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A photo of a monk setting fire to the body of a sherpa during a cremation ceremony.

A Buddhist monk sets fire to the body of Ankaji Sherpa, who was killed in Friday's avalanche on Mount Everest, during a cremation ceremony.

PHOTOGRAPH BY NAVESH CHITRAKAR, REUTERS

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic

Published April 21, 2014

The remains of Sherpa guides killed by Friday's avalanche on Mount Everest were cremated on Monday, with people lining the streets of Kathmandu to watch as bodies were taken by truck through the streets, according to news reports.

At least 16 mountaineers died in what was the worst single accident in history on the world's highest peak. At least thirteen of the dead were Sherpas.

Nepali Sherpas have called for a climbing boycott until their government meets certain demands: more insurance money, more financial aid for victims' families, and stronger climbers' rights.

It's still unclear whether climbing will go ahead on Everest this season. It's early in the season, and some teams will likely want to continue their ascent. For now, the hundreds of people at base camp are still in shock.

Thirteen bodies have been recovered, and three are permanently entombed in ice. No Western climbers died. (See "Mount Everest's Deadliest Day Puts Focus on Sherpas.")

A photo of monks offering prayer during the funeral of a sherpa.
Buddhist monks offer prayers at a funeral procession in Kathmandu for Nepali Sherpa climbers who died in the avalanche.
PHOTOGRAPH BY NAVESH CHITRAKAR, REUTERS

Questions and Devastation

Those in the climbing community expressed shock and grief about the accident, even as they waited to see if climbing season would continue.

"It has been devastating up here," said Todd Burleson, owner of Alpine Ascents International (AAI), one of the more successful guiding operations on Everest.

Alpine Ascents International lost five Sherpas in the accident, four of whom have been recovered.

Burleson and his top Sherpa, Lakhpa Rita, flew all four bodies by helicopter to their respective villages.

"It's just a very sad, sad affair," Burleson said by phone from Pheriche, a small village just below base camp in the Khumbu Valley. "Everyone is of course at a loss for what to do, how to handle it." (Related: "The Aftermath of Everest's Deadly Avalanche.")

"Now the process begins," said Burleson. "The process of grieving."

A photo of relatives of sherpas killed on Mount Everest mourning.
Relatives of mountaineers killed in the avalanche on Mount Everest mourn at a funeral ceremony in Kathmandu.
PHOTOGRAPH BY NIRANJAN SHRESTHA, AP

A Legacy of Climbing

Sherpas have been used as porters on Mount Everest from the beginning of mountaineering there, and they have been dying on the mountain since the first serious attempt to climb it by George Mallory and his team in 1922, when seven Sherpas were killed by an avalanche.

Sherpas are not dragooned onto Everest. They choose it. The average income in Nepal is about a thousand dollars a year. A Sherpa can make $5,000 in three months of work in one spring.

Sherpas are mountain mercenaries, in part through economic necessity. Many see humping loads on Everest as the best way to support their families. All of them have lost friends. (See "Pictures: Climbing Everest Through History.")

8 comments
Bob Hannent
Bob Hannent

Claiming Everest has been done, there are only personal goals in climbing it and if you choose to risk suicide by climbing you shouldn't put someone else's life at risk doing so. I call it suicide because it is about recklessly endangering your life because you feel the need to prove something. Or perhaps you are so addicted to the sport of climbing that you are happy to let someone else die for it?

What does the world gain from people climbing to their deaths? How does this contribute to the furtherment of mankind? If the answer is to inspire... Killing people isn't inspiring anymore.

I don't think I am saying to stop climbing, not even stop climbing Everest, but let's stop taking such risks with the lives of natives who can't afford to say no. If you want to kill yourself then do it alone, don't take other people with you like a pilot crashing a plane full of passengers. Perhaps if human life were treated more expensive the foreign climbers might be forced to think twice about the consequences of their activities.

Patrick Ling
Patrick Ling

What a strange comment saying these people choose their deaths. In many countries people wouldn't bother to work for $2K a month...

Phil Speck
Phil Speck

"No Western climbers died." So it's not a big deal?

partha layak
partha layak

@Phil Speck  How cruel and shameful a comment can be ........ "No Western climbers died." So it's not a big deal?

this reflects the open and broad mentality of some of the people staying west. Will hate to see these people coming to Himalaya. SHAME.


Paul Tabone
Paul Tabone

@Phil Speck  I would take the comment as a qualifier, not a minimizer. 


And as is mentioned in the last paragraph, they are mercenaries. Not that I don't feel for them but they do have an option. This is a very dangerous job/sport and along with it does come the possibility of death.

Wanda Lee
Wanda Lee

@partha layak @Phil Speck You're taking the comment the wrong way, it's just a statement of fact. Where did anyone say that because no western climbers died the avalanche wasn't a big deal?  Oh right, you just did.  No one else was thinking that, only you and Phil, to the rest of us it is a very big deal. Nice attempt at trying to creating division and misunderstanding.


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