One of the main themes that we have been trying to bring attention to with our expedition are the climbing Sherpas who work behind the scenes, often in the shadows, who are the unsung heroes of the Himalayas.
Sadly, they are often wrongfully omitted from the stories of triumph and success by foreign climbers and mainstream media. It’s important to remember that these big mountain expeditions, including ours, are not only dependent on the help of the Sherpas, but also other casts of men (and sometimes women) which includes porters who leave their families for months at a time to seek out employment. This blog post is a tribute to these great men.
In the case of our expedition, our porter team members traveled from Changa, a village in the Taksindu district. They walked for two days to meet us in Lukla. From there,1000kg’s of equipment was transported by yak to our rock camp at approximately 5000m above sea level. Many of our team members traveled with us helping transport our fragile film equipment and personal belongings. From there, the crew made multiple trips, oftentimes with double loads on their backs (only those that insisted, who wanted to earn extra money, carried double loads in excess of 40kg) to the end of the trail. From there, they descended a step rock trail and crossed the Zgozumba glacier, the largest glacier in Nepal and finally reached basecamp.
These porters work incredibly hard and develop this work ethic from a very young age. Honestly, I have no idea how they do it. They never complain, they’re generally always positive and are often singing and dancing along the trails.
Earlier in August, I had a chance to get to know Sonam, our youngest porter who is 22-years old. He’s tech savvy, funny, has a stylish haircut and can dance circles around me on a smart phone. To my surprise, after asking him a few questions about his life, he shared a very sad story of both of his parents dying far too young. One by ‘disease’, the other a construction accident. He and his older sister take care of their younger sisters who are still in school. Working as a porter is his main source of income. The sad truth is this: he only does it for the money. To provide for his sisters. Imagine that responsibility at 22-years old?
I share Sonam’s story as a gentle reminder to everyone to: 1) be grateful for what you have. Others are not always so fortunate. And: 2) Be curious and considerate of the people you meet in life. You never know where they come from, what they’ve been through and what additional weight they might be carrying.
Our porters: Sonam, Dorje, Dagnima, Baji and Pema have been extraordinary to work with. When Gabriel was evacuated back in September, we urgently needed a helicopter landing pad. Together, in less than an hour, they built one with their bare hands! They worked quickly and tirelessly, while Gabriel was on supplemental oxygen, moving rocks, paving the uneven ground while blistering their hands, and before we knew it, the helicopter landed and carried us away. It was one of the most extraordinary efforts I’ve even have the privilege of witnessing.
The other unsung hero of this expedition is my dear friend Dawa Sherpa, our cook. He has the most infectious smile and unique laugh that you’ll ever hear. He works hard every day in his red kitchen tent and creates all of our meals for us, often with extremely limited ingredients. A few days ago, he shared that he deeply misses his family. Due to extreme remote nature of this expedition, he thought many times of quitting and returning home. Like all of us, it’s extremely hard on Dawa being so far away from the people he loves the most. Thankfully, he decided to stay despite his longing for his loved ones.
After Gab’s evacuation, for a period of approximately seven days, our expedition was over. It took us some time as friends to conclude that the expedition should carry on. At the time, because the team at basecamp had no communication with us in Kathmandu, they began dismantling basecamp and carrying loads back to the rock camp at 5000m. Days later (keep in mind how heavy all the equipment in) they were then asked to return to basecamp with all the equipment. Naturally they were frustrated as they had spent days carrying hundreds of kilograms of equipment for nothing.
After trekking 50km’s back to rock camp, I met with the team and gave everyone the option to go home to their families. I explained that there was no expectation for them to carry on, but that we hoped they would support us. Regardless of their decision, they would all be tipped handsomely and paid in full. Everyone ended up staying to put the expedition back together.
PK and I may be at the forefront of much of our expedition stories and imagery, but it’s Dawa, Pema, Dorje, Sonam, Dagnima, Pema and Kusang who have earned their spot on our immediate and have become the real heroes of this expedition. We tip our hats off to them and thank them from the bottom of our hearts for all they have done. Their physical strength, unwavering dedication, open hearted nature and positive attitudes make them an example of the quality of character that we should all aspire towards.