Remembering Jack

I might say I lost Jack, and lead you to believe that I somehow misplaced him, like I do my car keys. The fact is, Jack died, and lost is a euphemism, a soft, proxy word for death, to cushion the pain of its reality. I don’t like euphemisms. They detach my grief, and so, where I could say I Lost Jack, I prefer to say Jack died. He was important to me and when I write about him now, I want to feel as connected to him as I did when he was here. He was my friend, my best friend, and he is dead. That is a statement that I can feel.

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Back in the late 1970s, in spite of a 30-year age difference, Jack and I commenced a close and active friendship. Thirty-seven years ago, when I was young and vulnerable, he probably sensed that I needed a father figure and without hesitation, he and his family took me in. At the time I was a fledgling teacher and he was my Science Department Head. For me, he exemplified everything I admired in a man: intelligent and wise; patient and kind; principled yet non- judgmental. (It is no surprise that years later, I married such a man). Jack was a role model for me professionally, but more importantly, in life. Backpacking, hiking and skiing were passions he, his wife and I shared and together we spent many weekends exploring the Kootenay backcountry.

tumblr_m8ffogaq3p1rdod86o1_1280 In 1993, after I had moved away, changed careers and married, our friendship remained. Then, just as my step dad was dying from a protracted, and for him, humiliating illness with prostate cancer, Jack was diagnosed with the same disease. While I grieved the future loss of yet another father figure, Jack carried on until one day, at Kokanee Glacier on a great powder day, Jack breathed in the cold mountain air, carved a turn and was swept forever away.

After 30 years in medicine I have witnessed many ways to die and some are better than others. Early in my medical career, I felt a special grief for those who succumbed to sudden death, their goodbyes stolen away, but over the years, as I witnessed many more undergo the protracted, painful deaths of chronic disease and cancer, sudden death seemed less tragic than it used to,especially when juxtaposed with the prolonged suffering of so many.

 

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As I have aged, I have resolved the bulk of my grief over Jack’s death by recognizing that he died as he lived: fully engaged in the moment, before it became the last moment he ever had. I miss his solid presence but his spirit is very much with me skiing the back country and in the mountains.. It makes me smile to think how happy he would be to share these adventures.

 

Photos off Tumblr of Kokanee Glacier

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Friendship

And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.

Khalil Gibran

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Sometimes when I don’t expect it, the TV news breaks my heart. Recently, a woman described her anguish over a daylong interruption in her Internet service. She sat with her computer, alone and small, in her drab living room and relayed to the reporter the story of how, for an inconceivable 24 hours, she had been unable to contact any of her 800 Facebook friends. This was not an inconvenience for her; it was a wound that left a gaping hole in her life. As I listened to her experience, I was profoundly affected by the story beneath the story, the real one, about loneliness. Why was no one discussing that? Here was an individual who, when severed from her virtual “friends”, did not have a living human being to call upon. That to me, was news.

I tired to imagine a day in the life of an individual with 800 Facebook friends. Alone in cyberspace, logged on to Facebook mining other people’s lives for the hope buried in inspirational quotes, the vicarious happiness of other’s holidays, families and parties all with the nasty bits of real life (the parts where you are at odds with your family, work at a stressful job, have a mood disorder or are alone) scrubbed out. Or perhaps instead, I’d imagine being someone who preferred to zero in on cyber friends who aren’t shy about their chaotic lives and talk nonstop about painful issues. That might make me feel more together and thus, superior.

Regardless of which path I chose, I hope at some point I would take a step back from my virtual life and remember that real friendships unlike virtual friendships, are not free of commitment. Real friends want me to share with them my presence, my support, my time, my love or just a phone call. A friendship exists because two people have chosen to invest in each other and in the giving, are both rewarded. It is the reciprocity between two individuals that cements the bond of friendship and makes it one of the most rewarding of human experiences.

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Never before the advent of Facebook could a single human claim to have 800 friends and at the same time, none at all. I am lucky to have a handful of friends and for me, they are everything that I need. When it comes to friendship, if the Internet was down, I would not notice. Along with my family, my friends guarantee that I am never alone.

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Am I Enough?

“Take someone who doesn’t keep score,who’s not looking to be richer, or afraid of losing,
who has not the slightest interest evenin his own personality: he’s free.”
Rumi

What does it mean to be the best? It means you have to be better than the number two guy. But what gratification is there in that? He’s a loser—that’s why he’s number two.” 

