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The Sherpas : kings of the mountain

20/03/2020 648 Views
Undeniably the kings of the mountain, the Sherpas in Nepal have become the ethnic group that helps mountaineers to realize their dreams of climbing the Himalayas.

From Tibet to Nepal

Namche Bazar, Sherpas’ village-capital in north-east of Nepal

Originally from Tibet, the highest country in the world, the Sherpas fled political unrest and persecution in the 16th century to reach Nepal.

Perhaps a forerunner of the exceptional destiny of this ethnic group, the ancestors of the current Sherpas made it on foot from the Kham region, via the famous road of Nangpa La, to finally arrive in the valley of the river Dudh Kosi.

For the record, we tried to estimate the time and distance on foot, but even Google Maps could not give us the answer!

Today, the heart of the Sherpa population lives in the Khumbu region, in the heart of the Himalayas, at a height ranging from 3,300 m to 8,850 m (there it is literally Everest). Sherpas are also found in other Nepalese regions, but Khumbu is the most representative habitat of this ethnic group, including their village-capital of Namche Bazar.

Sherpas and the mountain

Originally, the Sherpas were farmers, their fame in mountaineering dates back only to the 1950s with the beginning of himalayism and trekking in the 1970s.

Ama Dablam, summit accessible from Namche Bazar, village-capital of the Sherpas

“From the summit, you can’t see the whole world”

The Sherpas actually had no desire to conquer the mountain, which is considered the domain of the gods.

It took the first Western climbers to arrive in their quest for the Himalayas for the Sherpas to decide to brave the sacred territory with which they have always lived.

Very quickly, the Sherpas became an indispensable aid for mountaineers; strong, incredibly enduring, courageous, loyal and joyful, the Sherpas became the ethnic group that helps mountaineers. Their qualities and knowledge of the mountains are such that the word “sherpa” has become a common word to designate people doing mountain jobs.

Namche Bazar, the village-capital of the Sherpas is now the starting point for many expeditions, thanks to its ideal location in the heart of the Himalayas. The Sherpas prepare the necessary documents, find and equip the routes, guide the climbers, estimate the weather conditions, cook during the expeditions, carry the equipment… In short, you can trust them!

Sherpas are superhuman

The Sherpas are super-human. Scientifically, the Sherpas were destined to become the world’s most famous mountain guides.

First of all, it has been proven that Sherpas genes are rare, even among populations in which the ethnicity has become involved and mixed with.

Then we said it, but from the beginning of their story, the Sherpas proved that walking doesn’t scare them. Still today, the Sherpas always walk and very rarely use vehicles, in any case not really adapted to their habitat.

After hundreds of years living at an average altitude of 4,000 m, the Sherpas simply don’t breathe like the rest of us! A more than practical ability for alpinism, when the air becomes so rare on the summits that it is sometimes necessary to compensate with an oxygen bottle, the Sherpas breathe simply just as usual.

Finally, apart from their extraordinary breathing abilities, their blood is also proof of their adaptation to an extreme environment. Indeed, Sherpa’s blood mitochondria, known as the “power plants” of any human body (+ other things), are once again more effective than in individuals like us.

Sherpas today

A very isolated people, yet never closed to change, the introduction of mountaineering into the lives of the Sherpas has made it possible to significantly increase their income and thus change their lives forever. The income of the households is now mainly based on the alpinism seasons, even if the pay for a climb represents in fact several round trips for the Sherpas guides who have to prepare and organize the routes before the arrival of the mountaineers.

Thus, the generation after the one of the great expeditions in the 1950s, received an education and was able to study abroad. By the way, many Sherpas speak a wide range of foreign languages, in addition to Nepalese and their own Sherpa dialect (which actually has nothing to do with Nepalese). This is how the young Sherpa generation is less well trained for the mountain and has an educational background that gradually makes them leave the dangerous mountain jobs to live in the big cities.

Some records among the Sherpas records

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953
Tenzing Norgay
Nicknamed "the man with the 3rd lung", illustrating how amazing his ease and abilities in the mountain were. With Edmund Hillary, he was the first to conquer Everest in 1953; after that and still today he was revered almost as a god and there is even a mountain range on Pluto named Tenzing Mountains in his honor (and the name originally proposed was Norgay Mountains).

You will notice that he is the only one of the following list to not have the suffix "Sherpa" in his name, simply because he is from Tibet and joined the Sherpas a little later in his life.

Babu Chhiri Sherpa
The man who stayed the longest at the summit of Everest (21h30 + the duration of the climb + the duration of the descent), where the air contains 3 times fewer O2 cells than at sea level.

Pemba Dorjie Sherpa and Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa
If you think you have original challenges with your friends, these two decided to check who would be the fastest to climb Everest (yes we are talking about the 8 848m summit). Hold on tight, the 1st one took first 12:46, the 2nd one 10:46 and the 1st one, grumpy after being beaten, tried again for an absolutely crazy record of 8:10.

The legendary Apa Sherpa (Super Sherpa) was the first to reach the record of 21 climbs of Mount Everest
Apa Sherpa (nicknamed Super Sherpa), Kami Rita Sherpa and Phurba Tashi Sherpa
We really have the impression that Everest is a little walk in view of these records, but these men have long held the record of the greatest successful ascents to Mount Everest with 21 climbs!

Phurba Tashi Sherpa
If you were wondering who broke the record of Super Sherpa and his friends, this is Phurba Tashi, who holds the current record of 30 successful ascents to Mount Everest.

It is certain that the list of records and interesting facts about the Sherpas is much longer. If like us you are completely amazed by this ethnic group, do not hesitate to take a deeper interest in their history and traditions !

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