How Much Do You Pay Someone To Risk Their Life For You on Mt. Everest?

Thirteen Sherpas, or professional specialized mountain guides, died this week in an avalanche on Mount Everest, while another three remain unaccounted for, and the rest of the Nepalese Sherpa community has decided to close out the season early:

The accident underscored the huge risks faced by Sherpas who maintain and prepare the icy slopes for climbers and trek the routes carrying equipment for their clients. In a season, Sherpas can earn from $3,000 to $6,000 (2,171–4,342 euros), which is about 10 times the average annual pay in Nepal.

On Tuesday, Nepal’s Tourism Ministry announced an agreement to establish a relief fund for guides killed or injured while climbing the mountain, one of the key concessions demanded by the Sherpas following last week’s disaster. Funding is thought to be well below that requested by the guides.

Minimum insurance cover for Sherpas on the mountain, the government said, would be raised by 50-percent to around $15,000.

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world: “More than 30% of Nepalese live on less than US$14 per person, per month.” When opportunities are scarce, it can be a no-brainer to make $3,000 — $6,000 by helping international tourists kick something off their bucket list, as my mom, a very fit 67-year-old widow, did just this past fall. (She hiked up to base camp; the mountain only truly gets deadly higher up as adventurers try to summit.) Certain transactions have become so commonplace that we take them for granted, and we balk only when we hear of new twists, like first-world women asking third-world women to carry children for them. Pregnancy can be a life threatening condition, too.

Sherpas train, even compete, for the job. Still, it is worth asking, is it right? As the essay “The Disposable Man: A Western History of Sherpas on Everest” asks, what is the morality in paying someone else to risk their life for you?

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