Sherpas are a group of people known for their exceptional mountaineering skills and endurance in the Himalayas. These skilled guides have led countless expeditions to the summit of Mount Everest and other peaks, earning them worldwide recognition. But who are these mysterious and elusive figures?
In this article, we delve into the history, culture, and daily lives of Sherpas, as well as their vital role in the mountaineering industry. From their traditional customs to their modern-day challenges, we cover everything you need to know about these legendary mountain dwellers.
1. How Tall Are Sherpas?
Sherpas, like most people from the Himalayan region, tend to be shorter in stature, with an average height of about 5’4″ (162 cm) for men and 5’0″ (152 cm) for women. However, this does not necessarily play a significant role in their ability to do their job as mountain guides and porters.
Sherpas have a genetic adaptation to living in high altitudes, which allows them to better cope with the oxygen-poor environment of the Himalayas. This adaptation, called the “Sherpa Phenotype,” allows them to have more efficient oxygen utilization and better lung function, which helps them perform physically demanding tasks at high altitudes. Additionally, Sherpas have a long history of living and working in the mountains, which has led to a deep understanding of the terrain, weather patterns, and how to navigate it safely.
Therefore, their physical capabilities and knowledge of the terrain, weather patterns, and how to navigate it safely are more important than their height in performing their job as mountain guides and porters.
2. How Many Times Do Sherpas Climb Everest?
It is difficult to determine the exact number of times that individual Sherpas have climbed Mount Everest, as many do not keep records of their ascents and some may not report their climbs. However, it is known that Sherpas have been climbing the mountain for many decades, and the number of climbs is likely to be high.
Many Sherpas work as guides and porters for commercial climbing expeditions, which means they may climb the mountain multiple times in a single climbing season. Sherpas typically take on the role of setting fixed ropes, carrying equipment, and providing support to clients. It’s not uncommon for them to make multiple trips up and down the mountain in a single climbing season.
It’s worth noting that climbing the mountain repeatedly can have a toll on the sherpas’ health, Sherpas are exposed to extreme weather, altitude, and physical exertion, which can lead to health issues such as high blood pressure, chronic mountain sickness, frostbite, and other ailments that are common in high altitude mountaineers.
3. Why Don’t Sherpas Suffer From Hypoxia?
As I just pointed out, Sherpas, like other high-altitude dwellers, have a genetic adaptation called “Sherpa Phenotype” that allows them to better cope with the oxygen-poor environment of the Himalayas. This adaptation allows them to have more efficient oxygen utilization and better lung function, which helps them perform physically demanding tasks at high altitude.
These adaptations enable Sherpas to maintain a relatively normal level of physical and mental performance even at high altitude, where the air is thin and oxygen levels are low, thus they don’t suffer from hypoxia as much as lowlanders.
4. What Is The Death Rate of Sherpas?
The death rate of Sherpas on Mount Everest is relatively high compared to other professions, due to the inherent risks of climbing at high altitude, and the many dangers that come with it like avalanches, falls, exposure, and altitude sickness. Sherpas are also exposed to the risks of carrying heavy loads, setting fixed ropes, and providing support to clients, which increases the risk of accidents or injuries.
However, it’s worth noting that the numbers of deaths among Sherpas have varied over the years, and it’s difficult to give an exact death rate as it depends on the time period being considered, the number of climbers and Sherpas, and the level of safety measures and equipment available.
Furthermore, the numbers are not always accurately reported, and some deaths may go unrecorded. However, according to some reports, the death rate among Sherpas on Mount Everest is estimated to be around 1 in 50, which is significantly higher than the death rate among non-Sherpa climbers on the mountain, which is estimated to be around 1 in 200.
It’s worth noting that the death rate among Sherpas has decreased in recent years due to the improvement in climbing equipment, safety measures and rescue operations. Also, many Sherpas have shifted their occupation from climbing to other jobs like tourism, trekking and other low altitude jobs.
5. Do Sherpas Have More Hemoglobin?
One of the key features of the Sherpa phenotype is that they have higher levels of hemoglobin in their blood, which allows them to carry more oxygen to their muscles and organs. They also have a higher density of blood vessels in their muscles, which improves blood flow and oxygen delivery. Additionally, Sherpas have a greater capacity for oxygen diffusion in the lungs, which allows them to extract more oxygen from each breath.
