Weekend Warm-Up: The Porter

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Nate Menninger is one of the only non-local porters to work on Everest. Over 11 days he documents life as a porter and the conditions they work under.

To climb Mt Everest, not only do climbers need to be fit, they must acclimatize to the stratospherically thin air and take in enough food and water to maintain their strength, even though the altitude kills their appetite and even drinking is difficult. Yet there is a harder way to go to Everest: as a porter.

Porters carry up to 100kg for their clients.

Porters on Everest earn just 1,500 rupees ($15) per day. They are responsible for ensuring that all bags, food and supplies arrive safely. Often their loads, supported by old-fashioned tump lines across the top of the head rather than by backpack frames, weigh as much as 100kg.

During an 11-day trek, porters usually wear the same clothes, day and night. They won’t shower and they pay for their own meals. They receive nothing for the days before or after a trek, when they meet clients at the airport and chaperone them to hotels. Without a generous tip on the final day, porters won’t even make a profit, because they spend much of their daily salary on the food required to perform their duties. Some porters take the safe option and skip meals.

At night, they join porters from other groups and sleep away from the main camp, sometimes eight to a bed, sharing just a few blankets between them.

The working conditions of porters have improved in recent years. Previously, they were treated like packhorses. But even their current treatment doesn’t fit the value they bring to expeditions.

Nate Menninger is one of the only non-locals to work as a porter on Everest.

Nate Menninger is a 24-year-old American obsessed with Everest. Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars climb it, he decides to visit the great mountain like a local Nepali: by being employed as a porter.

The previous summer, Menninger guided in Nepal, where he taught himself to speak Nepalese. It helps him connect with his colleagues over their 11 days together.

“When I was guiding that summer, I saw how porters lived,” he explains. “I saw them sleeping on the floor. I saw how they ate, and how strong they were.”

Even though he’s a lot taller than the native Nepalis, he finds the job incredibly taxing. Being cold at night makes it difficult to recover from the immense physical labor of the day’s work, yet he understands that this is just a glimpse of what a porter really goes through.

“I had a very different experience than a normal porter because I was just coming in for one trip,” he says. “It was just a snapshot. And I wasn’t relying on the money.”

Most porters do five or six treks each season and take just a couple of days off. They know they are lucky to be selected for work since other porters are available. In the off season, they work as farmers.

Farming in Nepal is no walk in the park, either. Unlike in Western agricultural production, they don’t use machinery. During my time in Nepal, I remember a farmer coaxing two reluctant old oxen to drag his wooden plough. The oxens’ resistance meant that the farmer needed to use more strength to upturn the soil. It’s brutally hard physical work. But it hadn’t occurred to me that he might also work as a porter when the farming season ends.

Menninger was not qualified to guide to the summit of Everest. That would have been beyond his capabilities. Instead he hiked from Lukla, 2,900m above sea level, to Everest Base Camp. On the final day, he carried 100kg on the seven-hour trek back to Lukla. He was tipped a total of $100 by the customers and sums up the experience in one word: HARD.

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About the Author

Chasing Dreams Travel

Alex Myall

After 22 years in the exercise industry, offset by long-haul adventures around the world, Alex Myall found a better option a few years ago and has never looked back. She took a diploma in travel journalism, backed it up with travel industry certificates, then launched Chasing Dreams Travel NZ, her own travel agency.

Now she combines her love of writing and world travel with running her business from her home on the spectacular South Coast of Wellington, New Zealand, while simultaneously being mum to a gorgeous baby girl. She maintains a “life’s too short to do things by halves” attitude.

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Alok Chaudhary
Alok Chaudhary
7 months ago

This was a great documentary and I applaud Nate’s effort highlighting the plight of porters. I did the Lukla EBC trek almost 2 decades ago but still remember its no walk in the park and that’s when I was younger. I feel for porters and wish Nepal Gov does more for these amazing people. These guys have amazing strength and stamina and more than anything, the resolve. A lot of that has to do with their situation but they are super-humans and best of all, great humans as I found them always in good spirits and laughing. God bless them!… Read more »

Edie
Edie
5 months ago
Reply to  Alok Chaudhary

I am so fascinated by them. I can’t imagine the sacrifices they have to make to provide for their families. Thumbs up to u. Excellent documentary 👏

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