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  • DAVID SCOTT: It's the highest point on Earth

  • and the most forbidding, Nepal's Mount Everest.

  • But every spring, hundreds of foreign tourists

  • arrive chasing a dream to stand atop the world.

  • (CHEERS)

  • SCOTT: Some are experienced climbers.

  • Many are not.

  • But all of them have this in common.

  • How many of the clients that you see coming to Everest

  • could do it without you?

  • Um, I would say zero.

  • -SCOTT: Zero? -Yeah.

  • -SCOTT: None of them? -None of them.

  • SCOTT: Jangbu Sherpa is a member

  • of the indigenous tribe known as the Sherpas,

  • the men who make climbing on Everest possible,

  • carrying the foreigners' luggage up the mountain,

  • laying a path for them to climb,

  • all but literally holding their hands.

  • It's a job the Sherpas were born to do,

  • their bodies and their work ethic

  • molded by centuries of living here.

  • But it's also a job that often kills them.

  • If something goes wrong, there's nothing you can do.

  • You just depend on your luck and then just go for it.

  • -Fate? -Yeah, fate.

  • SCOTT: Over the past five years,

  • 32 Sherpas have been killed

  • as part of guided climbs on Everest.

  • Thirty-two among just a few hundred

  • who work there.

  • That makes the job of the Sherpa per capita

  • the most deadly on Earth.

  • Why would anyone do such dangerous work?

  • The thing is that,

  • there's no option, there's no choice.

  • -There's no other work? -No other work.

  • SCOTT: We met Sherpa Ang Tshering

  • at the staging point for any Everest climb,

  • base camp, 17,500 feet above sea level.

  • It is in these Himalayan mountains

  • where the Sherpas live,

  • in one of the highest and most remote communities

  • on the planet, separated from civilization

  • by a wall of mountains.

  • Alone at the top of the world,

  • they have virtually no other options for work.

  • What percentage would you say would rather not be here,

  • -risking their lives? -Eighty to 90 percent, easy.

  • -Nine out of every ten Sherpas -Yeah.

  • -would rather not be here? -Yeah.

  • It's trap. They always say,

  • "I'm not gonna come back next year,"

  • but you can see them find-- You'll find them here again now.

  • SCOTT: Because they need the money.

  • They need the money.

  • SCOTT: The dangers of the job

  • begin the moment the Sherpas leave base camp

  • and start their march into the clouds.

  • The long climb to the Everest summit starts

  • up that frozen glacier behind me called the Khumbu Icefall,

  • named for the massive blocks of ice perched overhead,

  • and poised to fall on climbers at any moment.

  • Time spent in the ice fall is borrowed time,

  • because the longer you're in it,

  • the more likely you are to be buried alive.

  • You can hear all the ice collapsing.

  • You just think, like, "Yeah, you don't want to stop.

  • Just keep moving, keep running...

  • -Running? -...as fast as you can."

  • On the way down, we do run.

  • The way you get safely through the ice fall is you go fast.

  • -You don't stop. -You don't stop.

  • SCOTT: Dr. Ellen Gallant,

  • an American cardiologist and mountain climber,

  • came to Everest as a client for the first time in 2014.

  • She remembers her first pass through the ice fall.

  • DR. ELLEN GALLANT: Every now and then,

  • there would be a really loud crack,

  • and you'd hear yelling,

  • and everybody's kind of looking around,

  • where is it coming from, what's coming down on us?

  • Stuff is going to come down, it happens every day,

  • and you just don't want to be at the wrong place

  • at the wrong time.

  • SCOTT: But foreign climbers like Dr. Gallant

  • face only a fraction of the risk of the Sherpas.

  • That's because the Sherpas don't have to pass through

  • the icefall once or twice, but up to 30 times,

  • back and forth through this valley of death.

  • The Sherpas are forced to make all those trips

  • to carry gear for their clients,

  • which often consists of dozens of bags

  • packed with the comforts of home.

  • Many pay to have their Sherpas carry everything

  • from imported food to heated tents,

  • to dining tables, yes, dining tables,

  • on the way up the mountain.

  • -Everything that goes up... -Yeah.

  • -has to go through the icefall -Through the icefall.

  • -...on your back. -Yeah. Yeah.

  • And on the backs of other Sherpas.

  • It doesn't make sense to me.

  • It shouldn't be too luxurious.

  • You know, that risks a lot of life.

  • SCOTT: During the 2014 expedition, dozens of Sherpas

  • were ferrying gear through the icefall

  • while their clients rested at base camp.

  • That's when it happened.

  • I was there at base camp in my tent

  • and heard a crash, and unzipped the tent,

  • looked toward the west shoulder of Everest,

  • and there was a... a massive plume of ice and snow.

  • It was like, from top, coming straight down.

  • -In one giant piece of ice. -Yeah.

  • How big?

  • It was the size of trucks, or even bigger.

  • SCOTT: Avalanches like this

  • can drop millions of pounds of solid ice in an instant.

  • After that, we hear screaming.

  • People screaming everywhere.

  • SCOTT: In the panic, Jangbu began searching for survivors.

  • I saw this guy on the left-hand side.

  • Just one guy.

  • -He was alive? -Yeah, he was alive.

  • Five of us, we started digging that guy out.