That said, it’s worth noting that despite their genetic advantages, Sherpas are still exposed to the same environmental risks and health hazards of high altitude climbing, such as high blood pressure, chronic mountain sickness, frostbite, and other ailments that are common in high altitude mountaineers.
6. Do Sherpas Have different DNA?
Studies have shown that Sherpas, like other high-altitude populations, have genetic variations that are associated with high-altitude adaptation. For example, some studies have found that Sherpas have a higher frequency of certain genetic variants in genes that are involved in oxygen transport, blood flow, and blood vessel formation. Some researchers have also identified genetic variations that are associated with increased lung function, better endurance, and resistance to altitude sickness.
However, it’s worth noting that the genetic variation that causes Sherpa phenotype is not unique to Sherpas, and it’s also found in other high-altitude dwellers like Tibetans, Andeans, and Ethiopians. Also, Sherpas are not a homogeneous group and their genetic makeup is influenced by the genetic backgrounds of different groups that migrated to the Himalayas over the centuries.
7. Why Do All Sherpas Have The Same Last Name?
Many Sherpas have the last name “Sherpa,” which can lead to confusion about the origin of the name. The name “Sherpa” is actually a title, which means “easterner” or “people from the east,” and it was traditionally used by the people of the Solukhumbu district in northeastern Nepal, where Mount Everest is located.
It’s worth noting that not all Sherpas have the last name “Sherpa,” as there are other surnames that are used among Sherpa communities, such as “Tamang,” “Gurung,” “Rai,” and “Lama.”
The reason why many Sherpas have the same last name is that the custom of using family surnames is a relatively recent tradition in the Himalayan region, and it was introduced by the government in the 20th century. Before that, people in the region used to identify themselves by their clan, village, or profession.
When the government introduced the custom of using family surnames, many Sherpas adopted the name “Sherpa” as a way to identify themselves as members of the Sherpa community, regardless of their actual clan or village. Since then, the name “Sherpa” has become associated with a specific ethnic group and profession, which is mountain climbing and trekking guides.
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8. Are Sherpas A Race of People?
Sherpas are an ethnic group, not a race. An ethnic group refers to a group of people who share a common culture, language, and history, and may have distinct physical characteristics. An ethnic group may also share certain genetic characteristics, however, it’s not a determining factor for an ethnic group.
Sherpas are an ethnic group of people who primarily inhabit the Solukhumbu district of northeastern Nepal, which is home to Mount Everest, and the surrounding regions. They have a unique culture, language, and history, and a traditional way of life that revolves around the mountain environment. They also have their own language, customs and religious practices.
9. What Problems Do Sherpas Face?
Sherpas face a number of problems, both traditional and modern, that affect their way of life and their livelihoods. Some of these problems include:
- Environmental degradation
The rapid increase in tourism and climbing activities in the Himalayas has led to environmental degradation, which affects the natural resources that Sherpas rely on for their livelihoods, such as water, forests, and pastureland.
- Climate change
The effects of climate change, such as melting glaciers, unpredictable weather patterns, and increased frequency of natural disasters, are affecting the agriculture, tourism, and trekking sectors, which are the main sources of income for Sherpas.
- Economic marginalization
Many Sherpas still live in poverty and rely on low-paying jobs in the tourism and climbing industries, which are often exploitative and do not provide stable or adequate income.
- Political marginalization
Sherpas are underrepresented in political decision-making processes, and their voices and concerns are often ignored. This makes it difficult for them to address their problems and to improve their livelihoods.
- Health issues
Sherpas are exposed to the risks of climbing at high altitudes, which can lead to health issues such as high blood pressure, chronic mountain sickness, frostbite, and other ailments that are common in high-altitude mountaineers.
- Lack of education and opportunities
Many Sherpas, especially in remote villages, have limited access to education and opportunities for personal and professional development, which limits their ability to improve their livelihoods and participate in the modern economy.
- Social issues
Sherpas face social issues such as discrimination, isolation and cultural erosion due to the influence of globalization and modernization.
It’s worth noting that while these problems are real, Sherpa communities have also been resilient and have developed strategies to cope with these challenges. Many Sherpas have shifted their occupation from climbing to other jobs like tourism, trekking and other low altitude jobs and they have also started to take an active role in conservation, sustainable development, and advocacy efforts.
