I found this article about the Value of a Sherpa’s Life, and it really got me thinking.
It’s hard not to relish an experience like summiting a mountain. Of course, I was far from tackling anything like Everest, but Kilimanjaro is still one of the tallest mountains in the world, so….. I feel like I have at least a little street cred to write about something on this. Like, maybe what Kung Fu is to Karate Kid … Kung Fu Panda, at least, maybe.
Porters are, without a doubt, the unsung heroes.
While my trekking group and I would (in good humour) whine lamely and joke about our daypacks “digging in” or “weighing us down”, on would come an entourage of our porters, each balancing packs of 20kg (of our stuff) on their heads while wearing their own gear on their backs.
To choose my English poorly, it was absolutely mental.
Those guys (and gals). Crazy.
We put them through that hell so that we can boast of that once-in-a-lifetime achievement while they do that maybe a dozen times a year. Most of them won’t summit until they become an assistant guide, at least, but Base Camp is still a hell of an achievement after a hell of a trek (and I felt especially apologetic for the guy that carried our portable loo. I have a theory that it’s the one who lost the card game and/or the newbie, as a rite of passage).
And here I go, making light of this.
The point is: It’s a tough job. Probably one of the hardest. Kili was “gentle” for the most part, but “gentle” is a far cry from “easy” and there are more than enough landmarks along the routes paying homage to people who died on their way up. So, gentle or not, the dangers are very real, and the mortality rates are significantly higher for porters.
Kilimanjaro Park authorities weren’t oblivious to this, thankfully, and so there is in place the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Program which strives to ensure not only “as safe as possible” practices, but also the payment of a fair wage as well.
On that note: sure, we all like to save a buck or few hundred when we can while booking big trips like, say, climbing Kilimanjaro, but it is in your best interest as well to make sure you book with a reputable company that takes care of their porters. Odds are if they treat the porters well, your service will be that much better too. You can find good trekking companies through the KPAP website, http://kiliporters.org/.
I climbed with Team Kilimanjaro, and I gotta say, they treated us and fed us like royalty. If I go back to do another route, I’ll climb with them again. I mean, these are the guys that got me to the top.
But it was also very much these guys…
And they are the ones who make it possible to reach the summit.