NW Sherpa Association to hold Everest benefit on Mercer Island

When Mercer Island native David Morton embarked for Nepal this past January, he was traveling to guide and consult actors working on the upcoming film "Everest", a movie based on Mount Everest's deadliest day in May of 1996. Morton, a mountain guide, photographer and documentary filmmaker in his own right, was also hired to shoot behind-the-scenes footage.

On the morning of April 18, Morton was shooting when a high-altitude avalanche occurred, killing 16 Sherpa climbers and leaving many wounded. It became Everest's single-deadliest day.

"It was ironic and tragic," said Morton. "I was there to cover the biggest tragedy at Everest and this one happened to be bigger."

Morton will be one of the Seattle-area climbers who will be at a fundraiser dinner held by the Northwest Sherpa Association benefiting the families of the lost Sherpa climbers Sunday, June 8 at the Mercer Island VFW Hall. The event will be open to the public

Lakpa Rita Sherpa, a Senior Guide from Alpine Ascent who lives in Shoreline and has summited Everest 17 times, was also on Everest when the avalanche occurred, losing three Sherpas he worked with, including his uncle. Lakpa Rita will serve as the keynote speaker at the dinner, sharing his experiences as a climbing Sherpa and information about the families left in the wake of the tragedy.

"The Sherpa is the main income source of the family. That means 16 families from that day, and 19 of the season, are getting by without their income source," said Lakpa Rita. "We decided in the U.S., in Seattle, California, New York, we could raise funds to support the families for the future."

Lakpa Rita said the event will be held on Mercer Island because the Island serves as a central point for Seattle-area Sherpas and also because the VFW Hall has served as an affordable venue to the Northwest Sherpas in the past. Though for this event, the VFW will be provided free of charge.

Money raised will serve to supplement the life insurance families of the fallen Sherpas receive. In Nepal, families can't get a higher policy than $11,000, which Morton hopes can be matched through donations. He also hopes efforts from outside groups like the Northwest Sherpa Association will force Nepal's tourism industry to take a more professional approach toward an economic draw that poses such a high risk of danger.

"It takes a lot to get the government to move on something like this because there are so many pressing issues, so it takes international attention from groups like ours to push the Nepalese government to demand higher life insurance policies," he said. "The Sherpas have the economy there with tourism and do such dangerous jobs, it's not appropriate they don't have better life insurance. It takes outside groups to cover Sherpa groups in the right way."

The Northwest Sherpa Association dinner will take place from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Sunday, June 8 at the Mercer Island VFW Hall. It is open to the public.



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