Sherpas are essentially Tibetans in all senses except politically. They are people from the far eastern region of Tibet, near Everest (sher means “east” and pa means “people” in the Tibetan language). Sherpas previously lived nomadic and semi-nomadic lives and over five centuries ago migrated to the Solu Khumbu region of Nepal. Sherpas originally did not climb mountains, but crossed high passes to trade goods with their neighbors.
It waswho, in the early twentieth century, realized the importance of Sherpas to mountaineering expeditions on account of the ease with which their bodies acclimatized at altitude. and , two famous English climbers, always took Sherpas with them on their climbs in the Himalayas. They were impressed both by the Sherpas' abilities as well as spirit, and formed long lasting friendships.
In their search for Sherpas to assist in climbs in the Himalayas, European mountaineers began using Darjeeling as a recruitment center. Once Nepal opened her doors in the 1950s, however, the focus switched to Solu Khumbu, where the lives of Sherpas changed forever as a result of the service and friendship they offered to Western climbers.
Photo: Charles Wylie, 1953