Load carried on back. Young girl.

According to common knowledge word Sherpa means a porter. However, this is not the whole truth about this small ethnic group living in the slopes of Himalaya. They used to be mainly farmers and traders until the tourists flooded the Himalayan valleys. Then on the Sherpas have started to work as porters, trekking guides and climbers.

The Sherpas moved to Himalayan slopes around 500 years ago when searching for a holy valley. During the centuries their genetics have adapted to the living in a high and scarce environment. The highest Sherpa villages are located over 4000m above sea level, at the elevation where some lowlanders are never able to accustom and most need number of days to acclimatise.

The Sherpas ability to carry heavy loads at those heights is amazing. That's why number of expeditions heading to Everest hire them to carry their gear and open routes past dangerous sections. At the beginning the Buddhist Sherpas believed that the mountains are the home sites of the gods and climbing on them would have been a desecration. Slowly but steadily, mainly due to the wealth the international expeditions bring to the area, they have given up some religious feelings, but still the religion plays a big role in their acts on the slopes of Everest.

Already during the first expeditions to Himalaya (1921) the British were impressed by the skill, ability and honesty of the Sherpas. But especially after the first ascent of Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay the knowledge of Sherpa's capability to work at high altitudes spread the world. Nowadays the porters that work in the tourism industry are the highest paid people in the area that is one of the poorest in the whole world. The most affluent own yaks which are used to carry the loads easily, but the poorer carry the loads by themselves. The official load of a porter is 30kg but in a hope of extra income a single porter can even take a load that weighs twice as much as himself.

Even though the big commercial expeditions bring considerable income to the local people the other side of the coin is the high risk of that work. In the slopes of Everest alone the Sherpas constitute around 40% of the casualties. The heavy loads in difficult conditions are a major risk for the porters. E.g. the huge moving seracs in the Khumbu icefall are a constant threat and cause of concern. The significance is seen when we understand that there are only around 35000 Sherpas living near Everest. Nowadays westerners have initiated number of projects to help Sherpa culture. As a result of these projects are new schools, hospitals, clean drinking water and other ecological projects.