If portering were an Olympic endurance weight lifting event, the Nepali porter would win all the medals!!!
Celebrate and admire these incredible athletes of the mountains. Watch them in action, appreciate the balance, strength and of course, their good nature!
Try picking up a load yourself!
Imagine carrying 30 to 60 kilos over the mountains of Nepal, all day long day after day in all sorts of weather, sometimes only equipped with thongs for footwear and a plastic bag as protection from the snow… Trekking porters are often from countries such as Nepal, Peru in Sth. America, Indonesia, New Guinea and Africa.
They sometimes com from the lower valleys, they frequently carry heavy loads to remote areas, sometimes higher than many base camps (well over 5000 meters) and with the potential for severe weather.
Lyn Taylor Director of Lyn Taylor’s Adventure Travel has been escorting groups to Nepal for over 23 years and knows too well the plight of the Nepalese porter. Lyn says every year trekking porters die unnecessarily in the mountains affected by frostbite, altitude, accidents or injuries that may render them unable to work. Lyn is a volunteer and Australian Representative and Coordinator for the International Porters Protection group www.ippg.net who are dedicated to looking after the welfare of vulnerable porters all over the world.
Do you know that Nepali porters suffer from four times as many accident and illness as a Western trekker?
Do you know that Nepali porters suffer from altitude just as easily as a Western trekker?
Do you know that Trekking porters are found not only in Nepal but Pakistan, Peru and other South American countries, Tanzania, and Papua New Guinea. Although their life and the conditions of their work are different from one country to another, they all share similar problems such as:
- Lack of appropriate clothing and footwear
- Lack of appropriate shelter
- Lack of appropriate food
- Lack of appropriate medical care
- Lack of insurance
- Lack of proper wages
Apart from the above, life threatening issues porters also face are lack of education on mountain safety, environmental issues and hygiene/HIV/STDs. They also can experience homesickness when they are gone for months on end and may be more prone to gambling and binge drinking as a result.
They are often the meat in the sandwich of political upheavals and are usually discriminated against through race, social position or religious caste.
Dr Jim Duff based in Australia was the founder of IPPG International Porters Protection Group. Jim is also an experienced mountaineer, as well he has written several editions of First Aid and Survival in Mountain and Remote Areas.
Dr Jim Duff divides his time between work and activism in Nepal and general practice. Jim has spent 30 years climbing, travelling and working in the Himalayas. As a doctor, climber or leader he has been on six major Himalayan expeditions including the South-West face of Everest 1975 (first British ascent), the West Ridge of K2 1978, and Everest North face 1984 (first Australian ascent). He has worked for two seasons for the HRA (Himalayan Rescue Association) Aid Posts, in Pheriche in 1977 and in Manang in 1997.
For the past 20 years Jim has been training Nepali, Indian and Tibetan guides in the principles of wilderness medicine, first aid and leadership and he has extensive experience in dealing with acute mountain sickness, frostbite, hypothermia, injuries and third world medicine…
Jim is the co-developer of the Australian-made PAC (Portable Altitude Chamber) for the treatment of altitude illness.
Dr Jim Duff writes
In the autumn season of 1997, I volunteered for the HRA (Himalayan Rescue Association) aid post in Manang. It was the death of a porter, while I was there, that catalyzed the formation of IPPG (see: Death of a Porter ). Personally I have seen or heard of several incidents of porters dying in the mountains over the 24 years I have been in the Himalaya. However, Shyam’s death was the final straw and galvanized us into action. IPPG was formed to act as a lobby group to encourage Nepali and foreign trekking agencies, and their leaders and sirdars in particular, to provide a minimum standard of care for their porters, by adopting the guidelines described below.
The aim of IPPG is not to point the finger of blame at anyone, but to bring the care of porters up to acceptable standards. Lowland porters are just as susceptible to AMS as Western trekkers, but much more likely to develop hypothermia and frostbite. Porters often carry to heights well above the average mountaineer’s base camp and can end up in extreme conditions with only thongs and their cotton clothing. Over the years if is interesting to speculate just how many porters have died or been maimed in the trekking industry, and just how many of these deaths were preventable.
I believe the trekking industry in Nepal is already changing for the better and can only be more sustainable if one of its primary resources is honored and cared for in the same way it looks after trekkers. Concern about porters’ welfare has a long history and many people have contributed over the years, Lyn Taylor from Lyn Taylor’s Adventure Travel is a good example being the Australian Representative and Co-coordinator. IPPG is just another small push in the right direction.
DEATH OF A PORTER by Dr. Jim Duff
Shyam Bahadur Nepali was a mountain porter who died in the night of the 25th Oct 1997. This is an account, as best as we can piece it together, of his death. Shyam was 24 years old and engaged by a commercial trekking group, to carry their equipment over the Thorung-La, a 5416 meter pass on the Annapurna Circuit. On the morning of the 24th October, near the top of the pass, Shyam felt unwell and could no longer carry his load.
