Sherpa porters are expected to be able to carry twice their body weight. I feel comfortable with about 20kg – sadly less than a quarter of my own bulk.
Sherpa Gopal is a head shorter than me, and half my weight. I’m carrying two litres of water, a rain jacket and a camera in my day pack. He’s carrying two folding tables, sandwiching six folding chairs. All are made of steel. Gopal tells me he’s forty years old.
I’m wearing the best leather, Vibram-soled, Goretex-lined hiking boots I could find in Sydney. Gopal is wearing cheap canvas shoes.
My backpack has padded straps and breathable hip-band to prevent chafing. Gopal’s load is tied up with string, and attached to a strip of plastic which goes across the top of his head.
I walk upright, but slouch when I sit at the computer to type. Gopal spends his day bent double under his burden, but when he walks without it, his back is ramrod straight.
While Gopal takes a breather, putting his load beside him on one of the stone ledges which run along Nepal’s hiking trails, I have to try lifting his tables. Using all my strength, I can just raise them an inch or two off the platform before letting them clank down. Gopal has been walking with them all day, climbing several hundred metres at a time. It’s his job to get to our night’s camp before I do, so that he can set up the tables and chairs and spread a tablecloth over them, ready for our dinner.
Each of our porters is carrying two of our kits bags (each about 15kg) together with a tent (another 10-15kg, depending on whether is it wet, as it usually is). In addition they carry their own gear, plus water. Others carry a large dining tent, and the kitchen staff carry the utensils, stoves, fuel and food. They still arrive at camp with energy over for a game of football with us, then for music, chatting and dancing into the night. Then they’re up at dawn, preparing to do it all again.
Trekking porters have more fun, I’m told. If they weren’t hiking with us, they’d be lugging bags of cement and loads of wood to building sites, being paid by the kilogram, and expected to find their own food and accommodation.
The writer was the guest of World Expeditions, who pay and treat their porters properly, feed them well and offer them a retainer in the non-trekking season.
So they should. The porters are worth double their weight in any substance you ask them to carry.