On our summit bid, we passed under the ice serac on Everest’s West Shoulder for the fourth time. As we left the area named “Popcorn” Kami reminded me to move fast. We clipped into the thin white nylon rope that served as a guide and safety line and increased our pace. It was hard, even after acclimatizing. The pace Kami set was strong. I knew he was worried and pressed as hard as I could for as long as I could.

Once out of the danger zone, we stopped for a break. with my chest heaving from the stress, I glanced toward the serac. Looking at Kami, also breathing heavily, I knew, he knew. This was the reality of climbing Everest.

As we neared the summit of Everest, the sun introduced itself with a tiny thin line over Bhutan. It was cold, -20F, and windy, maybe 20 mph. I was fourth in line that morning with my teammates Mirjam and her Sherpa Minga ahead. Kami was in front of me. We had made amazing time from the South Col. When there was a line in front of us Kami would unclip, give me a look and we would pass them. He set a steady pace he knew I could match. If he got too far ahead, he would slow down until I caught up.

His leadership, his experience and style is why I summited. I was proud of my own accomplishments, proud of my self sufficiency, my physical strength at age 54, my mental toughness, my desire to dedicate the summit to my mom and all those with Alzheimer’s. And I was proud to say I could not have summited without Kami.

The final steps passed amazing sunlight cornices. The pace was manageable, there was no exposure was we approached the top of the world. I followed Kami, step by step, trying to live up to his expectations of the speed. Alan on the summit of Everest, 5:00AM May 21, 2011Without ceremony, we arrived. Kami helped me take off my pack. I sat on it as he took my picture. I looked around to see Kami and other Sherpas shaking hands.

A few climbers were there from the North side. It was clear the Sherpas were extremely happy. They shouted into their radios “Summit”, holding the sound of the T like a soccer announcer saying “goooooooal”.

I removed my goggles and  oxygen mask and looked Kami in the eye as I held his mitten covered hand. “Thank you.” was all I could muster. “You are welcome.” was all he could say. His tiny smile betrayed his true feelings.

It was not a “job”.

Climb On!
Alan
Memories are Everything

Comments

comments

  45 Responses to “Everest 2014: My Relationship with my Sherpa”

  1. I’m so excited for you!!!!!

  2. Sandy , yes! 🙂

  3. Thanks so much for sharing that. Is there any chance that Kami could climb K2 with you?

  4. Alan, Kami is indeed one of the nicest, coolest Sherps in the Khumbu!

  5. Thank you Alan for this perspective. Beautifully written. Hopefully it will encourage some to be less cynical during this time of tragedy.

  6. Safe travels Patrick. Thanks and my best to all. Such a tragic season.

  7. Alan, thanks for your post. I am in Pheriche right now on my descent to KTM. My connection and appreciation of the Sherpa is close to yours. Our Sherpa wanted to climb. They were threatened physically if they climbed into the ice fall and yet wanted to still climb. I admired their resolve but had no interest in jeopardizing their safety. These guys were great and I cannot wait to climb with them again. Thanks again Alan for being a level-headed blogger for Everest climbers.

  8. Thanks for your comments and sharing your own stories. As for the use of ‘my’ and ‘Sherpa’, I hope you understand their context and will forgive any sense of misrepresentation. I use the terms in the same way we use them when climbing in the Himalaya, it may not agree with more structured language constructs. I always considered to be Kami’s climber and he my Sherpa.

  9. This is beautiful ! Leaves a lump in your throat.

  10. I love the post, your blog, and all your efforts. Well done as always and please do continue your amazing work. I also agree with Will’s response. I had the same initial unease.

  11. Alan – I just wanted to say how much I, too, appreciated Kami’s help as he was the first Sherpa to guide me up an 8,000m peak – Shishapangma in 2011. I worked with others who were excellent on Cho Oyu as well. So when it came time for my Everest ascent in 2012, I specifically requested Kami way in advance. But Kami had gout and could not climb high. He was off to Ama Dablam but somehow magically when the time came for my Everest climb, there, in Kami’s place, assigned to me – was his son Finjo. I’ll never forget that, nor the fact that Kami himself, would appear on Everest that year, to check on things and help out. It did not seem like just a ‘job’ to me!

  12. Thank you Allen, Its very well guided note.

    Tashidelek,

  13. Thanks, Alan, for your insights. Very touching!
    I especially liked and agree with the following excerpt:
    Opinions and position based on morality are just as valid as those based on experience. It is this diversity of thought that fuels debate, develops solutions and brings people together. It is only a polarized position that doesn’t allow for movement, that stifles progress and creates conflict. No one, nobody has the only answer.

  14. Thanks, Alan, for sharing your insight. Touching!
    I especially like and agree with this excerpt from your story:
    Opinions and position based on morality are just as valid as those based on experience. It is this diversity of thought that fuels debate, develops solutions and brings people together. It is only a polarized position that doesn’t allow for movement, that stifles progress and creates conflict. No one, nobody has the only answer.