10. What Do Sherpas Wear On Their Feet?
Sherpas, typically wear sturdy, high-altitude boots while climbing the mountain. These boots typically have a waterproof and insulated inner lining to keep the feet warm and dry in the harsh, cold conditions on the mountain.
They also have a crampon-compatible sole, which allows the wearer to attach crampons (spikes that are attached to the bottom of the boots) for added traction on the icy slopes of the mountain. The boots also have a stiffer sole to support the foot on rocky and uneven terrain. They usually wear these boots with thick wool or synthetic socks for added insulation and cushioning.
11. What Is The Sherpas Relationship With Mt. Everest?
Sherpas have a deep cultural and spiritual connection to the mountain, which they call “Chomolungma” or “Mother Goddess of the Earth.”
Historically, Sherpas have also been involved in the mountain’s climbing industry as porters and guides, helping climbers and trekkers navigate the treacherous terrain and providing crucial support services such as carrying equipment and supplies.
Many Sherpas have also made their own successful ascents of Mount Everest, and they are highly respected for their skill and expertise in high-altitude mountaineering.
12. Who Is The Best Sherpa In The World?
It is difficult to determine who the “best” Sherpa in the world is at the moment, as the term can be subjective and dependent on various factors such as climbing experience, skill, and achievements. However, there are several Sherpas who have made significant contributions to the climbing industry and have accomplished impressive feats on Mount Everest and other mountains in the Himalayan region.
One notable Sherpa is Apa Sherpa, who has climbed Mount Everest 21 times, more than any other person in history. He has also climbed other 8,000 meter peaks including Lhotse, Cho-Oyu and Manaslu.
Another notable Sherpa is Kami Rita Sherpa, who has climbed Mount Everest 24 times and is still climbing. He has set the record for most successful climbs of the mountain by any individual.
Lhakpa Sherpa, a Nepalese Sherpa, is the only woman to have climbed Mount Everest from both the north and south sides of the mountain eight times, a world record.
These are just a few examples of the many accomplished and skilled Sherpas who have made significant contributions to the climbing industry.
13. How Many Types Of Sherpa Are There?
Yes, there are different types of Sherpas who are involved in the climbing industry on Mount Everest.
One type of Sherpa is the climbing Sherpa, who assist climbers and trekkers on the mountain. They typically have extensive experience and knowledge of the mountain, and they provide crucial support services such as carrying equipment and supplies, setting up camps, and fixing ropes. They are also skilled in high-altitude mountaineering and can provide valuable guidance and assistance to climbers.
Another type of Sherpa is the base camp Sherpa, who provide support services such as setting up and maintaining base camp facilities, handling logistics, and providing medical assistance. They are also responsible for communication, weather forecasting and other essential support services.
There are also High Altitude Porters (HAPs) who are not from the Sherpa ethnic group but work as porters and assist climbing sherpas and trekkers as well.
Finally, there are also Sherpas who are not directly involved in the climbing industry, but who live in the surrounding communities and are impacted by the tourism and development that occurs on the mountain.
14. Do Sherpa Guides Help Climbers On Mount Everest?
Yes, Sherpa guides are trained to help climbers who are struggling or hurt on Mount Everest. They are experienced in high-altitude mountaineering and are equipped with the knowledge and skills to provide assistance in emergency situations.
Sherpas typically work in teams and are responsible for a variety of support services, such as carrying equipment and supplies, setting up camps, and fixing ropes. They are also trained to provide first aid and medical assistance if necessary. They are well aware of the dangers on the mountain and are trained to react to any situation that may arise.
In the case of a climber who is struggling or hurt, a Sherpa guide may provide physical assistance, such as helping the climber to move or carrying equipment. They may also provide emotional support, such as encouraging and reassuring the climber. If necessary, they may also provide medical assistance and call for a rescue.
It’s important to note that even with the help of experienced guides, climbing Mount Everest is a dangerous and challenging endeavor and there are inherent risks involved.
15. Do Sherpas Rescue People?
Sherpas are often involved in rescue operations on Mount Everest, but it’s important to note that the primary responsibility for rescue operations falls on the Nepalese government and various expedition companies. Sherpas have been known to play an important role in rescue operations on the mountain, as they are experienced in high-altitude mountaineering, familiar with the mountain and the terrain, and able to navigate the challenging conditions.