Jarod Kintz, This Book is Not for Sale

tumblr_mpyo32Zqcs1s29z6to1_1280Being competitive. Is it a genetic or a learned behavior? Competition can be a game, a fight, a sport, a struggle or all of these things simultaneously. Like it or not, life can be a jungle and being competitive gives you a machete.

I understand competition and I have never shied from it. In life, and fiercely so in youth, I behaved as if I was hard wired for competition, but as I age the chase no longer gives me a buzz. The arena of winners and losers has become dated, stale and if I have anything left to prove I don’t seem to remember what it is. Somehow, somewhere along the way, I have shed that skin and as a result, get to spend more time in the present and less in the past.tumblr_n96atkxbx11te2jguo1_500

When I can now so easily jettison a competitive mindset it makes me doubt that I am hard wired for the game and suggests instead, a learned behavior, one learned in childhood and probably in the family home.

My childhood was not chaotic or unsafe, it was far from the misery that many endure, but it was uncertain. In the early years, my family was composed of three separate camps held together by a common thread: my mother and myself; a stepfather with his two daughters and my mothers and step dad’s son, a loosley bound amalgam of strangers. This was not a storybook family; it was a real one, typical of our time. Individual members came with typical burdens –death of spouses and parents, illness, grief, and at first, we were bound to each other, defined more by what we had lost than what we had gained.tumblr_lzan87137u1r85rpno1_500

It is hard to get attention in a melded family unless you compete. And so I did. The tools I had were a modicum of athletic ability, a decent mind and the ability to work hard. I flogged these tools and never stopped; at school, university, medical school and in sports. Competition morphed from a tool into a lifestyle.. Reflecting on the circumstance years later, I realize that as a child, the purpose of all that effort was simply to answer two questions: In the eyes of others, Am I enough? , and, sadly buried deep in the heart of the first qustion something more pressing;  Am I worthy of being loved?

Every human is born with these questions in the soul. Life is the journey we undertake to answer them. Being competitive is a tool we employ to prove  to ourselves and others that we are enough, but eventually  one may confuse being victorious with being loved. I have come to believe that while competition increases one’s chances of survival, it separates the self from others and makes us more alone, more in the past. When we are born, we are already enough and worthy of love although it takes a lifetime to arrive at this understanding. A life well lived is one that ends with shedding the competitive skin of youth and replacing it with the mantle of self-acceptance and self respect. It’s been there all along – you just have to put it on.

Photos from Tumblr

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Letting Go Again

tumblr_ncmxlvl2vp1r238sko1_500Last week I moved my daughter to London, UK. For she and I, child and parent, the event marks one more step in letting go. For me alone, the event is a sober reminder that while the majority of my life belongs to the past; the bulk of hers belongs to the future. In London, when we stood for our goodbyes, my daughter was an iridescent helium balloon in my grasp, but then, I opened my hand and released the string. I watched and admired the balloon, soaring on invisible updrafts ever further away, but the wonder was laced with the sorrow of letting go of something so beautiful and precious.

When I look back on life, it is neither accomplishments nor career that has most given me purpose, fulfillment or joy; it is parenting with my husband. We have raised 2 children and given them to the world as independent adults. They are more than I ever expected, a gift that I am thankful for everyday. As much as I want to keep them in my orbit, I realize that they belong to the future and not to me. When I left London with its diversity, opportunities, youth and culture I knew it would energize my daughter’s soul in a way that small town Canada could not. She was born to live in such a city and I wondered if she would ever return.

tumblr_n5nnxh9yBd1tt1ij5o1_500Parenting is an ancient dance, one where we start out holding children close, but as time goes by we swing them further and further away to dance on their own. We hope the future provides the opportunity for more close dancing, but must live with the fact that many children will find their own rhythm, one we cannot follow, knowing neither the music nor the steps. We call these children independent and should be proud, but deep down in a secret place, we wish we could have them dance to our tune. Relinquishing control is never easy but it is our job.

tumblr_mxg6owlyFg1snw16do1_400My daughter dances to a music I cannot hear, a dance of her own. My final act is to bear witness and I undertake my responsibility with great pride. I will be there to catch her if she falls, as this is an integral part of learning to dance alone. I watch her soar into the future and I feel joy knowing that in her dance, a part of me resides in the future as well.

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The Beauty of Medical Maggots

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“If I could train maggots to resect brain tumors, I would.” Dr Mark Simard, neurosurgeon, Maryland School of Medicine.

