An Open Letter to the Mountaineers who will not climb Everest in 2014


UPDATE May 9, 2015

The 2015 Mt Everest climbing season was cancelled, after the deadly avalanche that swept away the fixed rope system through the icefall on the route. Nineteen lives were lost. The western media seems to have given fifty per cent of their news coverage to Everest. The other fifty per cent was given to the thousands of Nepalis who died, as well as the eight million who are affected. Recent reports express concern about a food shortage ( i.e., a famine) in Nepal because seed stocks were damaged just before planting season. A Million people are in the food shortage zone.  I don’t know where the balance of media coverage should go, and I’m worried that Nepal will fade from the news in USA. Six months from now, the celebrity media will parachute in to some other place in crisis. Maybe Sanjay Gupta will do brain surgery on TV there. And then – leave.

note: while you are here, click on this link and find a book about the Nepal that is not Everest…. go ahead, do it. Imagine that an attractive woman is whispering in your ear… “click here….. click here….”  You know you want to…..

An Open Letter

Dear Disappointed would-be conqueror of Mt Everest:

So, you had this fantasy of following in the footsteps of the late Sir Edmund Hillary. You paid a nonrefundable deposit of tens of thousands of dollars. You spent months getting fit to hike in high altitude. You bought a round-trip ticket to Kathmandu. And you cleared two months from your schedule for the big push to the top.

You expected that somehow, climbing this mountain, highest in the world, would change you. It would prove to those around you that you were the best. For the rest of your life you would have the ultimate “can-you-top-this” putdown at cocktail parties. You would be released from further adrenaline seeking behavior, since after all – what is left after climbing Everest?

The Late Sir Edmund Hillary had to face this question – what next? – every day of his life after the feat he shared with Tenzing Norgay Sherpa. Hillary is revered in the Solu Khumbu  region, but it may surprise you to know that his climbing prowess was only a small factor in the respect he gained there. He used his fame to build schools and hospitals and to elevate the standard of living in a region of grinding poverty and backbreaking labor. He continued to visit Solu Khumbu for many years after his epic climb, even after  High Altitude Pulmonary Edema put an end to his climbing career. He maintained a lifelong friendship with Mr. Norgay.

“Reaching the summit of a mountain gives great satisfaction, but nothing for me has been more rewarding in life than the result of our climb on Everest, when we have devoted ourselves to the welfare of our Sherpa friends.”

  • As quoted in Great Climbs: A Celebration of World Mountaineering (1994) by Sir Chris Bonington (Wikipedia)

I could go on, but there are better biographies written by better scholars. The point seems to be, Hillary accomplished a feat of great manhood, then realized that there was more to being a man. He acted accordingly.

Re-ordering your life now

Here is the point: Why not come to Nepal anyway? Why not act as if you have mentally conquered the mountain, and go straight to phase two, where you selflessly work for the betterment of the people here? After all, it’s what those Sherpa guys were doing – getting money to support their families and their community. You could volunteer in a school or orphanage, you could learn about Buddhist and Hindu devotion to family, you could learn about how people put the welfare of others, even the welfare of total strangers, before themselves. That is what the tragically-deceased Sherpa guides were doing, but this ethic permeates Nepali society, it’s why they are renowned for hospitality. From childhood, Nepali people are taught to revere the Buddha which may appear from among the people around them. With hard work and honor, you can learn this attitude from them.

Why Not?

You could be that person. You can mentally stand on a mountain of your own construction, and proclaim it as a chance to grow into a new person as if you were Hillary on Everest.

On my own trips to teach nursing in Nepal I have learned the great satisfaction in working side-by-side with motivated people. Together we work hard to overcome the lack of equipment or money in this low income country, and help people live better lives.

I learned to question things that we take for granted in the West. I have learned to reject materialism, as well as the outward trappings of a Western lifestyle in which consumerism and consumption of resources takes more precedence than caring for those persons around you.

I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mount Everest has become rather horrifying. The people just want to get to the top. They don’t give a damn for anybody else who may be in distress and it doesn’t impress me at all that they leave someone lying under a rock to die. (Sir Edmund Hillary)

Life is precious here, and the Sherpa guides who are now cancelling the 2014 climbing season are showing you the value they put on family. They will risk everything they have, to put bread on the table.

Isn’t that a better lesson to learn?

Oh, and while I worked on my book for eighteen months, today The Sacrament of the Goddess is finally available on Amazon kindle. Why not learn about the other Nepal, the part away from Everest?

About Joe Niemczura, RN, MS

Experienced nursing educator and problem-solver. I have fifteen years of USA nursing faculty background. Add it with fifteen more devoted to adult critical care. In Nepal, I started teaching critical care skills in 2011. I figure out what they need to know in a Nepali practice setting. Then I teach it in a culturally appropriate way so that the boots-on-the-ground people will use it. I travel outside of Kathmandu Valley as well. When the recent violence happened, I knew the cities - I had trained people in those locations. One theme of my work has been collective culture and how it manifests itself in anger. Because this was a problem I incorporated elements of "situational awareness" training from the beginning, in 2011. Global Health Nursing is not all sweetness and light; not solely milk & honey and happy moms and babies.
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2 Responses to An Open Letter to the Mountaineers who will not climb Everest in 2014

  1. jpacklin says:

    It’s sad how under-appreciated the Sherpas. Rich Westerners pay gobs of money to have armies of sherpas shlep their gear up the mountain, make a path for, and practically carry some of them to top. Day in, day out, putting their lives at risk, doing the REAL work of climbing Everest. Far greater accomplishments daily than summitting Everest once. Do they get to attend the cocktail parties where someone brags to the crowd of oohing babes around them about summitting Everest, never mentioning that he had 20-100 hired expert mountaineers to help him? No because they’re busing traversing the Khumbu icefall for someone else so they can put food on the table for their families.

    I know that wasn’t what your post was about, but I had to chime in with that.

  2. thank you. You have made that point, and so did everyone else. I have met many sherpas (in Kathmandu, not in Solu Khumbu) and they are folks who enjoy a good laugh and their families. Most of the other commentators have given them their due. For me, I dislike the macho rock-jock persona struck by so many western climbers. It’s time for them to re-evaluate.

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