Sherpas will assist in rescue operations in different ways. They help in carrying injured climbers down the mountain, they can provide first aid and medical assistance to injured climbers, they can help in organizing the rescue operations and they can also help in communication with the base camp and the authorities.
In addition to the Sherpas, there are also specialized rescue teams that are trained and equipped to perform rescue operations on the mountain. These teams typically include trained medical personnel, mountain guides, and helicopter pilots. They are trained to handle a variety of emergency situations and are equipped with the necessary equipment and resources to perform rescue operations on the mountain.
16. Are Sherpas Better Than Climbers?
Yes, Sherpas are better equipped to climb and summit Mount Everest than regular climbers. That said, it would not be fair to say that they are “better” than all other climbers, as each individual has their own strengths and weaknesses, and climbing is a personal endeavor.
Sherpas have grown up in the Himalayas, and have spent most of their lives in the mountains. This gives them a unique understanding of the mountain, the weather, and the terrain. They also have a deep understanding of the culture, customs, and traditions of the area.
However, other climbers also have their own strengths and experience. They may have different skills, such as technical climbing skills, or different experiences that they bring to the mountain. They may also have different fitness levels and physical abilities.
17. Do Sherpas Eat Meat?
Sherpas, like many people from the Himalayan region, are traditionally Tibetan Buddhist, and many of them follow the dietary restrictions of Buddhism, which prohibits the consumption of meat. Some of them follow a vegetarian or mostly vegetarian diet, which consists of grains, vegetables, and legumes.
However, it’s worth noting that some Sherpas do eat meat, particularly those from more rural areas. They may consume meat from domestic animals such as yak or chicken, and occasionally they may also consume wild animals such as snow leopard or musk deer. Some Sherpas may also eat meat while they are on expeditions, as it can be a good source of protein and energy at high altitudes.
It’s also important to note that dietary habits can vary depending on the specific Sherpa and their individual beliefs and customs. Some Sherpas may choose to follow a vegetarian diet for religious reasons, while others may eat meat for cultural or practical reasons.
18. Do Sherpas Get Altitude Sickness?
Sherpas, like all people, are susceptible to altitude sickness, which is a condition that can occur when the body is not able to acclimatize to the lower levels of oxygen at high altitudes. Altitude sickness can manifest in different ways, but the symptoms can include headaches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. In severe cases, it can lead to more serious conditions such as high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) or high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), which can be life-threatening.
Sherpas, who grew up and spend most of their lives in the high altitude environment, are considered to be more acclimatized to high altitude than lowlanders, but they are not immune to altitude sickness. They may have a certain level of tolerance to the low oxygen levels but still, they can experience symptoms of altitude sickness.
Sherpas are trained to recognize the symptoms of altitude sickness and take the necessary precautions to avoid it, such as acclimatizing gradually, staying hydrated, and avoiding overexertion. They also carry oxygen and medical supplies with them, and they are trained to provide first aid and medical assistance if necessary.
It’s important to note that altitude sickness can affect anyone, regardless of their level of fitness or experience, and it’s essential to take the necessary precautions to minimize the risk of altitude sickness when climbing or trekking in the high mountains.
19. Why Is The Death Rate of Climbers More Than That of Sherpas?
The death rate of climbers on Mount Everest is higher than that of Sherpas, and there are several reasons for this.
One reason is that many climbers are not properly acclimatized to the high altitude, and they may not have the same level of experience or knowledge of the mountain as the Sherpas. They may also not have the same level of physical fitness or endurance, and they may not be familiar with the specific conditions of the mountain.
Another reason is that climbers may not have the same level of equipment and resources as the Sherpas. Sherpas typically work in teams and are provided with the necessary equipment and supplies, such as oxygen tanks, ropes, and medical supplies. Climbers, on the other hand, may not have the same level of support or resources.
In addition, climbers may take more risks than the Sherpas. Climbers are often more focused on reaching the summit, and they may push themselves harder and take more risks than the Sherpas.
Finally, it’s also worth noting that the climbing routes on Mount Everest are more crowded than ever, with long lines of climbers waiting to reach the summit. This can lead to delays and bottlenecks, which can be dangerous in the high-altitude environment.
20. What Fraction of the People Who Climb Mount Everest Are Sherpas?
Sherpas make up a significant proportion of the people who climb Mount Everest, but it is difficult to give an exact percentage as it can vary year to year. Sherpas often serve as guides and support for climbing expeditions on the mountain, and their expertise and experience in the high altitude environment make them highly valued members of any climbing team.
