Mouzafer was a Balti, mountain people who migrated from Tibet six-hundred years ago. Now Shiite Muslims, they reminded climbers of their distant cousins the Sherpas of Nepal with their diminutive size, toughness and supreme ability to thrive at high altitudes. But other qualities of Balti, a taciturn suspicion of outsiders, along with their unyielding faith, have prevented Westerners from celebrating them in the same fashion as they fetishize the Buddhist Sherpas.
Porter Mouzafer took charge, pulled out sagebrush from his pack, flint from his jacket pocket and lit up a fire to make Greg a cup of Cha. Mortenson had the first taste of paiyu cha , the butter tea that forms the basis of the Balti diet. Though he gagged at first he drank three cups to delight of Mouzafer! For the next three days Mouzafer never let Mortenson out of sight and held his hand whenever he struggled to keep up. Mortenson used this opportunity to learn Balti and with his ear for languages soon had a basic Balti vocabulary.
Picking his way down a narrow gorge Mortenson stepped off ice onto to solid ground. Co-author David Oliver Relin tells a story which reminds us that it is still a dangerous territory...The subterranean rivers traveling under sixty-two kilometers of ice shot into the open with an air blast like a jet engine's exhaust. This foaming, turbulent waterspout was the birthplace of the Braldu river. Five years later a Swedish kayaker put in at this same spot, attempting to run the Braldu to the Indus river, all eighteen hundred miles to the Arabian sea. He was dead, smashed against boulder...minutes after he hit the water.
|From Wikimedia Commons: Baltoro Glacier (in the background) .. source of the Braldu River|
It is clear that it makes sense to hire local guides and porters, as can be seen from these stories. Greg was saved and nursed back to health by a porter whom he had just hired on the way down. And I am not sure if the kayaker consulted locals! But today it is no more the rich man's sport and many attempt to do it on their own.
A recent incident where three Europeans were attacked by Sherpas may change the equation between Sherpas and the Climbers. Another article in Japan Times takes a look at the Genesis of this brawl! I quote: Views are split between admiration for Sherpas, and the infectious joy that they take in life, and concern that the commercial exigencies of climbing Everest, which can cost $65,000 a head, don’t really square with the freedom of the hills. What has been missed in reports of this hypoxic melee is a much broader story and a rather more inspiring one. The inexplicable passion among a small, wealthy European elite for exploring the mountains of the Sherpa homeland, together with the Sherpas’ ability to cope with altitude, gave these people a chance to escape difficult lives herding yaks or carrying loads for traders.
In addition; more than 230 people have died on Everest, and a third of them have been Sherpas — the latest, Mingmar Sherpa, at the start of last month, shows that there is an enormous cost to this adventure. I am also curious whether one can hire porters for the Alps climb! I guess it would be possible at a much higher cost than what one pays a Sherpa.