Sher­pas hardly live the high life


Sherpa (M)

Di­rec­tor: Jen­nifer Pee­dom

1hr 36min

★★★ 1⁄2

I had more or less ex­pected a documentary about the tough lit­tle crit­ters of the Hi­malayas who lug great weights up moun­tains for fat-cat climbers.

And that some­thing was per­haps along the lines of ex­tolling Nepal’s tough lit­tle Gurkhas who have borne weapons and shed their lives for the Brits for over 200 years.

This doco, filmed in 2014, started that way, laud­ing the brav­ery and dura­bil­ity of the Sher­pas, be­gin­ning with Tens­ing Nor­gay who helped Ed Hil­lary con­quer Mt Ever­est in 1953.

There are in­ter­views with Tens­ing’s sons as well as spec­tac­u­lar views of up­per Ever­est, but not a jot of moun­taineer­ing, though it will still make worth­while view­ing for the cram­pon set.

Sher­pas are a sto­ical, hum­ble and re­li­gious breed and the filmmakers had been keen to check out any ten­sions amongst th­ese hardy guides and hu­man pack-mules. The sea­son be­fore the film was made there had been fist­fights be­tween th­ese nuggety moun­tain men.

It just so hap­pens that this time dur­ing film­ing, 16 Sher­pas were killed by an ice avalanche while lug­ging freight up the treach­er­ous Khumdu Ice­fall.

That leads to the Sher­pas band­ing to­gether, and much to the cha­grin of the for­eign climbers who have forked out up to $110,000 each to be in the moun­tains, the Sher­pas down tools. This is what pro­vides the story’s philo­soph­i­cal an­gle – whether the good coin the Sher­pas earn from lug­ging cof­fee ma­chines, chairs and other lux­u­ries up­stairs for for­eign­ers, is worth their lives.

Maybe ev­ery­one should leave pol­luted old Ever­est alone and let the Sher­pas sub­sist in their vil­lages as they did be­fore Hil­lary and co ar­rived.

Maybe the great moun­tain has sent a mes­sage to both sides.

The documentary of­fers a con­trast­ing per­spec­tive on last year’s drama Ever­est.

That movie, which had strong Kiwi links, fo­cused around an­other dis­as­ter that took place on the world’s high­est peak in 1996.


The hard life of Hi­malayan moun­tain men is doc­u­mented in Sherpa.

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