A Sherpa benefit straight from the heart

It is rare in this world when any of us, anywhere, can have a direct, positive impact on the lives of others in need half a world away. Sonomans are going to have that opportunity on Sunday, May 18.

That’s the day the Sherpa community of Sonoma Valley and, in fact, of all California, will unite to support the families of 16 men killed April 18 in a catastrophic avalanche in the Khumbu Icefall, on the summit route of Mt. Everest.

That disaster, the worst in the 92-year history of Everest expeditions, left numerous widows and several young children without a father. And it reverberated through Sonoma’s Sherpa community, where there are numerous climbing Sherpas with Everest experience (and at least 10 successful summits) among the 80 to 90 Sherpas living in the Valley.

The pathetic remuneration historically provided by the Nepalese government to families of Sherpa climbers killed on Everest has been both grossly inadequate and insulting. The government’s first offer of 4,000 Nepalese rupees – about $400 – was rejected out of hand by Sherpa climbers who left the mountain en masse following the tragedy. A large group traveled back to Kathmandu to demand financial support for victims’ families on a par with the families’ real need, and with the economic benefit the Sherpas provide the impoverished country’s coffers.

It is estimated that Everest expeditions bring in some $3.5 million a season from climbing permits alone. Western climbers then spend many times that amount in Nepal outfitting their expeditions with food and supplies.

Recently, the Napalese government raised the death allowance to about $15,000, but many Sherpas still consider the amount inadequate to provide sustainable lives for the wives and children of climbing victims.

The May 18 dinner, organized by local Sherpas, who are members of the California Sherpa Association, will raise funds that will be channeled directly to the families of victims in the April 18 avalanche.

The dinner will be prepared and served, largely by Sherpa chefs from Valley restaurants, at Saddles Steakhouse in MacArthur Place. A program will accompany the dinner and Jon Reiter, the Kenwood climber who was on Everest in the Khumbu Icefall when the deadly avalanche struck, has been invited as a special guest at the dinner. Reiter has credited his climbing Sherpa, Dawa Sherpa, with saving his life as a storm of snow and ice descended on them.

Ngima Sherpa, a restaurateur and prominent member of the Valley Sherpa community, is spearheading dinner plans, and promises a traditional Nepalese dinner, with beer and wine included. There will also be auction items and a raffle to provide additional opportunities to contribute. Wine donations are being sought from wineries interested in supporting the Sherpa cause, as are contributions of auction and raffle items. Tickets to the event will be $50, and full proceeds will go to Sherpa families in Nepal as all the food will be donated. For tickets, call Mingma Sherpa at 843-6975.

Anyone with wine or auction items to contribute can contact Ngima Sherpa at 363-7908.

It promises to be a memorable evening for a very good cause, straight from the heart of Sonoma’s remarkable Sherpa community.