On 18 April 2014, a 14,000-tonne block of ice slid down the southern face of Mount Everest, killing 16 people. It was the mountain’s deadliest day, until just over a year later, when 22 died in the aftermath of the Nepalese earthquake.
Thirteen of the men who died in 2014 were Sherpa, an indigenous ethnic group famed for their ability to withstand high altitudes. They had been finding their way through the Khumbu Icefall, one of Everest’s most dangerous passes. When the avalanche hit they were fixing a route so that tourists – some paying up to $75,000 to climb the world’s highest peak – could fulfil a dream.
Not long before that, Jennifer Peedom had arrived to make a film about the Sherpas. She had been on three Everest expeditions; over the course of those visits, she had seen how the Sherpas’ role in getting tourists to the top had been played down, and she knew that there was a story to tell. But she couldn’t have known that she would be there as news of the disaster rolled in. She couldn’t have known that she would film as the Sherpas’ bodies were airlifted off the icefall, and watch as the locals channelled their shock and anger into something unheard of: a strike. Now, with her film, Sherpa, about to be released in cinemas, she acknowledges that it is not the film she intended to make – but argues that the story she emerged with is an essential one.
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