Training of Climbing Sherpas in Nepal

3 Mar 2017
Swiss Sherpa Foundation – Ausbildung von Climbing Sherpas in Nepal.
by Mischu Wirth

Topic: Basic knowledge: snow, avalanches and prevention.

Barely arrived in Kathmandu, I am already contacted by the Sherpa Lhamu Foundation. I am working in the name of the Swiss Sherpa Foundation in order to lead the courses of the Sherpa Lhamu Foundation on the topics snow / avalanches / prevention. Everything is neatly organised. Large rooms, projectors, big screens, printers, pinboards and large beautiful banners of the Swiss Sherpa Foundation are hanging on the walls. Additionally, with Pemba Gyaljeze Sherpa (a Nepali mountain guide), I have an excellent translator at my side.
Already, during the preparations many questions start to come to my mind, especially concerning the level of knowledge of the Sherpas. However, there is also the big question, which material (models, films, animations, presentations) is the most suitable to convey the subject in an engaging and interesting way. At this point the ISTA (International Snow Training Academy) model and its methods, as a starting point to build a knowledge foundation, starts to become very attractive. This model offers a solid, deepened and expandable education.
Everything is ready to start the courses. In the next 5 days 20-25 Sherpas, per day, will learn basic knowledge concerning snow within 6 intensive hours. Afterwards, we will work out prevention tools together. The Sherpas will then take home a 'Avalanche Savety Checklist' with 6 important points, which they can follow when they are out on a trip.
The five courses proceed without a hitch and very actively. The lessons are again and again replaced by practical exercises outside and group projects. For lunch the Sherpa Lhamu Foundation usually cooks the typical and delicious Nepali Dhal Bhat recipe. During the breaks we enjoy tea and coffee.
The Sherpas, who received material to write notes and the beginners notebook of ISTA, are very interested in the courses and eager to participate. Furthermore, they continuously jot down notes in their notebook.
During the feedback at the end of the courses it becomes very clear, that the participants have little to no knowledge about snow / avalanche / prevention.
After the recent avalanche disasters, the topic is highly discussed in the Himalaya region. This lead to the participants being this eager to learn about the topic. It also turns out, that further education on the topic is more in demand than one would expect. There is a huge demand for the know-how.
The Swiss Sherpa Foundation picked up an important topic at the right time for this region of the world (mainly Nepal) and put together a project,that nails the topic on the head without hesitation. Furthermore, with ISTA a internationally recognized education academy, the Swiss Sherpa Foundation got someone on board who can offer a thoroughly structured and well documented educational program.
At the end of the last course day all the Sherpas, more than a hundred of them, receive their certificate from ISTA, which confirms, that they visited the course. Now they are members of the International Snow Training Academy.
For me, as a mountain guide and instructor, these courses were some of the most interesting courses I had the pleasure to lead. Despite the many unknowns, everything worked out wonderfully and I even got the chance to learn a lot myself.
The structure of the course, on a theoretical level, and its execution fulfilled all my expectations. The Swiss Sherpa Foundation, together with ISTA, managed to take another step in order to lead Sherpas into a autonomous future.

Mischu Wirth