  • We saw the other guys underneath him, like they are...

  • You know, they're dead.

  • -Stacked on top of each other? -Stacked.

  • Yeah, stacked on top of each other.

  • SCOTT: Sixteen Sherpas were buried to death in ice.

  • The Sherpa community was left stunned.

  • At the same time, they were not surprised.

  • Every year, when these expeditions happen,

  • in every Sherpa household, every Sherpa's mind...

  • There's always the sense of dread.

  • When you see the faces of children before the fathers

  • climb Everest, they're almost resigned to the fact that,

  • you know, he may not make it back alive.

  • SCOTT: Norbu Tenzing should know.

  • His father was Tenzing Norgay, the very first Sherpa

  • to ever climb Everest, when he escorted

  • New Zealand climber, Edmund Hillary

  • up the mountain, in 1953.

  • NARRATOR: The top of the world has been reached.

  • SCOTT: Tenzing Norgay was the original Sherpa

  • success story, earning enough money that his children

  • could have options in life beyond mountaineering.

  • Today, his son Norbu lives and works in San Francisco.

  • But Norbu still worries about his people back home.

  • People's lives are being risked.

  • People are being taken advantage of.

  • Even if they're getting something out of it.

  • They're actually giving a lot more

  • than what they're getting.

  • Including, in some cases, their own lives.

  • Their own lives. Yeah.

  • Try explaining that to a widow.

  • SCOTT: Pacee Sherpa is one of the widows

  • of the 2014 avalanche.

  • Today, she lives in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu,

  • raising a little boy who was left without his father.

  • The boy was just weeks old when his father set off

  • to work on Mount Everest.

  • Before the climb, the father called home one last time.

  • (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

  • (CRIES)

  • SCOTT: So, um...

  • And you say goodbye to each other?

  • Is that the last thing he said to you,

  • take care of your son?

  • SCOTT: But while Pacee's life was changed forever,

  • business as usual soon returned to Mount Everest.

  • Before long, a new batch of foreign climbers arrived

  • on the mountain looking to make another run at glory

  • with a little help from the Sherpas.

  • Among them, Dr. Ellen Gallant, whose first attempt

  • had been cut short by the avalanche.

  • There was no question I was going back.

  • Didn't make you think twice?

  • No. Not at all.

  • I said, "This can't happen again."

  • SCOTT: But then, just days after her return to base camp...

  • The first thing I heard was a rumble.

  • And so, I unzipped, um, the tent and saw a massive avalanche

  • coming toward us.

  • MAN: Holy shit!

  • MAN 2: Do we need to go in the tent?

  • Do we need to go inside?

  • (CLAMORING)

  • Go, go!

  • No! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!

  • (RUMBLING)

  • SCOTT: The direct hit of the avalanche left

  • base camp in ruins.

  • Nineteen people were dead, including eleven more Sherpas.

  • For the second year in a row, Dr. Ellen Gallant abandoned

  • her climb to try to treat the wounded,

  • but many were beyond saving.

  • What killed the majority of people

  • was blunt force trauma.

  • Blowing tents, blowing chairs, blowing cook stoves,

  • picking up propane tanks, rocks...

  • These things were just jettisoned

  • across camp like missiles.

  • SCOTT: But the threat of a weather disaster

  • is only part of the risk faced by Sherpas on Everest.

  • They're also being endangered by those who were supposed

  • to protect them, the expedition companies

  • that employ them and their very own government.

  • The government of Nepal charges 11,000 dollars

  • in permit fees to every foreigner looking

  • to climb Mount Everest.

  • That may explain why in recent years,

  • even as the number of Sherpa deaths

  • has skyrocketed, the Nepali government

  • has increased the number of permits it's selling.

  • Today, the line to the summit of Mount Everest

  • can look like a line at Disneyworld.

  • Virtually anyone willing to pay is welcome,

  • no matter how inexperienced they may be,

  • or how much of a burden they may pose to a Sherpa.

  • -You know, I call Everest, Inc. -Everest, Inc.?

  • Everest, Inc. You know, it's a cash cow.

  • Basically, anybody can come to this mountain.

  • -Anyone can come who's willing to pay? -Yeah, who's willing to pay.

  • SCOTT: Guy Cotter

  • started the very first expedition company

  • on Mount Everest back in 1992.

  • Cotter says he will only take money from experienced climbers,

  • but that increasingly, fly-by-night competitors

  • will take money from novices, meaning their Sherpas

  • will have to take on much more risk in trying

  • to get these amateurs up the mountain.

  • The entry level for people getting onto this mountain

  • these days is way, way too low.

  • There are many, many people on the mountain,

  • you can tell as soon as you see them,

  • they've never climbed before.

  • Notice you just hear people say, "Oh, I climbed."

  • Yeah, you climbed. Someone has done the job for you,

  • fixed the ladders, fixed the ropes,

  • dragged you up, carried your oxygen bottles.

  • There are so many climbers who shouldn't be here.

  • SCOTT: Last year, a 60-year-old Pakistani, named

  • Abdul Jabbar Bhatti, arrived at Everest.

  • While he's claimed to have climbed

  • some big mountains in his past, he was reportedly so slow

  • during the start of his Everest climb,

  • that some senior Sherpas refused to guide him.