A Scot’s drive to help the Sherpas

EverestSunrise-web

When 16 Sherpa guides died in a Himalayan avalanche, James Lamb launched a trekking service with a difference.

Last spring, on the slopes of Everest – pictured above – a massive avalanche killed 16 Sherpas as they made their way up to fix ropes, as they do every year for the multitudes wanting to climb the highest mountain in the world.

The tragedy on 18 April left 54 children without a father; it was the worst such accident in the Himalayas. The world’s media reported it widely and quickly moved on to the next story. But for one Scot, the photographer and climber James Lamb, who was in the area at the time, the disaster led to a complete change of direction.
As well as the loss of life, the Sherpa community of Nepal suffered a huge financial blow, as all attempts on the mountain were abandoned. So James, of Falkland, Fife, decided to do something to help.

He says: “The media circus seemed, to me, at times to be more about who could shout the loudest and take the high moral ground, rather than supporting the people who needed it the most.”

James Lamb’s friend, the Buddhist monk Tashi Lama, left, with a wise man

James Lamb’s friend, the Buddhist monk Tashi Lama, left, with a wise man

A friend, Tashi Lama, who is a Bhuddist monk at Tengboche Monastery, told James that he dreamed of setting up a trekking agency that would train and employ local guides and use the profits from their trips to support families who had lost a member in a climbing incident – not just the most recent one that received so much coverage, but earlier and future ones, too.

James says: “I am a westerner and a climber, and I felt complicit in this ever increasing death toll, despite having no intention of ever engaging in the bizarre practice of paying $50,000 or so to be hauled up the highest mountain in the world.

After much debate on my return home, I decided to try to help Tashi realise his dream, and so Tengboche Trekking was born.

A guide and porter with Tengboche Trekking make their way up the Cho La pass in the Solu Khumbu

A guide and porter with Tengboche Trekking make their way up the Cho La pass in the Solu Khumbu

“The energy needed to establish the trekking agency has been immense. I do not have a background in this area and I have had one steep  learning curve after another to conquer. At times I have been euphoric and at others quietly depressed.

“I have lots of people to thank, but especially my wife, Karen, who has backed me totally from the beginning. All the funds to get to where we are have come from our own finances, but we knew this would be so from the onset. I am immensely proud of what we have achieved. We are now focused on making it a success.”

James, who had been a teacher and lecturer before retraining to be a professional photographer, now leads photography tours to the Solu Khumbu area using our trekking agency for the guides and porters.

A farmer in Khunde prepares his fields to plant potatoes

A farmer in Khunde prepares his fields to plant potatoes

He says: “Sherpas are a bit similar to our idea of crofters. They have a small amount of land on which they grow crops and have animals. The land is in general not very fertile and, with the climate being the way it is, life can be precarious.

“This is why so many Sherpas are involved in tourism in one form or another, as it brings in some badly needed cash. It is not unusual for children to walk two hours to and from primary school each day, and they don’t complain. The secondary school is the Edmund Hillary school, just north of Namche Bazaar, and this provides an excellent education. The average salary is $750 but high altitude guides can earn 10 times that amount for less than half a year’s work. This is why, despite the obvious dangers, so many Sherpas are drawn to this way of life.

Mule trek between Lukla and Namche Bazaar

“Our guides and porters are all locals so their knowledge of the area and of the people, including their religious beliefs, are second to none. They will ensure you do not make any unintentional gaffes! Because they are locals, you are assured the best welcome ever.

“Our prices are very competitive and yet we pay our guides and porters above the usual rates. Since we have a Bhuddist monk on the team, you will be afforded a very memorable experience at Tengboche Monastery and we will be offering one hour meditation courses as part of our treks, if requested. All the profits go to the Little Sherpa Foundation, which is a registered charity in Nepal that supports families who have lost a member in a climbing incident.”

James, who has walked, climbed, paddled and skied all over Scotland, has been up all the Munros and Corbetts, and has just eight Grahams outstanding. But they may have to wait – for now, he’s focusing on a higher goal.

Find out about guided Himalayan treks and photography tours at www.tengbochetrekking.com



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