With the guiding trade booming, Sherpas are making more money than ever in one of the poorest countries in the world (the average annual income is $300; Sherpas make up to $5,000 in one season). But they're faced with the lion's share of the danger since they are constantly shuttling heavy loads back and forth, and they still receive a fraction of the money made by the outfitters.
Nepali guide Sumit Joshi believes the threat was more perceived than real and even somewhat justified. "They were throwing rocks onto the tent, but not at people," he says. "The fixing team was venting the frustration of all highly skilled Sherpas, who want more respect from their Western colleagues. We often hear our Western outfitter friends acknowledge that the Sherpa climbers deserve more," Joshi continues. "But what are they actually willing to give?"
"If the Sherpas had been as media savvy as the Euros, the story hitting the news would have been 'Euro climbers insult, threaten, and endanger Sherpas,' instead of 'Sherpas attack climbers,' " says IMG co-owner Eric Simonson. But according to Cory Richards, a National Geographic photographer and professional climber, if anybody needs to take ownership of the situation, it's the commercial-guiding industry itself. "They are the ones responsible for the work conditions," he says.
The greatest loss in the wake of this incident could be Everest itself as a mountain for true adventure. It's being reported that the commercial operators will formally ask permission from the government to close sections of the mountain for their Sherpa teams next year. "If they say the mountain is closed until the ropes are fixed, then this really is the death knell for adventure on Everest," says Mark Richey, former president of the American Alpine Club. Some Western outfitters are even pushing for every climbing permit to be printed with new rules stating no one is to climb during rope fixing. The plan heavily favors commercial expeditions – but for Nepal's Ministry of Tourism, Everest represents big dollars. Conrad Anker says the government is part of the problem. "They're receiving millions of dollars a year from climbing permits," he says. "Hardly any of it makes it back to the Sherpa communities."
"You can't say that part of the mountain is off-limits," says Cory Richards. "Last year I wanted to take photos of the rope fixing and was told by some Western guides that I wasn't allowed to be up there. Since when does that infrastructure take precedence over real climbing? Something's been lost."
Two days after the attack, Steck, Moro, and Griffith came face-to-face with the Sherpas who attacked them, after a "peace treaty" was drawn up and signed by dozens of Western guides and Sherpas. Despite the symbolism, Steck thinks the worst may be yet to come. "I think this 'ceremony' calmed the situation down, but it certainly did not solve the problem," he said. He remains haunted by what happened. "This 'peace deal' was just a pretext for everyone to get out of the situation. . . I am so disappointed, and my trust is gone. I could not go back to this mountain. Who can assure me that an angry mob is not cutting my rope or burning my tent?"