The Dangerous Work of Sherpas

Sherpa mountain guide at Khumbu Ice Fall
Photo by Sarah Stierch via Wikimedia Commons

The Sherpas who lead people up Mount Everest do a dangerous job. Who pays when they get hurt? Colin Lowther and Katy Blake look at this dangerous job and its effects.

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Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Colin Lowther.

Voice 2 

And I’m Katy Blake. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 3 

“I saw the ice coming, and I thought: ‘We are dead, I am going to die.’ The wind was pushing me. I dived behind a big piece of ice. If I had not been attached to the fixed rope, I would have been swept away.”

Voice 1 

Pasang Dorje told this story to National Geographic Magazine. Dorje is a Sherpa from the country of Nepal. Sherpas are famous for climbing in the Himalayas. This group of mountains includes the highest mountain in the world - Mount Everest. Sherpas help people from around the world climb these mountains. In 2014 Dorje was making his second trip up Mount Everest. But there was a terrible accident. Today’s Spotlight is on the Sherpas and the deadly accident that changed their lives forever.

Voice 2 

Early in the morning on April 18 Dorje and hundreds of other Sherpas were climbing up Mount Everest. They walked through snow and ice. They carried heavy packs on their backs. Everything was quiet. Suddenly, a huge block of ice fell off the side of the mountain. This piece of ice weighed over 60,000 tonnes. As it fell down the mountain, the ice broke into pieces. Huge, sharp pieces of ice and snow raced down the mountain, creating an avalanche. This avalanche was full of dangerous pieces of ice. The avalanche hit or buried everything that it passed. The Sherpas on the mountain heard the snow and ice above them. Some, like Dorje, found shelter. Then, the avalanche crashed right over them.

Voice 1 

The ice avalanche on Everest killed 16 people that day. It injured many more. Some people were injured by falling ice. Others were buried in the snow and ice. In some cases, people were completely lost. These deaths and injuries had a wide effect. The men who died had families, including wives and young children. The avalanche caused great suffering for the Sherpa people. They named 2014 a “black year.” This is not the first time people have died on Mount Everest. It is a very dangerous place. But this accident was different because of the large effect it had on the Sherpas.

Voice 2 

Sherpas are an important part of climbing in the Himalayas. People who climb Mount Everest depend on the help of Sherpas. Climbing a high mountain requires a lot of equipment. Climbers need food. They also need shelter from the extreme cold. Everything must be carried up the mountain. The Sherpas do this difficult work. And they also help other people climb the mountain. Sherpas are expert climbers, guides, guards and coaches. And they are brave enough to do dangerous work.

Voice 1 

Climbing has become a tradition for this people group. Many Sherpas do not like doing such a dangerous job. But they live far from the city. Climbing is one of the only ways that Sherpas have to make money. Sometimes Sherpas are able to buy houses or start business from the money they make. Mostly, they support their families and pay for education. If they can, Sherpas send their children to boarding schools - away from their hometowns. It is important to Sherpa parents that their children get an education. Then they will not have to do such dangerous work when they are adults.

Voice 2 

Many of the Sherpas come from just a few towns. This meant that everyone in the area was affected by the avalanche. Some people lost more than one family member, such as both a husband and brother. These deaths have another effect on the community too. In the Sherpa tradition it is very important to have a correct funeral. And funeral traditions cost a lot of money. Many men from the same area died in the avalanche. It was impossible to find enough money for their funerals.

Voice 1 

After the avalanche the government offered families some money to pay for funerals. But it was not enough. The Sherpas became angry. They were sad about the deaths of their family and friends. And they were worried about the safety of climbing after such a huge ice fall. So they said they would not climb anymore for the season of 2014. They told the government that they needed better pay and insurance. The Sherpas asked the government for money to take care of the families of climbers that were killed or injured. They also demanded enough money to pay for funerals.

Voice 2 

The Sherpas’ decision affected many other people on Mount Everest. There were many people waiting to climb up the mountain. Some had been preparing for years to climb Mount Everest in 2014. They had paid thousands of dollars. They did not want to lose their money. And the Nepali government and businesses make a lot of money from tourists in the Himalayas. They did not want to lose this money either.

Voice 1 

Sumit Joshi is the owner of Himalayan Ascent, a Nepali-owned climbing company. Joshi says that the Sherpa’s demands were a result of the accident on April eighteen. But these were not new problems. The government and business people make a large amount of money from people climbing in the Himalayas. But Sherpas do most of the work! Joshi says they are not paid enough. They have had too much risk for many years. The accident made people around the world see this. And it encouraged the Sherpas to ask the Nepali government to treat them fairly. Sumit Joshi explains how the situation is changing for the Sherpas:

Voice 4 

“20 years ago, less than 50% of the workers on Everest had finished high school. Now 80% of Everest workers have graduated from high school. They know how things work. They are more aware of their rights. They know they can speak their mind. They know about the outside world and how much money the government makes from permits to climb. They know how little of it comes back to them.”

Voice 2 

The Nepali government agreed to give the Sherpas what they demanded. The work is still dangerous. But the Sherpas will receive better pay. And their families have more protection after an accident. People around the world also responded to the terrible accident. They raised almost a million dollars. They gave it to the families of the Sherpas who had died. This money does not replace a lost father, son or husband. But it creates some hope for the future, after a year of sadness on the world's highest mountain.

Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Rena Dam. The producer was Bruce Gulland. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, ‘The Dangerous Work of Sherpas’.

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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What kinds of protection should exist for people who work in very risky jobs? Who should provide that protection?


Avatar Spotlight
said on February 23, 2015

Climbing moutain under too cold weather with ice and snow is very risk and dangerous.I think goverment need to support many protection policies for climber such as insurance,high pay and any support for their family relative incase climber meet risk.

Learning Everything's avatar
Learning Everything
said on February 24, 2015

GOD save a soul of someone who had died. This job is very much risk but they do not have any choice. In return for, their children’s has been going to school and get good education. That will be changing their life better than parents.

Correct information of weather is a common way to keep Sherpas avoid an accident.

Avatar Spotlight
said on February 28, 2015

We do our workings for our lives.
We do our workings for beautiful good things. There are risks in the life. Our workings may have risks. Our workings may have high risks. Risks make us afraid. Risks remind us to try to live our lives always well. We try much to live our lives well. Our responsibilities and duties are big. We try much to avoid risks. We try much to reduce risks. We may try much to prepare for risks. We do not know what will happen to us. We wish beautiful good things.

Avatar Spotlight
said on April 20, 2015

uf….. is wonderfull but is very dangerous, is a personal decision

Avatar Spotlight
said on January 12, 2016

Climbing mountains in Nepal couldn’t be realized without sherpas’ hard, dangerous work therefore the government should appreciate highly these courageous, helpful workers, their families have to be protected, supported in a case of the potential accident although any money cannot compensate absolutely sherpas’ families for the loss of their members!

Avatar Spotlight
Mabel Estrella
said on February 20, 2016

I’ve recently seen the Everest movie, and I understood a lot of things. It’s a hard work, I think there are some people who live of this business and they need the insurance for they and their families, The goverment of Nepal must give more attention in this place, ‘cause is the main attraction and the people spend their time and a bit fortune.

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on January 30, 2017

Climbing of mountains is not a job rather hobby.
God bless you

Avatar Spotlight
said on November 23, 2018

There is no dangerous work that the police officer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Criminals like shoot them for fun. Newspapers and televisions bring simple news and sometimes they did not say a word about the officers death. In 2017, 294 officers received bullets and 134 died. Most of them who did not die were wounded so hard that they became incapacitated for their job.