WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A SHERPA OR MOUNTAIN WORKER DIES ON A MOUNTAIN CLIMBING EXPEDITION?
TODAY I HAVE DAVID MORTON HERE TO talk about The Juniper Fund, its beginnings, and the important work they’re doing in Nepal to help the families of Sherpa who have lost their lives guiding and working in the mountains.
For Sherpa throughout the Khumbu Region of Nepal, the dangers of guiding climbers to the world’s highest peaks like Mount Everest, with the ever-present possibility of accidents, avalanches and the extremes of weather and altitude became no more evident than last month when a serac fall took the lives of three Sherpa in the Khumbu Icefall of Everest. Ab0ut one-third of the more than 300 deaths on Everest over the past hundred years have been of Sherpa guides, according to the Himalayan Database, a mountaineering record-keeping body.
In 2014 after the tragic avalanche there that claimed the lives of 16 sherpa and high altitude porters, massive strikes in Base Camp and beyond forced the hand of the government to increase the life insurance on a death there to $15000….however, the strength of the Nepal rupee has significantly diminished and that amount is now worth far less since it is paid in rupees.
Many times these mostly men who die in the mountains are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families and those survivors have precious few resources to fall back on. In 2014 I visited several families while filming a documentary on Everest that took a drastic turn after the avalanche. It was a deeply moving experience for me and my friends who were taking part in the expedition.
A year before that two longtime friends and Himalayan guides, David Morton and Melissa Arnot Reid, started a non profit organization called The Juniper Fund, set up to help a couple families they knew who had their primary breadwinner lose his life during expeditions they were on.
For more information about The Juniper Fund visit their website:
For Sherpa throughout the Khumbu region of Nepal, the dangers of guiding climbers to the world's highest peaks like Mount Everest, with the ever present possibility of accidents, avalanches, and the extremes of weather and altitude became no more evident than last month when a Surat fall took the lives of three Sherpa in the Khumbu Icefall on Mount Everest, about 1/3 of the more than 300 deaths on Mount Everest over the past 100 years have been of Sherpa guides greetings, coincidentally only a couple of days ago and after I recorded today's interview with David Morton of the Juniper Fund, which is a nonprofit that assists families of Sherpa who have lost their lives in the mountains. The New York Times did a feature article about Sherpas leaving the career that made them prominent and famous around the world. So what happens when a Sherpa dies on a mountain climbing expedition in 2014, after the tragic avalanche there that claim the lives of 16 Sherpa and high altitude porters, massive strikes in Basecamp and beyond forced the hands of the government to increase the life insurance on the death there of a Sherpa to$15,000 however, the strength of the Nepal rupee has significantly diminished since then. So the money that $15,000 in Nepal rupees is actually worth a lot less than it was in 2014. Many times these mostly men who die in the mountains are the sole or primary breadwinner for their families, and the survivors have precious few resources to fall back on. In 2014, I visited several families while filming a documentary on Mount Everest. That obviously took a significant and drastic turn after the avalanche. It was a deeply and profoundly moving experience for me and my friends, who were taking part in the expedition, who did that ultimate second trip back up into the Khumbu valley to visit these families. A year before that to longtime friends and Himalayan guides David Morton, and Melissa Arnott read started a nonprofit organization called the Juniper fund to help to families of men that they knew who lost their lives during expeditions that they were taking part in then the 2014 disaster happened. And in 2015, a massive earthquake triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest that killed 19. More than half of them were Sherpa and high altitude porters. Suddenly, the Juniper fund was receiving large donations from significant organizations such as the American Alpine Club who wanted to help today I have with me David Morton. He's here to talk about the Juniper fund, its beginnings and the important work that they're doing in Nepal to help the families of Sherpa and mountain porters who have lost their lives guiding and working in the mountains. David Morton is a freelance climbing and Expedition guide, photographer, cameraman filmmaker, public speaker, a man of many hats nonprofit founder and an executive. He's been guiding professionally for over 20 years throughout the world with a focus on the Himalaya, and he successfully guided clients to all of the world's seven summits on multiple occasions. He's filmed, photographed and worked on commercial marketing videos to Hollywood productions to many 8000 meter peak expeditions. The last time I caught up with David in person was in Tibet and 2019, where we were both there on separate expeditions to look for the body of Andrew Ervin, the Everest pioneer who disappeared with George Mallory in 1924. David was with discovery. I was working for National Geographic, but it was all one big family. We just had some secrets between us but it was really awesome having him there on the mountain at the same time that we were so the Juniper fund, equally enraptured by the people of the world as by the mountains of the world that he has worked and guided in the Juniper Fund is a nonprofit 501 C three organization supports local expedition workers in Nepal he acts as the executive director and as he has said personally he spends many early mornings working on its programs and fundraising David is also a husband and the father of a son. Longtime no see always good seeing you. Uh, hopefully not putting you on the spot was there an event or an accident or a tragedy that might have happened that made you go gosh, I we need to do something here these because you know a lot of the people the Sherpa are the high altitude porters and now hopefully this The tide is changing a little bit but when a when a young man and dies. That young man is very often the main breadwinner for a wife and maybe a child and a parents in who had for generations leading up to that maybe made their income by farming. And that's not an easy way to make a living up there. So was there something that happened? Or was it a long trek in and having a conversation with someone saying, hey, let's get together and pool resources orDavid Morton:
