I’m no super-athlete, but I do pride myself on being in reasonable shape for an old bloke.

However, any achievements I’ve ever made in the strength and endurance categories are nothing when compared to the feats I’ve seen in Nepal.

Richard Tulloch - Nepal Sherpas - www.letsbewild.comIf the Buddhists turn out to be right and I get another life after this one, I hope I’m coming back as a Sherpa. I want their strength and endurance for my next heavenly hiking trip, though perhaps not their job, specifically.

Sherpa porters are expected to be able to carry twice their body weight. I feel comfortable with less than a quarter of my own bulk on my back. Sherpa Gopal is a head shorter than me, and I bet he’s only half my weight.

I’m carrying two litres of water, a rain jacket and a camera in my day pack. He’s carrying two folding tables, sandwiching six folding chairs. All are made of steel. Gopal tells me he’s forty years old.

I wear the best leather, Vibram-soled, Goretex-lined hiking boots available on the market. Gopal is wearing cheap canvas shoes.

My backpack has padded straps and a breathable hip-band to prevent chafing. Gopal’s load is tied up with nothing more than stout string, and attached to a strip of plastic across the top of his head.

I walk upright, but slouch when I sit at the computer to type. Gopal spends his day bent double under his burden, but when he walks without it, his back is ramrod straight.

Richard Tulloch - Nepal Sherpas - www.letsbewild.com

Richard Tulloch - Nepal Sherpas - www.letsbewild.com

While Gopal takes a break, leaving his load on one of the stone ledges which run along Nepal’s hiking trails, I have to try lifting his tables. Using all my strength, I can barely raise them an inch or two off of the platform before letting them clank back down. Gopal has been walking with them all day, climbing several hundred metres at a time without complaint. It’s his job to get to our night’s camp before I do, so that he can set up the tables and chairs and spread a tablecloth over them, ready for our dinner.

Richard Tulloch - Nepal Sherpas - www.letsbewild.comThis basket contains four 20-litre fuel bottles, plus a few bits and pieces. Each of our porters is carrying two of our kits bags (each about 15kg) together with a tent (another 10-15kg, depending on whether is it wet, as it usually is). In addition to our supplies, they carry their own gear, plus water. Others carry a large dining tent, and the kitchen staff carry the utensils, stoves, fuel and food. They still manage to arrive at camp with energy miraculously remaining for a game of football with us, then for music, chatting and dancing into the night. At dawn they’re up and preparing to do it all again.

Trekking porters have more fun, I’m told. If they weren’t hiking with us, they’d be lugging bags of cement and loads of wood to building sites, being paid by the kilogram, and expected to find their own food and accommodation.

I was the guest of World Expeditions, who pay and treat their porters properly, feed them well and offer them a retainer in the non-trekking season. Quite right too. The porters are worth double their weight in any substance you could specify.

Richard Tulloch - Nepal Sherpas - www.letsbewild.com

9 Responses

  1. mountaingoat

    Many people think Sherpa is just another word for “porter”. Tenzing Norgay did a great deal to raise the profile of the Sherpa, but still many people do not know that the Sherpa are an ethnic group, not just a word that can be applied to anyone who works as a porter. They are incredible strong and brave and many of them are some of the finest mountaineers that have ever lived. It is wonderful to see more praise for the Sherpa from a western perspective

  2. Christopher Siebel
    Christopher Siebel

    Incredible…Nepal is a dream! The Sherpa are a remarkable people…their incredible strength amazes me!

  3. Michelle

    beautiful photographs Richard – it’s really nice to see someone loudly singing the praises of a people who have done rather a good deal for advancing mountain exploration. How long were you in Nepal for? Did you do any climbing, or just trekking?

  4. Richard Tulloch

    Thanks for the responses, MG, Christopher and Michelle. I did a three week trip in Nepal, including a few days working on a community development project in the Paphlu region, then trekking 10 days up to and along the Everest Highway towards Base Camp.

    I was concerned that the community development project would be a little ‘token’ – what do I know about building incinerators in buddhist monasteries? It turned out to be a great experience that helped us to get to know our Sherpa guides before they started the heavy lifting.

    Organising company was World Expeditions. http://www.worldexpeditions.com/au/

  5. Thomas Koidhis

    While I don’t profess to know much about that people, I’m totally on my knees in awe and respect of them…Wish I was in that kind of shape! I’d like to spend some time there someday.

  6. susanne

    “I want their strength and endurance for my next heavenly hiking trip, though perhaps not their job, specifically.” – Hm, but perhaps you can gain their strength and endurance only by doing what they do?

  7. EftychiaK

    I admire them!
    Western expeditions owe a lot to them no doubt.
    Thanks for choosing to write about the Sherpas!


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