  15. Alan…so true and Danuru who led me up Evererst and Dawa who led Ryan are truly amazing human beings… the only reason we got to the top…they taught us so much about the Sherpa culture and the difficulties they face in their everyday lives. Everest is never “easy” for Western climbers or Sherpas.
    Namaste,
    John

  16. Excellent as always.

  17. Brilliantly written Alan. Once you get to know a person, it becomes more than just a job! I remember my guide getting up multiple times in the night last Autumn, when we were caught up in 8 feet of snow at Baruntse Base Camp. Now sat in out tent at EBC playing cards with our Sherpa team wondering what will happen next!

  18. The received wisdom is that Sherpas are not as assertive as a western guide when it comes to giving strong advice to a difficult climber. I say this as somebody who has never climbed Everest or anything like it but who has spent time in Nepal. I do think however that their own skills are unique and essential. Any thoughts on this from somebody who has climbed in Nepal?

  19. Really appreciate your sharing for those of us that will never be there ! I like your respectful perspective of climbing and of other people.

  20. WOW! This is very touching and truly captures the development of your relationship with this caring man. Good on you and how fortunate to have that Sherpa friend!

  21. Excellent piece of writing, Alan. Very touchy & humane. Hope these Sherpas get their due from the Govt .

  22. Excellent piece of writing Alan. I could actually feel the mountain and obviously the respect you have for your Sherpa friend Kami. Thanks for sharing.

  23. A very moving piece of writing. Alan you are filling in the emotional part of the Everest story in a way that is quite unique. Keep your passion for the Sherpa people, for Everest and for the power of the written word.

  24. Second all above Alan—moving & evocative at once. You’ve touched a part of the world few of us will ever know.

  25. Alan, wow something else we have in common. I climbed with Kami in 2006. I concur with all you said. He is a great guy. I was laying in my sleeping bag in the middle of a snow storm one night debating how long I could wait before I had to get out in the cold to clean my tent off before it caved in when I heard someone shaking my tent. Kami had gotten up and was cleaning everyone’s tent in camp. That is why he is one of the most respected Sherpa on the mountain.

  26. I come from the North East of England which is an area historically associated with coal mines and heavy industry. The men were not forced to work in the mines – a dangerous hard job with too many fatalities – but it was the only way open to them to earn money and feed their families. I can see similarities with the Sherpa’s situation – they are not forced to climb but how else will they earn the money to improve the lot of their families. The miners too lobbied to improve conditions – when the British complained about the National Union of Mineworkers we should remember that there is a history there. I guess I am saying that we are right to put ourselves in the situation of the Sherpa when we consider these matters.

  27. Alan, beautifully written as usual. You certainly capture the amazing culture of the Sherpa’s and the fact that helping you is what they pride themselves in doing. I would get blown away receiving a hot flannel and a mug of hot lemon every morning. Nothing is too much trouble for the Sherpa community and I hope the Nepalese Government wake up and offer a genuine solution to keep these proud people climbing

  28. love the way you have written it , so personal and touching.

  29. In a word
    WOW

  30. What a poignant piece you have written ..I am following the tragedy as it is happening, and appreciate your insight.

  31. Thanks for sharing.
    What can a Everest western guide , at a fee of $50,000+ do that Kami can’t, yet the latter gets $8,000 max?
    I sure hope the sherpas realize the bargaining power they hold in their hands and kick squarely in the teeth the Nepali gov. and commercial outfits and get their rightful share of the bonanza.

  32. What a beautiful piece.

  33. Very nice Alan. I know this has been a tough week for you. This article is a great use of your time for processing this.

  34. Alan, I know this is the farthest thing from your intention, and maybe it’s just a slight cultural difference between the US and Australia – but the use of the term “my” when talking about a person can be considered by many to be distasteful, implying ‘ownership’ or servitude. I totally understand if you choose not to have this comment displayed in the comments section, given the current tragic events. Again, I know you have the highest regard for the Sherpa people of Nepal, and that what I’m pointing out is not what you are saying, but as someone increasingly seen by the mass media as an ‘expert’ on Everest, I thought you should be aware of how your words may come across to some.

    • Oh, whoops, I thought these were reviewed before going up. Feel free to remove the above and this one Alan if you consider it appropriate.

    • Will, I am sure Alan did not mean the word “my” like that. When I refer to my husband, I say, “my” husband, or my daughter or my friend or my boss etc. So I don’t see the difference. Its a term we all use for people we know.

      • Whiile obviously nobody is being intentionally disrespectful, Sherpa is an ethnicity. Apply your logic with that in mind.

    • Sherpa’s are beautiful people, they are gracious, humble, helpful, strong, courageous etc. What they are Not is the dominant party in their relationship with western climbers. If they were, they would be sitting at home behind a computer counting the money they just made from climbing fees paid by western clients, instead of hauling them to the summit at great risk

  35. Beautifully written, Alan~~thanks for sharing your experiences!

  36. Thoroughly enjoy reading your blog updates. Your account really brings it home just how incredible the Sherpas are.

  37. Beautiful, Alan. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  38. Eloquent..thx for sharing…

  39. The sherpas are in my heart. After my trek we raised money for Mane Sherpa for electric power to the five homes on his village that had been left out. Mane is like a son to me and I try to get money to him for English classes.