Sherpa means "Easterner" and refers to an ethnic
group that migrated to the Everest region from eastern Tibet some 450 years ago. But in
modern times it has also come to mean any porter, climber or trek leader -- jobs Sherpas
have been doing for about 100 years.
Traditionally, Sherpas have grown potatoes and raised yak for dairy products, hides, wool and load carrying. Working at altitude (Khumbu villages are at about 13,000 feet) has long been part of their way of life, but apart from a few sacred mountains, the peaks towering over them were not of much interest.
With the opening of Nepal in the 1950s, the number of Sherpas working in mountaineering increased, and the arrival in the 1970s of large-scale trekking made climbing and trekking pillars of their economy. From the first British Everest expedition in 1921, Sherpa strength, honesty and dedication have made them ideal companions on the mountain. Every Everest expedition since then has relied on Sherpa support. Many Sherpas have summited and many more have lost their lives.
International visitors to the Everest region have lasting effects on Sherpa culture. Sherpas sometimes emulate Western fashions and the mountaineering gear they receive from expeditions is state-of-the-art. In turn, many foreigners have been deeply touched by the Sherpas commitment to spiritual concerns and the compassion and wisdom that Tibetan Buddhism brings to their lifestyle.
Climbers and trekkers have also brought negative influences to Khumbu, including deforestation and litter. Recent years have seen renewed efforts to limit the impact of climbing and trekking on the local environment and culture. Efforts to clean up Everest Base Camp, once cluttered with detritus from past expedition, have left an almost spotless camp for future climbers.
One sacred Sherpa tradition often engaged in by climbers is a special type of puja (worship) in which butter lamps are lit in order to gain blessings from the gods. The EVEREST Film Team initiated one such puja at the massive Buddhist stupa of Boudnath in Kathmandu. There, 25,000 golden flames lit the black night, a sign of good fortune for the expedition.
Some 40 Sherpas assisted the EVEREST Film Expedition: cooking at Base Camp, carrying the IMAX® camera to the summit and everywhere in between.