We don’t know his exact medical condition when he was paid his wages and dismissed, but we do know that snow was falling steadily and that he was sent back alone without adequate clothing for the cold conditions. We also know that he wasn’t given enough money to affect a rescue if needed. A short distance below where he was dismissed Shyam stopped at a teashop and was vomiting and complaining of a severe headache, which is signs of mountain sickness, particularly cerebral edema (HACE).
Much later that day, Shyam arrived at a half-constructed lodge in the tiny settlement of Letdar (4200 meters). The builder reported that Shyam was cold and exhausted. He was given a blanket and some food, and he settled down on the boards for the night. At 10 AM the next day, Shyam collapsed and became severely ill. He didn’t receive any treatment until 5 PM, when Todd Routledge, an American climber, arrived and was asked to see him. Todd reported that Shyam was unable to stand, had great difficulty breathing and was coughing up frothy sputum, signs of pulmonary edema (HAPE). Todd gave the necessary medications to help treat altitude illness (HACE and HAPE). This improved Shyam’s condition sufficiently for an attempt to carry him down to us at the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) aid post in Manang.
Three thousand rupees (US $50) were collected from trekkers and local people to pay two porters to carry him down. Gloves, hat, a blanket and a head torch were also donated. It was dark and still snowing when the two porters set off at 7.30 PM to carry Shyam in a basket, down to Manang. The trail was treacherous with ice and snow, and they made slow progress down the mountain. Three hours later, just an hour short of the HRA aid post, Shyam collapsed and died. His body lay by the trail for three days, a sad sight to the dozens of trekkers who passed by. Yet another mountain porter has died because of the ignorance and neglect of those who employed him.
Comments: It is extremely difficult to know exactly how many porters die in this way every year on the trekking routes of Nepal. These deaths go unnoticed and unreported, unlike the hype and hysteria that greet the occasional deaths of climbers on well known mountains. In Shyam’s case, it is highly likely the trekkers and even the leader did not know he was being dismissed. In Nepal, the sirdar (general trek manager) or the naike (porters’ manager) is responsible for the porters.
Lyn Taylor writes: “It is the responsibility of trekking companies, their leaders and sirdars, and individual trekkers employing porters, to ensure their safety. In my years of trekking in Nepal I have seen too many porter’s carrying excessive loads well over 30kg dressed inadequately for the conditions. Other issues I have come across is that trekker’s tend to ignore their porter’s, they are human just like us and they deserve recognition, even though there may be a language barrier one can still communicate with a smile, shake of the hand, a gift of a sweet or chocolate, these people are so humble they love to laugh, sing and they thrive on social western contact. I encourage all of my groups to make social contact with their porter.
Lyn says trekking companies also have a duty to train their leaders (local and foreign) in wilderness medicine and first aid, especially in the fields of acute mountain sickness and hypothermia. They must also provide adequate first aid kits and safety equipment as needed. Trekkers intending to go trekking with commercial companies are encouraged to check before departure that the above conditions are being fulfilled, and complain or look at alternative companies if they are not.
Since 1997 IPPG has helped to improve safety and health for porters working in the mountains for the trekking industry worldwide. We have worked to eradicate avoidable illness, injury and death. We have done this by raising awareness of the issues among travel companies, guides, trek leaders, sirdars (porters’ foremen), and trekkers. More on Trekking Ethics.
International Porter Protection Group – IPPG recommends the following guidelines:
1. Clothing appropriate to season and altitude must be provided to porters for protection from cold, rain and snow. This may mean: windproof jacket and trousers, fleece jacket, long johns, suitable footwear (leather boots in snow), socks, hat, gloves and sunglasses.
2. Above the tree line porters should have a dedicated shelter, either a room in a lodge or a tent (the trekkers’ mess tent is no good as it is not available till late evening), a sleeping pad and a blanket (or sleeping bag). They should be provided with food and warm drinks, or cooking equipment and fuel.
3. Porters should be provided with the same standard of medical care as you would expect for yourself, and life insurance.
4. Porters should not be paid off because of illness/injury without the leader or the trekkers assessing their condition carefully. The person in charge of the porters (sirdar) must let their trek leader or the trekkers know if a sick porter is about to be paid off. Failure to do this has resulted in many deaths. Sick/injured porters should never be sent down alone, but with someone who speaks their language and understands their problem, along with a letter describing their complaint. Sufficient funds should be provided to cover cost of rescue and treatment.
5. No porter should be asked to carry a load that is too heavy for their physical abilities (maximum: 20 kg on Kilimanjaro, 25 kg in Peru and Pakistan, 30 kg in Nepal). Weight limits may need to be adjusted for altitude, trail and weather conditions; experience is needed to make this decision.
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Our next adventure to Nepal is a volunteer trip where you will have the opportunity to live in a Nepalese homestay and help the local people in remote areas rebuild their homes, at the end of the trip you will be rewarded with a trip to Pokhara followed by a 4 day trek. More on this