21. Why Do Some Worry About The Sherpa Culture Changing?
Some people are worried about the Sherpa culture changing because of the increasing commercialization of Mount Everest and the growing number of tourists and climbing expeditions on the mountain. The influx of climbers and tourists to the region has brought a significant amount of money and development to the area, which has had a profound impact on the local Sherpa communities. This includes changes to traditional ways of life, economic and social changes, and even changes in the local environment.
Some are also worried that the Sherpa culture is becoming overly commodified, with many Sherpas becoming dependent on the climbing industry for their livelihoods. This can result in pressure for young Sherpas to become climbers or guides, which can be dangerous work, even if it is well-paying.
Additionally, the number of climbing expeditions and climbers on the mountain has increased the risk of accidents and fatalities, which can have a deep impact on the local Sherpa communities.
22. Why Do Sherpas Live So Long?
Sherpas are known for their longevity and good health, even in old age. There are several factors that may contribute to this phenomenon:
- Genetic factors
Sherpas have evolved to have certain genetic adaptations that help them survive in the high-altitude environment of the Himalayas. These adaptations include higher levels of hemoglobin in the blood, which helps them to better absorb oxygen.
Sherpas traditionally have a diet that is high in nutritious foods such as grains, vegetables, and dairy products. This diet, combined with their active lifestyle, may contribute to their overall good health.
- Low-stress lifestyle
The Sherpas have a very close-knit community and live in a relatively low-stress environment. This, in combination with their deep spiritual practices and beliefs, may help them maintain good physical and mental health.
- Hard work
Sherpas are known for their hard work, and their physically demanding lifestyle, involving carrying heavy loads, trekking long distances, climbing at high altitude, and farming, may help them maintain a high level of physical fitness throughout their lives.
It’s important to note that the sample size of the studies that have been done on Sherpa’s longevity is relatively small, and it would be incorrect to generalize the results to all Sherpas.
23. What Dangers Do Sherpas Face?
Sherpas face several unique dangers that are specific to their way of life and environment. Some of these dangers include:
- High altitude: Sherpas live and work at high altitudes, which can expose them to the risks of altitude sickness, hypoxia, and other related illnesses. These conditions can be life-threatening if not treated properly.
- Climbing and mountaineering accidents: Sherpas often work as guides and support for climbing expeditions on Mount Everest and other Himalayan peaks. This can be dangerous work, as climbing at a high altitude is inherently risky, and accidents can happen even with proper training and equipment.
- Avalanche and rockfall: The Himalayas are prone to avalanches and rockfall, which can be particularly dangerous for Sherpas who are working or traveling in the region.
- Environmental hazards: The Himalayan region is prone to natural disasters such as landslides, flash floods, and glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), which can have a significant impact on the local Sherpa communities.
- Exploitation: Sherpas are often exploited by trekking and climbing companies, who may not provide adequate compensation or insurance for the risks they take.
- Political instability: The Himalayan region has experienced political instability and conflicts in the past, which can make it dangerous for Sherpas to travel or work in certain areas.
24. Are Sherpas Under Paid?
Sherpas, who often work as guides and support for climbing expeditions on Mount Everest and other Himalayan peaks, have been known to be underpaid for their work in the past. This can happen for a number of reasons:
- Lack of regulation
The climbing and trekking industry in the Himalayas is relatively unregulated, which can make it difficult for Sherpas to negotiate fair wages and working conditions.
Some trekking and climbing companies may take advantage of the Sherpas’ lack of education and experience in negotiating contracts, leading to them being paid less than they are worth.
- High demand
There is a high demand for Sherpas’ services as they are considered experts in high-altitude climbing and trekking, which can lead to them being paid less than other guides.
- Cultural factors
Sherpas may be less likely to speak up or negotiate for better wages and working conditions due to cultural factors such as respect for authority and a lack of understanding of their legal rights.
- High mortality rate
The dangerous nature of their work and lack of insurance means that Sherpas may be paid less than they are worth due to the high mortality rate.
It’s important to note that not all Sherpas are underpaid, and there are organizations and initiatives working to improve the working conditions and wages for Sherpas in the climbing and trekking industry.
It’s also important to note that the climbing and trekking industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, and many Sherpas have lost their jobs and are facing extreme poverty, making the situation even direr.