In the past decade, climbing Mount Everest has become a multimillion-dollar tourist attraction. Nepals’s Sherpas have been hired to do most of the dangerous work on the mountain—fixing ropes, stocking camps shuttling gear for climbers—but are paid much less than Western guides. When Sherpas die working on the mountain, they often leave behind families who receive little in terms of life insurance payments:
“Soon after, Arnot was confronted by members of Chhewang’s family who wanted to immediately launch an expensive body-recovery expedition. The urgency was over Chhewang’s spirit, which was at risk of getting lost and wandering the earth if it wasn’t set free within seven days by cremation. ‘I begged them not to go,’ said Arnot, worried that others might die trying to recover the body. They went anyway and never made it beyond Base Camp due to snow conditions. Arnot paid $19,700 herself in helicopter fees and says her sponsor Eddie Bauer wired $7,000 to cover the puja. Arnot has now committed to paying Chhewang’s family what she can—which has amounted to roughly $4,000 a year—for as long as she’s guiding, though it hasn’t entirely eased her conscience.
“‘It’s the guilt of hiring somebody to work for me who really had no choice,’ Arnot told me last October in Nepal, where I’d joined her on her second annual trek to visit Chhewang’s widow. ‘My passion created an industry that fosters people dying. It supports humans as disposable, as usable, and that is the hardest thing to come to terms with.’”