St Paul’s Hospital was an eye opener. I arrived in 1985, a wide-eyed intern who tumbled down the rabbit hole into St Paul’s parallel universe, an astonishing new world replete with an exotic cast of characters, their colorful lifestyles and their bizarre medical problems. This hospital services the residents of the West and East End of Vancouver and it was (and is today) an epicenter for cutting edge care for the extraordinary and mysterious new disease called HTLV-111 or AIDS (now called HIV). Daily, its Emergency Department serviced the gay and transgendered community and downtown apartment dwellers. It was also the go to location for the working girls of Davie Street, , the addicted, the jumpers and the homeless. Together, they created a vast cornucopia of fascinating medical problems.

My most vivid memory of St Paul’s featured the gentleman in cubicle #5. Tiny rice grains,I presumed from a dinner tray , surrounded his curtained cubicle, then I noticed them moving gingerly, with purpose. I pulled the curtain back to encounter a fellow of undetermined age, lying on the bed. He suspiciously scrutinized me, eyes flecked with fear. It was then I noticed the same black-headed rice grains swimming around his trouser leg, tiny sailors marooned from their ship. Maggots.

He shared with me the story of his solitary existence deep in the woods under the canopy of Stanley Park. He left, only to forage in the dumpsters or panhandle for a few coins. A hospital visit was a trying and dangerous visit beyond the wall, but necessary, because he had lacerated his leg on a dumpster. The wound festered and refused to heal. Weeks later, a maggot or two appeared in the wound and then it became a handful every morning. He scraped them off each day but somehow they returned.

I removed his solid sock to find a significant wound on his lower leg swirling with a frenzy of fat, industrious maggots. Scooping the local residents off the wound, I was impressed to find a pristine ulcer bed. The maggots had kept this gentleman’s wound as fresh and clean as a surgeon’s knife. Fascinated by the sight, I went from revulsion to awe at the maggot’s diligent expertise.

Why, I thought, don’t we use maggots to clean wounds,? Then I discovered that we do, but not so much in Canada, due to importing restrictions. Specially reared USA maggots that only devour necrotic tissue are raised to debride wounds. In patients with non-healing wounds or burns where other methods are too painful or have not been successful, maggot therapy can be offered.

The man in cubicle #5? His underlying medical problems and his wound were successfully treated in hospital. I discharged him a week later and he returned to Stanley Park, the only place he was willing to go.

Glamored on to a Bicycle

 

Road biking is a popular sport but few are more enamored than my husband. As I write he is off with his buddies, peddles furiously wind milling for hours on end. He will arrive home exhausted; shrouded in a cadaverous hue, only to inform me that he has had the best time ever. A man with a passion is a dangerous thing, dangerous because he feels compelled to share it with those he loves. In my case, that means I have been glamoured on to a bicycle.

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Handling a lightweight road bicycle can be tricky. High speeds, thin wheels pumped up to impossible pressures, shoes locked into the pedals, twitchy low rise handlebars, front wheels that love to turn sideways with the slightest imbalance, back wheels that are prone to skid out on corners, these features of a road bike all require mastery and that skill comes from practice. It is a simple fact that the more you ride the more proficient you become, the less you ride the more time you spend falling off. As I seldom ride, I know what it is like to hit the ground.

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When a human body protected by onion thin lycra is launched from a moving bicycle, there is a predictable soft tissue outcome. In the lingo of cyclists the resulting damage is referred to as a scuff, or even more endearingly as road rash. Whatever it is called, hitting the pavement is not a benign experience and a few crashes are enough to provide the memory bank with instant recall of the sights and sounds of sharp elbows, knees, hips and shoulders grinding along the highway. Nor is one likely to forget the subsequent date with a stiff brush where raw flesh is scrubbed clean to prevent the asphalt impregnated road tattoo. Once that remarkable experience is over it is a small matter of 2 weeks of stiff muscles and oozing sticky wounds.

 

I have not fallen off the bike this year and that is a milestone. Nevertheless,there are days when I wish my husband’s passion was more pedestrian, one that didn’t involve road tattoo- perhaps fly fishing or golf.

