A LOAD TOO FAR
EVEREST PORTER! THE WORST JOB IN THE WORLD?
The trail to Everest Base camp is a long and hard trek. Even experienced mountaineers find it a challenge to carry an average rucksack (weighing perhaps 20kg) up and down the valley walls that separate each day’s destination.
A daily trek can easily be six to eight hours and the air gets thinner and thinner the higher you go.
Think that’s tough? Think again! It’s nothing compared to the loads that Everest porters carry.
These are the hard men of the Himalaya. They are mostly young (from eighteen to twenty-five), from poor villages all over Nepal. They often carry in excess of 100 kilos on their backs! And some of them only weigh fifty or sixty kilos themselves so they are carrying twice their own bodyweight. Imagine carrying two of your friends on your back for hour after hour after hour ... up a huge hill!
For each kilogram they are paid just twenty Nepali rupees for a two day trek between villages. That makes a reward of just fifteen to twenty UK pounds for two days of arduous work, often in cold and wet conditions with inadequate clothing as protection. Often they sleep on the floor in teahouses to save money. They have little access to medical care.
It’s back breaking work. Literally. Many of these porters end up with spinal problems and crippling joint conditions which can last a lifetime.
Reputable western tour operators are doing their bit to try to make things better. They subscribe to the work of organisations such as Porters Progress, The International Porter Protection Group and the Himalayan Rescue Association.
The problem is a deep one. Nepal is a poor country. Many uneducated young men have hardly any opportunities to earn money. Many of them reject attempts to restrict the size of their loads because it reduces their earning power. So long as wealthy trekkers and climbers come to the Everest region it seems porters will always be attracted by the work on offer.
Questions for class discussion:
1. Young Nepalese men are prepared to travel long distances to work as porters in the Everest region. Why?
2. How many kilos do they carry on a typical day?
3. What might be the typical health problems associated with this work? What are agencies like Porters Progress doing to help?
4. How would things change if a road was built up to Everest base camp? Do you think local people would welcome this development?
A porter carries a typical big load across a suspension bridge. © Matt Dickinson
Namche Bazar, a major destination for porters because it has no road connection. © Matt Dickinson
A porter carries a huge metal boiler weighing over 100 kilos. © Matt Dickinson
Sometimes Yaks are available to carry loads. © Matt Dickinson
A seventeen year old porter carries three huge barrels on his back for eight hours a day to reach Base Camp. © Matt Dickinson
A porter arrives at base camp with a heavy and cumbersome load. © Matt Dickinson