Last week some 13 Sherpas lost their lives escorting climbers in their attempt to summit Mount Everest. Three are still missing, presumed dead. The avalanche that killed them couldn't have been predicted and the loss of life is seen as the deadliest incident in decades.
As a result, many of the remaining Sherpas are not keen to continue with the climbing season (out of respect for their dead compatriots) and many climbing teams are leaving Nepal to return home. Abandoning these climbs cost the Nepalese government in excess of $2.5 million in lost climbing fees and Sherpas stand to loose between $4k to $8k in commission and earnings per person.
But it is a strange thing. When you hear of teams of climbers summiting Mount Everest, much celebration accompanies the scale of the achievement and human endeavor. The men and women are instantly recognized for their climbing prowess; rightfully so, given the enormous financial cost and potential loss of limb or life. For as many persons who successfully climb the mountain, a significant number have failed to summit or died in attempting it. Some have died on the descent climb. It's a treacherous way to die. So, when success is achieved, the scale of the risk is acknowledged.
But let me ask you a question. Do you know how many Sherpas have summited Everest? Do you know how many times they have? Do you know how many have died in support of the various climbing teams over many years? Do you?
Don't feel too bad ... I suspect very few people can answer these questions since Sherpas are the background boys, the logistics crew, the "pack donkeys" on the mountain, responsible for guiding the teams but also dragging equipment and supplies up the mountain. They never seen or heard, but without them, I doubt even the most celebrated climbers would reach the summit. They are an indispensable part of the climb and as invisible as the equipment in terms of status.
And so their deaths are a timely reminder to all of us, sitting in various organizations, to not take our support service staff lightly. Yes, the cleaner, foreman, tea lady, driver and messenger, front office admin, all form an integral part of our success in the work place but are so often ignored or relegated to the periphery when we celebrate organizational success. But let an urn break, a toilet block, an intranet cable get lost, then we are quick to seek them out, harass and cojole them to respond with haste. All too often though, we are slow to recognise their valuable input until the next time something doesn't work and they're not immediately available to address the problem.
(Pic sourced from Google images)