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A fight on Everest? It seemed incredible. But in 2013 news channels around the world reported an ugly brawl at 21,000ft as European climbers fled a mob of angry Sherpas…
In 1953, New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay had reached the summit in a spirit of co-operation and brave optimism. Now climbers and Sherpas were trading insults – even blows. What had happened to the happy, smiling Sherpas and their dedication in getting foreigners to the top of the mountain they hold so sacred? Determined to explore what was going on, the filmmakers set out to make a film of the 2014 Everest climbing season, from the Sherpas’ point of view.
Instead, they captured a tragedy that would change Everest forever. At 6.45am on 18th April, 2014, a 14 million ton block of ice crashed down onto the climbing route through the Khumbu Icefall, killing 16 Sherpas. It was the worst tragedy in the history of Everest. The disaster provoked a drastic reappraisal about the role of the Sherpas in the Everest industry. “Sherpa”, tells the story of how, in the face of fierce opposition, the Sherpas united in grief and anger to reclaim the mountain they call Chomolungma.
This was not director Jennifer Peedom’s first encounter with the mountain, or with the Sherpa. She had filmed Everest expeditions previously, and had made a short film for Dateline called “The Sherpa’s Burden”. For mountaineers, Everest is a goal to conquer – the ultimate high (pun intended). But for the Sherpa, guiding Everest expeditions is a vital source of income. Yet one that ends in death all to often. And often, their contribution goes unnoticed. In an interview with Deadline, Peedom said “I saw people whose lives were saved by sherpas, and would then go onto the public speaking circuit and write books and fail to mention that. That really sticks in my craw. There was an Australian guy a few days ago who said, “I climbed Everest unsupported.” What does that even mean? It’s the Sherpas laying the ladders and ropes that you use, and carrying the food that you eat. Nobody climbs Everest unsupported.” Her documentary addresses this imbalance.