Kerre McIvor
Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: High risk worth greater reward

Mourners at the funeral of Sherpa guides killed this month on Mt Everest. Sherpas are demanding better pay. Photo / AP
Mourners at the funeral of Sherpa guides killed this month on Mt Everest. Sherpas are demanding better pay. Photo / AP

I'm sure I can speak for all of our World Vision team when I say that if it hadn't been for our porters and guides, none of us would have come close to climbing Mt Kilimanjaro last year.

Thanks to our porters, all we had to do was put one foot in front of the other, hour after hour and, when we reached our camp at the end of each day, we could sit down to enjoy a meal prepared by our skilled chefs.

Our tents had been set up, our kit bags placed inside and this had all been done by men who were paid a pittance. We all gave them stonking tips on our final night but, nonetheless, the work is sporadic and the daily rate is a low one.

As well as our porters, we had guides who were knowledgeable, inspirational and determined to see us succeed.

I knew then and I know now that the sense of achievement I felt at reaching the highest point of Kilimanjaro was down to a team effort and there was no way I could have done it on my own.

And certainly not if I'd been lugging my own gear.

So I have enormous sympathy for the Sherpas who have threatened to pull the plug on the Everest climbing season in the wake of a devastating avalanche last week that killed 16 of their community.

More than 300 people have died on Everest since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit in 1953 - and most of those who died have been local guides. It's well known, according to those in the climbing community, that the Nepalese guides take most of the risks and most of the load as they prepare the way for well-heeled adventure-seekers to climb this dangerous mountain.

Now, with 16 men dead - many of whom have dependent children - the Sherpas have had enough. They have issued a list of demands to the Government and if they are not met by tomorrow they will go on strike.

There are 13 demands. The Nepalese Government has already acquiesced to many of them, including raising the value of the medical and life insurance policies of each Sherpa; creating an education fund for children of the dead and building a memorial to the guides who are killed doing their jobs. But others are proving more of a sticking point.

The Sherpas want 30 per cent of the climbers' fees to be earmarked for a relief fund for the families of guides who are injured or killed, but climbers' fees - believed to be anything from $60,000 to $100,000 per climber - are a huge source of income for the government.

A number of climbing companies involved in bringing clients to Everest - indeed, some of the clients themselves - said they had no problem with the Sherpas receiving the money, not having it disappear into government coffers, but the government is digging in its toes.

However, the Sherpas have all the negotiating power in this dispute. If they strike, the Government will have to refund millions of dollars to climbers from all over the world and that will be very messy indeed.

I've stood at the very top of the highest mountain in Africa and it's one of the most magical experiences of my life. I can't even begin to imagine how it would feel to stand on Everest, where skill and ability is involved in getting to the top, not just dogged determination.

Those thrills should not come at the expense of others. Alpine climbing is risky and every mountaineer knows that. But the Sherpa guides are taking more than their fair share of the risk and that does not seem right.

• Kerre McIvor is on Newstalk ZB, Monday-Thursday, 8pm-midnight

- Herald on Sunday

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