it was, you know, so it was really the combination. It was the combination of experiences between Melissa Arnott Reid and I, who's the co founder, you know, she and I both had worked through Eddie Bauer and we were on the same good athletes team, we ended up doing a lot of climbing together. I had experienced in 2006, that were a woman who I'd spent a bunch of tracks and expeditions with, with her working as one of the women in the kitchen. She was pregnant in the 2006 season while I was getting on Ave Everest, and while she was pregnant, her husband died in the ice voluntee 1006. And block Rita and I were the were in the icebox time and responded and went to see if there was anything could be done. And he was he was buried and he was killed. And so she was pregnant with that child. And so that was that was the first sort of profound impact. And that that really rang close to home. And so my wife and I talked about trying to support that child. And then Melissa had a similar experience in 2010, with Chuang Nima, and Varun, say, Who Chuang and I had worked together a number of years on Everest together. And then Melissa, also had been with him previous and then they were on that expedition together, he passed away on that trip. And so through those, both of those experiences came the idea that well, and Melissa and Melissa specifically had said that she was going to help support that family if she was able to. And the thought was, well, if we could register as a 501, c three and help this great network network of clients that we both have helped to support those particular families than then we should try to do that. And so that's how it kind of started. But it was, it changed profoundly, we thought it was just going to be a kind of a very small org, that we could run on our own and just be able to raise some extra money to be able to help those families. But right at the time that we became, finally, we were given tax exempt status, right at the end of 2013, through the IRS, and then the 2014 accident happened on Everest. And due to that, and the subsequent earthquake, following year, all of a sudden, the organization had a huge influx of money, and we realized we had to get, you know, serious about it. And so that's taken a long time. And I'm you know, super proud to say that we are an incredibly good spot and have very long term relationships with all these families that are part of our programs, and, you know, keep up with them. And I can give you a lot of that info. But it's we you know, we're really, we've really got a good infrastructure, you know, are effective at doing what we're doing. And that that's proven by a lot of people looking to us to help responsibly distribute funds, and try to understand the whole environment and situation and everything that we've learned over the years to support effective and best practices way,Thom Pollard:
tell me how it works with you, because you just said you started. You have long term relationships with these families. And so you're taking care of them and getting them what they need to kind of make their way through a year. Is that correct? And could you kind of explain that a little bit,David Morton:
I'll try to encapsulate when we do is big picture really quickly. The so we the the primary, the foundational program that we started was to be able to provide what essentially was an ability to pay the bills for five years after an accident happens. And so we call that our cost of living grants. And so every person that is killed, working on an expedition has a household worker receives that grant period. And those are discretionary funds. And, you know, there's a lot of there's a lot of research in terms of the charity and nonprofit world about, you know, how you best help folks. And part of what we do and is that these are totally, you know, discretionary funds. So they receive $15,000 over those five years. And actually, that's it's more now, I can't remember the exact number, but we are adjusting that in terms of inflation as it goes along. But it was found was founded with those numbers. And so they receive, which was equivalent at the time to the accidental death insurance that they would receive from the government as part of the insurance so essentially 15 So let's say 2017, you'd get 15$1,000 from the government, well from the insurance policy, and then you would get 15,000 from us. And that would be paid out$3,000 A year for each five years. So that's the that was the foundational program that still occurs that still goes on. And then we do all sorts of other things. Now, as well, we, during those five years, we have a program where we have one woman who runs our programs in Nepal. And we also have an executive director here in the US woman named Christine Voss. And so she really and then she, Melissa and I have weekly leadership meetings where we discuss everything. So the three of us sort of run a lot of what's happening, Christine really is, is the one that gets it all done day to day. So we also during those five years, Christine and searing the woman in Nepal, they work with the families over those five years and say, you know, prepare them for that fifth year where you know, you're no longer going to have this grant that we're giving you, we do a lot of vocational training with them. We do business grants, to help widows start businesses, we've got a bunch of super successful businesses, from chicken farms, to restaurants, in Kathmandu, to liquor shops, a variety of things, so that they are able to make you know, their own income after those five years and have something to do and feel certain power to that. We also provide a lot of that also towards offspring, or other immediate relatives. And so at the moment, After this accident this season, we have 61 families and through those 61 families, it's hundreds of people that are benefiting from those programs. And so there's a lot of, you know, one off grants as well, we have a few mothers who had no other children and their son who was supporting them died in an accident. And so some of those women who are well beyond any years to earn income, we continue to provide support for paying the bills and so but the real big I think that the the thing that's been profound for me to understand is that when we visit these families each year, you know, we it's become such a sort of long term connection to know what's going on and know who needs what, and they come to us with their inability for you know, my son's wanting to go studies overseas, Can you provide any help with that, and so it's sort of a five year thing and but then there's a long term connection with trying to support them in ways that are going to help their family help the woman produce more income.Thom Pollard:
I want to thank you David for being a part of this video. It means a lot that you would take time out of your day to be here with me to speak about the Juniper fund. If you the viewer or listener would like to find out more about them. You can find their website at the Juniper fund.org. I will also put links to their Instagram and social media pages in the show notes to this video or into the podcast if you're listening on the happiness quotient. If you have enjoyed this video, I hope you'll take a moment to subscribe. But most importantly, I'd love to hear your comments and tell us where you're listening or watching from today. In a short moment, I'm going to show you a video over my shoulder that I think that you are going to want to watch and to you the viewer and listener I am deeply honored that you would take time out of your day to listen and to watch. Thanks so much. I appreciate you have a blessed day. Peace out my friends