The serac avalanche that killed 16 men last month on Everest was the largest, single-event, loss of life in Everest’s history and it has sparked political mobilization among the Sherpa people. Anger and sadness have reverberated throughout the climbing community across two continents and resulted in a massive fundraising campaign by Outside magazine Senior Editor Grayson Schaffer and National Geographic photographer Aaron Huey.
They raised $425,000 in just eight days.
Schaffer and Huey recruited a group of 10 climbing photographers to sell $100 prints of Everest that have been published in National Geographic and Outside. The flash sale was so successful that they have reopened the sale until midnight Sunday, May 11. Click Here to see the prints for sale and/or make a donation.
All proceeds garnered through this sale are going directly to the Sherpa community via the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation (ALCF). Half of the money will be donated to families of deceased climbers through ALCF’s Widows Relief Fund (which has been serving bereaved families of Sherpas for about a decade) and the American Himalayan Foundation’s Sherpa Relief Fund. The other half of the proceeds will go to “long-term community assistance” which will be split between the Khumbu Climbing Center and the Everest Base Camp Medical Clinic.
The climbing center has become an important part of Sherpa guide training, which recognizes that guiding is lucrative but dangerous work for mountain communities. A certificate from KCC has become a sort of union card for guides. The school employs over 17 Nepali instructors, one of whom Ang Kaji Sherpa, died in the April 18 avalanche. A number of other victims also attended KCC, notes Jennifer Lowe-Anker, co-founder of the ACLF.
When word of the death toll reached Huey, he and Schaffer spent three sleepless days pulling together photographers and assembling the website. “The question was not do I do this, but how do I do this,” said Cory Richards, accomplished mountaineer and NatGeo photographer. “Photos made it more than just an ask, it made it an offer,” says Huey. Instead of throwing money into a fund, donors get a striking piece of art that represents a community that needs support.
Some of the most well-known names in alpine photography have lent their wares to this sale, including Richards who has been to Nepal over a dozen times and worked closely with Ang Kaji at the climbing center. Richards was also on the 2012 NatGeo Everest expedition and passed under this serac several times, commenting, “There’s a reason Conrad [Anker] calls the icefall the ‘ballroom of death’.”
Huey said he would like to see changes made on Everest to provide more safety for native guides. Barring removal of all commercial guiding expeditions, he thinks “better pay, better insurance, and better education,“ are the best ways to support them.
Richards sees this fund as a way to show their friends that “their value cannot be equated the value of the Everest industry,” which yields the government over $3.3 million a year in permits alone. “It’s time to get organized and get political,” he said.
When the Nepali government offered families of deceased climbers about USD$400 for funeral expenses the Sherpas remaining at base camp went on strike. Their demands included an increase in the amount paid to families of the deceased to $1,000, a $10,000 payment to severely injured staff unable to return to work, 30 percent of royalties collected by the government from all western permits to create a relief fund, double the amount of insurance to mountaineering workers, a guaranteed salary for the rest of this season even if they choose not to continue working, and a memorial park to honor the deceased in Kathmandu.
In late April the Nepali government agreed to meet a majority of these demands.
--Images courtesy of Aaron Huey, Pete McBride and Cory Richards, all for sale at https://sherpasfund.org/
-- Caitlin Kauffman is an editorial intern at Sierra. She is a sea kayak and hiking guide in the Bay Area and the Greater Yellowstone area. She enjoys good eye contact and elk burgers.