The Commodification Of Mountaineering On Mount Everest: The Ugly, The Bad, The Good And How Sherpas Are Getting Increasingly ‘Into The Game’

Emily Kruger, SIT Study Abroad

Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples


In this paper, I examine the commercialization of Mount Everest. First, I look at how the industry has developed, focusing on the high-­‐end commercial outfitters. I discuss how they have drastically changed life at Everest Base Camp, blurring the boundaries between the urban and mountaineering frames by introducing amenities like electricity from solar power and generators, hot showers, and broadband Internet connection to the camp. Next, I discuss the darker, more ugly side of Everest, examining the effects of parasitic and predatory adventurers, who come to the mountain only to cash in. I show that while it is easy to criticize the big budget outfitters, they have proven themselves to be both a noble lot, much more so than a lot of the smaller, cheaper outfitters. I argue that the high-­end commercial expeditions have been a blessing for the Khumbu.

From here, I move to discuss how Sherpas’ role in Himalayan mountaineering has changed over time. Sherpas are now asserting themselves as global, world-­‐class mountaineers, and many of them have come to see mountaineering as a sport instead of just as a profession. I examine Sherpa prospects' for becoming ‘Western’ mountain guides and/or commercial outfitters on Everest, and how they stack up against their Western counterparts. I argue that while Sherpas have made substantial progress in that department, they still have a long way to go before they can truly be competitive. Finally, I look at the fast-­‐ growing mountaineering subculture in Nepal as well as efforts to provide in-­‐country mountaineering training. In short, I look at how Sherpas are getting more ‘into the game.’ I conclude by offering up some policy suggestions for what the Nepali government can do to facilitate Sherpa ownership of Himalayan mountaineering.