Nepal’s Sherpas Face Tragic Financial Fallout Amid COVID-19


SEATTLE, Washington — The gatekeepers of Mount Everest, the Nepalese Sherpas, face a tragic financial fallout. With COVID-19 closing borders, the Nepalese ethnic population, indigenous to the Himalayan region, is left wondering what to do. Some are returning to their villages to tend to the farms, while others leave, seeking jobs in nearby cities. Unlike developed nations, there is no government-aided financial buffer coming to keep them afloat.

The Nepalese Sherpas

The Nepalese Sherpas are a highly specialized group of people. They live high in the Himalaya mountains and are famous for being highly adapted to the high altitude. Their outstanding mountaineering abilities and their livelihoods make them the perfect guides. When adventure seekers and mountain climbers arrive at Mt. Everest, it is the Nepalese Sherpas who guide them.

While mountaineers experience difficulties in climbing up the steep and dangerous mountainside, the Sherpas do so with all the mountaineers’ equipment on their backs. The Sherpas trek ahead of the leading group, so that they may arrive first and set up camp. Their work may seem surreal to some, but to them, it is merely their way of life.

The Effect of COVID-19

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the Sherpa’s livelihoods are at severe risk. These peculiar individuals are not educated or skilled in other work and depend solely on their unique skill set of guiding climbers up the mountain.

Thus, when the climbing industry dropped devastatingly due to COVID-19, the Sherpas’ financial and food security went down as well.

Mountaineering Companies Aiding Sherpa Communities

The relationship between mountaineers and Sherpas is so incredibly interconnected and reliant on one another that without the other, the other cannot function. Realizing this, some mountaineering companies such as the Furtenbach Adventurers stepped in to help. In the place of the government, the company raised funds to support the Sherpas and their families amid the global pandemic.

Other credible mountaineering organizations are joining the movement to help Nepal’s Sherpas and have started fundraising campaigns of their own. Some organizations include:

  • Alpine Ascents International
  • Adventure Consultants
  • Alpenglow Expeditions
  • Climbing The Seven Summits
  • Furtenbach Adventurers
  • International Mountain Guides
  • Jagged Globe on Everest
  • Madison Mountaineering
  • Mountain Professionals

Aiming For a New Goal

Before the pandemic, Nepal was reaching for a record high of two million tourists in 2020. However, the tourism sector is diving to record lows due to COVID-19. The industry is currently experiencing a drop of more than $2 billion in revenue— roughly 8% of Nepal’s GDP—and a loss of more than one million jobs, 200 thousand of which are directly related to expeditions in Nepal. Yet, there is a compelling solution to Sherpa unemployment: high-altitude garbage cleanup.

Among the steps of Mt. Everest lies the world’s highest garbage dump. Piles of trekking gear, empty oxygen canisters, fluorescent tents and other miscellaneous byproducts are dumped at basecamps without regard by foreign climbers. But now, with no one on the mountainside, it would be the perfect opportunity to launch a massive mountain cleanup.

Looking Ahead

Nepal’s Sherpas initially proposed the mountain cleanup plan. The program would provide jobs to the unemployed Sherpas, clean up the environment of one of the world’s most famous natural wonders and potentially turn the location into an eco-tourism site. However, the initiative is having trouble gaining traction as Nepal’s government has deemed the task unfeasible. Yet, perhaps with enough voices and support, this daunting mission can become a reality and provide much-needed work to Nepal’s Sherpas.

—Jacob Pugmire
Photo: Wikimedia Commons


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