Elmhurst’s Sherpa community remembers Mt. Everest victims

By Bill Parry

More than 300 Sherpas attended a prayer service and candlelight vigil for the victims of the Mt. Everest avalanche in Elmhurst last Sunday.

On the world’s highest mountain, 16 mountain guides were killed in the April 18 catastrophe that was felt here in New York City, home to the largest number of Sherpas anywhere outside Nepal, according to Ang Geljen Sherpa, the coordinator of the vigil.

“There are 2,500 Sherpas in our Elmhurst community alone,” he said, adding that the numbers have grown since he headquartered his United Sherpa Association in a building, at 41-01 75th St.

“Many at the vigil were relatives of some of the victims,” Sherpa said. “Pasang Kanchee Sherpa took part after losing a brother to the avalanche some 20 years after she lost another brother on Mt. Everest.”

He said the mountain guides are notoriously underpaid for their work on the mountain, but he does not think it is exploitation as it has been portrayed in the media.

“I would say it’s more under-appreciated, but there are very few options in Nepal,” Sherpa said. “That’s why we’re all here, to educate our children and break the cycle of climbing.”

He also called reports of a boycott by the mountain guides off-base after many left the mountain following the avalanche, effectively ending the climbing season.

“It’s not like they have a union that could organize a boycott, It’s more likely they went away from the mountain out of respect. They know the mountain that we call Chomolungma is angry,” Sherpa said.

Meanwhile, the community of Sherpas in Elmhurst are furious at the Nepalese government, he added. The families of the victims will receive 40,000 rupees as compensation for their loss.

“There’s so much anger and frustration over that,” he said. “That works out to just $415 for each family — yaks are worth more.”

The United Sherpa Association has already raised $15,000 for the families of the lost climbers and they will continue fund-raising efforts until the middle of June.

“We’d like to try and help the children of the victims get an education,” he said.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.