Ressurecting My Father

image 2 copyIn the prairie where dinosaurs have laid their bones, so too are the bones of my childhood. And yet, I admit, I have more knowledge about the past of the dinosaur than I do about my own. So much of my memory of childhood is missing. Sixty years ago my father died in the grasslands, and I have left him there without a voice, absent from my life. But now I am restless. These last few years the whispers of both the ghosts of his past life and my long dead childhood have beckoned me to return to this place and resurrect them, to bear witness to their stories, and let them finally rest. The stories await my arrival, stored in the mind and the heart of my Aunt Rosemary, my father’s only living sibling. Rosemary is the one I need to visit because she is the portal to the past, the keeper of our collective history and our secrets, the ones I long to hear.

image 4 copyMy father died at 26, before his life had started. His death was sudden and tragic, an event that brought devastation. I was 2 years old when my mother barely 24, was a widow and my father was buried. As I grew up my mother and my extended family never discussed my father. For them years later, his passing remained a wound so fresh and raw they were consumed, undone by the whisper of his name. So I learned to never ask. It is only in my seventh decade that I realize the silence has been costly because within it, I have lost a part of myself.

I am half my father, but he is a stranger to me. Who was this man? My aunt knows the answers I seek and during a recent visit she spends 2 days reliving the life she shared with my father. His younger sibling by 4 years, my aunt is the person who knew him the best and she is animated reliving their one-room school adventures. Horses were a big part of their life and on weekends they rode 11 miles in blizzards and sunshine to the Artland train station where the rest of the planet started and their known world came to an end. She sparkles as she shares the tricks they played on others and on themselves and describes my father as very funny, a clever comic. She is solemn when she talks about his health, how his frequent sickness in childhood preceded his fading as a man. Rosemary brags that my dad was tall, handsome, an eligible youth but when he married he blossomed in his role as husband and father. She recounts her brother’s nightly trips with me in tow, across the farm yard to his parents and his brother’s family, so proud was he to have a daughter.

image copySlowly, over 2 days, one story connects to the next and a skeleton forms of my father’s life. The stories allow me a glimpse of my father but it is the rawness and depth of his sister’s emotion in the telling; hushed grief, tears, happiness, exuberant joy, laughter and love that put flesh on the bone of a man previously invisible to me. Through her my father is given a voice and he appears to me animated, alive, a ghost no longer but a man that I would have loved to know. In sharing her memories Rosemary gives me the greatest gift one person can give to another. In the autumn of my life and the winter of hers she gives me back my father. To know that I was well loved, wanted and welcome gives me a certain peace and in turn, the opportunity to reclaim a missing part of my childhood and a chance to put both of our ghosts to rest.

It’s Your Funeral

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Close your eyes, reach into the future and imagine you are at a funeral. Now realize the funeral is yours. Walk down the aisle and examine the faces of friends and relatives as they remember your life. What do you see in those faces? Take a seat. Listen to the service and pay attention to what is being said. What important memories about you, the deceased, do people share now that you are gone? As you watch and listen to your ceremony, do you feel comfort in what you see and hear or are you filled with sadness? If such an exercise gives you a sense of well being you are lucky. You have lived life fully, without regret. If the exercise brings up pain or guilt, relax. You are not dead yet and there is still time to change your destiny.

 

The sad truth is that everybody dies, but not everybody lives. The Dalai Lama said it best.

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With such a statement in mind, what then, constitutes living fully? My definition is simple. It involves showing up and being an active participant in the only life you have. Psychologists call living fully self-actualization and I see shining examples of this in the everyday lives of those around me. Whether it is a 72 year old widow starting a university education, a blind kayaker running the rapids, a grandmother raising her grandchildren following her daughter’s death, an 80 yr. old gentleman on the summit of Everest or children at play in the midst of 3rd world squalor, they are individuals who inspire me simply because they have shown up and are engaged in the life they have been given.

 

 

Mercifully, today is not my funeral and neither is it yours. It is instead a day to reflect upon an ordinary life lived, the only one we are given, and a second chance to choose whether today will be lived as a spectator or a participant.

When today is done I will have no regrets if I choose a few conscious steps. I will spend time with my husband and tell him that I love him. I will connect with my children whose absence is sometimes an ache. I will give silent thanks for my great luck, health and family before I spend time outdoors and simply, live.

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Above photos:

Ed Whitlock, 3:41 marathon at age 82.

Vernon, BC, Canada after the rain 2013.

