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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

THEY CALL IT THE TOP OF THE WORLD

mt everest

Watched a documentary yesterday, EVEREST: 50 YEARS, a National Geographic film. The camera followed a climb by the sons of Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay, the first people to reach the top of the world's highest mountain, 29,029 feet above sea level, by one measurement. Another says 29,035 and another 29,028. Close to six miles up in the air. That's where passenger jets fly. To the local people of Nepal, Everest is the mother goddess of the world. Their name for the mountain is Sagarmatha. The Tibetan name is Chomolunga. In that part of the world, it is a sacred mountain. I appreciated the emphasis on the lives of the Sherpas who carry supplies in to the base camp and accompany climbers. I've seen several documentaries of Himalayan mountain climbing expeditions and have read a few accounts of climbers. I enjoy reading a climber's account of the ascent. None of the ones I've seen have paid much attention to the Sherpas but as beasts of burden. In this film, they go into the homes of a few of the Sherpas to meet their wives, mothers, family. The women spoke of their apprehension over their men climbing the mountain. Several have died. It's good paying work for money to get by on where money is scarce. Talking with different Sherpas along the way gave a sense of them as conscious, thinking human beings. I used to think Sherpa was the name of the occupation. Sherpa is the name of their tribe. Several tribes live through the mountains there. It just happens that the Sherpa tribe is in that territory. Others from different tribes are among the Sherpas in a climb. It is work that pays so well the men turn up in a big crowd to be chosen from. Edmund Hillary took an interest in the local population. Over a period of years he provided a large number of hospitals and schools. He provided them with foundational necessities they had little to no access to. 

mt everest / chomolunga / sagarmatha

Hillary's son, Edmund Jr, planned the climb with son of Tensing Norgay to scale the mountain on the fiftieth anniversary of the first to reach the summit. The chances of reaching the summit once a team sets out are slim. Weather on the mountain changes instantly and by surprise. Sometimes climbers have been caught in a blizzard with hurricane wind for a couple weeks at a time, stuffed into sleeping bags and the tent walls flapping like a flag about to rip from its pole. I've read that when climbers get trapped in their tents for a week or two, they never want to see each other the rest of their lives. They come out of it despising each other. Fortunately for the National Geographic project, the weather allowed the team to make it to the top. A time came when they were close they believed they would have to turn around and descend. One of the Sherpas was heartbroken. This would be his last chance in his life to go with an expedition to the summit. He broke down when the decision was made to turn back. He quit. He walked to base camp with intent to go home. He said, "I hate God." He was furious with God. It was his only chance and he wanted with all he had to make it to the top. His fury settled after a few hours, the storm settled and the team called him back. He went on and was one happy Sherpa at the top. The guide, Peter Athans, said he made five attempts before he was able to climb all the way to the summit. Hearing Athans talk about his experiences with the mountain that he knew intimately was one of the many dimensions of the mountain the film covered. Sherpas talked about the difference between the way they see the mountain and the how the climbers see it. The Sherpas are in the literal lap of the mother goddess. For them, the mountain is the holy of holies. They are in awe when they are on the mountain. They say the climbers call it a challenge, a struggle, a fight, though the Sherpas are at peace in the lap of the Mother.

a climbing route up mt everest

Edmund Hillary Jr appeared to be at peace with the mountain too. He grew up and spent his life with his dad working with the Sherpa people of the region. He knew and appreciated the Sherpa people as people with lives. I have to say that before this film, the Sherpas were faceless to me, like Japanese pilots in WW2 movies. I never saw them in the films in any way but carrying heavy packs on their backs like donkeys. White people all over the world tend not to take people of any color seriously as valid human beings. That's just the arrogance of whiteness, which we white people have in abundance. I saw that neither father nor son Hillary showed a trace of the arrogance of whiteness. They were privileged and used their privilege to help the Sherpa people. Edmund Sr climbed to the top with his Sherpa partner. Neither one has ever told which one set foot on the summit first. Hillary's attitude was they climbed the mountain together and they reached the summit together. He saw to it the white press gave Tensing Norgay equal attention for making it to the top. I don't know it, but would guess the two Edmunds know the language too. The documentary following the climbers, the scenes on the mountain, made a good film in themselves, but I felt like including the Sherpas like Hillary did made it all the more interesting. Seeing the people in their world talking about their lives added a great deal to the film for me. They seem like they are living the way people lived here in these mountains before electricity, a simple community of people who have lived there and among each other all their lives for many generations. Here, it's looked back on as the golden age, though nobody would give up tv, recliners and flushing toilets to go back, or move to Kathmandu. 

climbing up the mountain

Every time the camera focused on the Sherpa people, I was there, looking at true humanity in their faces, eyes and body language, from a golden age in our distant past in the western world. It would have to be all the way back to medieval times. Their religion, a form of Buddhism close to Tibetan, is clearly a religion of inner peace. I believe this is what makes them "inscrutable" Asians to us. The people of the Buddhist world value inner peace and stillness, which have no value in the Christian world, but in hymns. I was thinking I could learn something valuable living among the Sherpa people for 35 years. They surely have satellite televisions for ones who can afford them to watch soccer games, football there. I think it kind of follows that where you have a high concentration of people of faithful leanings, you have the opposite too, thugs, gangsters, bandits, thieves. The whole spectrum would be there. I wonder if places  high in spiritual vibration that draw the faithful would also draw all the different colors of the human character. I was guessing among the Sherpas that carrying a pack on a mountain climbing expedition was a macho thing for a man. It made him a good provider for his family. Much status in their village or town. On another level, these are the men who have been in the lap of the Mother, a high spiritual place to be. I had the impression that the climb for the Sherpas tended to be a meditation, what we call here a spiritual retreat. The Sherpas work together, camp together, pray together, support each other like family. They harken Prozac Nation to a gentler time of close-knit, tribal community that goes back for centuries where people really knew each other and lived their lives together. It reminded me about regarding my mountain sacred. Maybe I could hang some prayer flags about. 

prayer flags at the summit


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