You don’t need to be an alpine climber or have deep cultural expertise on Nepal to be familiar with the term Sherpa.
If you knew nothing else about Nepal, Mount Everest, or the Himalayas, there is a high probability that you’ve heard legends of the climbing aides who serve as the backbone of adventure in one of the most sought-after mountain ranges in the world.
Yet while Mount Everest, the myths, legends, and stories that surround the summit is a subculture in itself, one of the most overshadowed and culturally relevant forces in Nepal are the Sherpas. Though Sherpa culture is not necessarily common knowledge and falls out of light when another climbing film is released, the rich history and stories behind the indigenous people adds a layer of mystique to the mountains they conquer.
So let’s take a look at five incredible facts about the Sherpas of Nepal that have helped propel the landlocked country to global notoriety and make us exceptionally proud to offer Himalayan coffees that fuel it all.
The Sherpa people migrated from Tibet in the 13th century in search of “pure” lands
Through Buddhist oral tradition that has been passed down, the original Sherpa migration from Tibet was driven by a quest for Buddhist pure lands. This search initially ended in a highland part of Nepal, the Solukhumbu District, which is home to the notorious summits of Mount Everest, Lhotse, and Makalu, and the larger Sagarmatha National Park.
Genetic adaptation over time has made Sherpas natural climbers
In Kenneth Kamler’s book, Surviving the Extremes: What Happens to the Body and Mind at the Limits of Human Endurance, he discusses some of the natural genetic adaptations from living in the highland Himalayas that has helped understand the legend of why Sherpas thrive at high altitude. Part of these adaptations include double production of nitric oxide as well as hemoglobin-binding. Both are attributed to increased high altitude endurance.
Sir Edmund Hillary is great but...
While Sir Edmund Hillary receives a majority of the attention as the first known person to summit Mount Evererst, he surely could not have done it without his partner Tenzing Norgay, a descendent of Nepali Sherpa culture. Norgay is among the many Sherpas that have set records on Mount Everest, including Apa Sherpa who holds the record for most successful summits on Everest with 21 and Lhakpa Gelu who holds the record for the fastest summit from Base Camp at 10 hours and 56 minutes.
In Sherpa culture, the mountains are so much more
There is a reason that Buddhist monasteries can be found throughout the mountainous Solukhumbu region in the Himalayas, and that’s because Sherpas view the mountains as the home of deities. In a great Public Radio International interview, anthropologist Pasang Yangjee Sherpa touches on this spiritual connections, mentioning that in Sherpa culture, “we go to the mountains and we actually pray and make sure the mountain is not upset, and we make sure the mountains are happy to allow Sherpas, or anyone, to climb.
Sherpas are the motor of modern high alpine mountaineering
Behind every high adrenaline documentary or film that depicts the intensity, grit, and physical conditioning needed to summit the high peaks of the Himalayas is a Sherpa making it all possible. They are deeply connected to the mountains physically and spiritually, work under incredibly dangerous conditions, and are an essential part of what has made adventure in the Himalayas accessible to those that seek it out.