In Thin Air

It sucks to be oxygen starved. Until recently, I took the meaty oxygenated air of sea level for granted. At home, atmospheric oxygen is the ubiquitous, ethereal life giving substance that enters the body with each respiration, as reliable as the tides. Oxygen is a substance best recognized by its absence and a low oxygen environment is a mini prequel to death, a disagreeable place filled with a host of physical symptoms that tax survival. The best place on earth to go should one wish to experience the effects of oxygen starvation is the high Himalaya.ImageAt sea level billions of oxygen molecules jostle with nitrogen, carbon dioxide, water vapor, argon and other gases to form a dense atmospheric mantle. The part we breathe in is referred to as air. Conveniently, this dense, moist blanket of air is kept in place by Earth’s gravity and at sea level red blood cells can grab all of the oxygen molecules necessary to saturate the blood and sustain life. As altitude increases, the wet blanket dries out, becomes lighter and because gravity is correspondingly diminished, the atmospheric density decreases. Thick air becomes thin air and oxygen concentration plummets exponentially. In the atmospheric slurry of colliding molecules and atoms at sea level, oxygen constitutes 20,9% of the total gases. At 16,000 ft./ 4876 m. oxygen availability is halved and at the top of Mt Everest (or the height our jet flew to get to from home Vancouver, BC) only one third of the oxygen available at sea level remains. I hadn’t given much thought about the science of air until I experienced the science and its effects first hand. Image This spring my husband and I went to Nepal to climb Lobuche, a mini mountain by Himalayan standards, but still higher than any peak in North America. It is nestled on the western flank of the Himalayan massif that includes Everest and is reached by trudging from Lukla into the Khumbu valley. To get to Everest one must fly from home (1, 250 ft./ 380m) to Kathmandu (4,600 ft. /4,600 m) to Lukla (9,380ft /2,860m) before walking uphill to Everest basecamp at 17,659-ft./5.364 m. Image The epic nature, the mountainous beauty and the fantastic people one meets on such a trip cannot be overstated but the residual memories I have of high Nepal are ones of feeling God awful. In Lukla, before the trip has barely started, hypoxia hits you like a brick. Physical symptoms of low oxygen concentration are acute at any elevation above 8,000 ft./2,400 m. and it was not uncommon to find freshly arrived Westerners experiencing headaches and searching for ibuprofen. Image Acclimation takes time. Part of the ability to adapt to altitude is genetic but Diamox, a drug many Westerners take to get out of Lukla, can remedy the acute symptoms. I felt fantastic as I left Lukla for the Khumbu, so I chose to ignore the twice-normal pulse, as the heart became a hammer and the lungs a bellows, extracting all the available oxygen they could. At dinner I attempted to take in enough to keep up with caloric expenditure, and there I sat. The gut had decided to call it a day. There was no way my stomach was willing to accept even a portion of what was before me. With all of the blood supply diverted to the muscles, heart and lungs the digestive system went on strike. Over weeks this did improve but the weight and muscle I accumulated through training melted away. If eating were out of the question, surely sleep would be welcome and come easily. No such luck. Going to bed was an exercise in frustration. Night was the time to wake up with a headache and gulp for air before resting and repeating the process of tossing, coughing, gasping and waiting until it was time to wake again. Anorexia, headache, cough, gut disturbance, lethargy, air hunger, weight loss, cold intolerance and insomnia are common at altitude and are euphemistically diagnosed as acute mountain sickness or AMS. Although AMS will not kill you, it is an unpleasant part of high altitude travel and when left untreated can morph into the more serious and potentially fatal HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema where your brain becomes water logged) or HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema where the lungs fill with fluid). Image Over weeks the severity of AMS dissipates as the body compensates through physiological adaption to the low oxygen environment, but this process takes time. For this reason, climbers spend months at Everest waiting for the body to acclimatize. The key to acclimation is to ascend slowly or better yet, descend and recover. Many climbers use supplemental oxygen, as there is no adaptation to altitude above 26,000 ft., an area known as the death zone. After a month at altitude my symptoms diminished (save for the eating and sleeping issues) but it is fair to say that the body and brain knew that this was not a place they wanted to be. ImageThree weeks after arriving in Nepal I stood on the top of Lobuche. It took everything I had to get there. My husband who has experienced the pain cave of competitive athletics remarked that the physical effort of the Hawaii Ironman paled in comparison to the exertion of this small Himalayan peak. It was on that day at that moment that I realized there would be no Mt Everest in my future. I like oxygen in my air and besides, I just couldn’t suffer for that long.Image

Sherpa Politics and Everest’s Future

Shame. I experience considerable shame when I travel. I cannot help but compare all that we have in this culture to what the majority of the world does without and the contrast means that guilt feelings are often my predominant souvenir. This spring I wanted a different experience, one that was physically demanding but less emotionally perplexing; a holiday to a place of my dreams where I could use the body but turn off the mind. A destination that satisfied those criteria quickly became a trip to Everest base camp.

IMG_1169 I was excited beyond belief. In my dreams, I stand on the top of Everest. The dream will sometimes percolate into consciousness as an appetite or thirst unfulfilled, and I picture myself, ice axe above my head, smiling for the photo. This trip was to be a reconnaissance of Everest, a chance to get to the base of the mountain, climb a much smaller peak while there, and check out whether an Everest expedition could be a possibility in the future.Ama Dablam Bill

Everest had other plans. It had demanding lessons to teach but these had nothing to do with the egotistic goals I stuffed in the duffle bag with my crampons, glacier glasses and summit fever. They were, instead, lessons previously gleaned in other poor countries, those that profile how Westerners exploit the lives of the less fortunate. Everest is just a different take on the same old story -the Canadian clothing factories in Bangladesh paying their employees $1a day, the Chinese workers warehoused by Apple assembling cheap computers or the displaced New Guinea villagers whose land and livelihood has been lost to Mobil Oil. The list goes on. All are different versions of the same old exploitative relationship the developed world has towards the under developed one, justified to fulfill our meaningless desires at a cheaper cost. In the last place I expected to feel this way, I came home from Everest filled with angst, my duffel bag of Western shame still a heavy burden as I resume my comfortable First World life. EBC Pano-X2 Sixteen Sherpa lost their lives and nine were injured on Everest’s Khumbu glacier while I was in the area, enjoying myself. Their airlifted bodies dangling from the underbellies of buzzing helicopters were taken from the ice to their village homes, in some cases to be met by bewildered families who thought their men were still climbing the mountain. In the biggest disaster of Everest’s history, the lives of countless Sherpa families changed in a second. One has to ask, for what?Climbers%20Kumbu-XL

The Nepali government took the fallout. Nepal takes in $10 million per season from issuing permits to Westerners climbing Everest. The Sherpa were outraged when the government gave each family $400 per dead son to pay for burial and nothing more. In such a country where roads, sewer and infrastructure are at a premium, the fact that no safety net exists in the form of life insurance, Worker’s Compensation or medical coverage to buffer the effects of such a disaster should not come as a surprise. The American Alpine Association immediately jumped into the fray setting up a fund for the families of the lost Sherpa by soliciting donations from climbers and interested parties abroad.

As I watched the scenario unfold it was the questions that were unexpressed that I found much more disagreeable, for muffled in the resounding silence was the culpability of each of us who were there. No Sherpa pointed a finger at the West yet the Sherpa were there for us and few in our number had a chance on Everest or any other Himalayan peak for that matter, without them. What was our individual and collective responsibility for the dead? In North America it is the primarily the employer’s responsibility, not the government’s, to have adequate insurance in place to cover an employee in the face of a workplace accident or death. Did any of the companies that took climbers to Everest provide funds to the Sherpa families after the accident? It takes well over an hour to stroll through the tents of the various climbing companies at base camp and wealthy corporations populate Everest (such as Discovery Channel) as do other companies that collect from $40,000 to $110, 000 per person for the right to climb. Each of us was a part of such an organization. Do such organizations have insurance coverage for the Sherpa that are put in harms way? Western guides may be paid $25,000 or more for their work on Everest whereas a Sherpa guide makes between $2,500 and $5,000.Why are the experienced climbing Sherpa paid so little for a season on Everest when a Western guide is paid so much more for so much less risk? None of us had contemplated these questions. We were there to enjoy ourselves while the Sherpa fed us, packed our gear, set up the tents, doctored the ice ladders in the treacherous icefall, packed gear to high camp and helped us on climbs when we could go no further. What about the Sherpa who survive but are permanently disabled on the mountain? What is in place to look after them, knowing they live in a poor country with a corrupt government and little health care? And further; Why were donations solicited from abroad when these funds should come, at least in part, from the companies where the Sherpa are employed? I did not hear these questions asked, let alone receive answers. It felt that the story was spun to implicate the Nepali government and thus avoid all the unpleasantness that the questions would raise in the collective guilt that Westerners should feel knowing, once again, that we have not done the right thing in the first place. I cannot answer the questions that I have posed but the death of 16 Sherpa and the future of climbing Everest will demand the answers. Solutions need to come not from the Nepali government but from the individual integrity of those who love the Himalaya and the companies we pay to take us there. Doing the right thing will be costly but it needs to be factored into the cost of doing business.

Thank you to my friend at Everest,Dalton Hobbs, for sharing his great photos.

Further articles to read: Sherpa: The Disposable Man by Grayson Schaffer

The Value of a Sherpa Life by Grayson Schaffer