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  From porter to reporter  


Mingmar Dorji Sherpa’s ascents of Mount Everest have shaped a new interest and profession: a mountaineering reporter for television.

The three-time Everest mountaineer’s expedition with the American and British film crew in 2004 and 2007 sowed a curiosity in the 30-year-old after assisting the team with their camera equipment.

Fascinated by cameras and the concept of capturing images from the mountains, Sherpa bought a small handheld camera and started recording videos documenting his climb up Everest and other mountains. A personal hobby transformed into a professional career in 2007 when he started working for state-run Nepal Television (NTV) as a “mountaineering reporter.”

There was a vacuum in mountaineering reporters at NTV when one of the climbers, groomed by the network to work as a correspondent from the mountains, migrated to the West. Kami Sherpa, one of the first mountaineers to report on issues from the high elevation, initially shot footage for news stories. But later when he started reporting, he faced challenges due to his lack of education and bad pronunciation, said Raju Silwal, chief news editor for NTV.

But Mingmar is different, Silwal said. “He has quality [in his reporting]. He’s educated and so can write his scripts and he speaks well too.”

After realizing Mingmar’s potential and his educational level, Wongchu Sherpa, president of the Everest Summiteers Association, referred him to NTV.

“I saw honesty and seriousness in his work,” Wongchu, who has known Mingmar since his early days as a porter, said.

In his apartment in Banasthali, in close proximity to the Swayambhunath Stupa in Kathmandu, Mingmar grabbed his video camera, a 37mm Panasonic NV-GS230, which he uses for his TV packages, and showed some of his reportages.

“Whenever I find a story, I shoot it,” Mingmar said before starting the clips. “But at times, batteries don’t work above 8,000 meters. Even people stop working, and they are mere batteries,” he laughed.

Standing on snow at 8,000m, taking deep breaths with small pauses while talking, Mingmar does a stand-up, documenting one of the expeditions of 2008. He then reaches for another tape from the stack and plays some of his other TV packages — Stupas built in the Khumbu region as a memorial to the mountaineers who lost their lives during climbing, melting glaciers in the region, and garbage in the area left behind by expeditions.

According to Silwal, who has been with NTV since its establishment in 1985 and who also reported on the same beat, climbers who have turned into reporters like Kami and Mingmar bring footage from the peaks, which would have been difficult for regular reporters.

“We aren’t climbers, we’re only journalists with some interest in that field,” Silwal said, adding that physical requirements and time constraints of the job prevent other journalists from taking such steps.

Also, Mingmar was more tech-savvy. Unlike Kami, he had knowledge about cameras, their operation and thus could get the clips that the story demanded.

In his living room, which is also the family’s prayer room, Mingmar quickly shifted gears from his camera to his MacBook. He then connected his external hard drive to show pictures that illustrated his stories.

“This is the Khumbu Icefall,” he showed a picture that he took during his climbs. Mingmar said the Icefall is one of the riskiest passes at 8,850 meters. He then talked about how it is melting, creating severe risks and challenges for climbers.

“Global warming could be the reason,” said the mountaineer who became familiar with the phenomena only four years ago.

Working with American photographer David Breashears as an assistant in the Glacier Research Imaging Project in 2007 helped Mingmar learn more about global warming and camera operations. Showing the pictures from the project that chronicles the changes in the Karakoram range in Pakistan, Mt. Cho-Oyu in the border of Tibet and Nepal, and Mt. Everest and the Kanchenjunga ranges in Nepal in the past 100 years, Mingmar then talked about the camera equipment they used during the shoots — Hasselblad cameras — along with their technical specifications.

But this wasn’t the only time Mingmar had a chance to learn about cameras.

At 24, during his first expedition with an American team to film “Storm Over Everest,” Mingmar helped carry the cameras and set up before the shoots. During the two-month trip, the mountaineer said he acquired knowledge about “the technical ideas of shooting, handling camera gear, safety techniques and setting up in the mountains.”

“I also learned how to play with the camera and thought I could also do it later,” Mingmar said of how his interest to be a videographer germinated.

And for the second time, in 2007, Mingmar joined an expedition to film “The Wildest Dream,” a movie about George (Herbert Leigh) Mallory (1886–1924), the English mountaineer who took part in the first three British expeditions to Mount Everest in the early 1920s, and the first person to attempt to climb the world’s tallest mountain.

“Climbing the second time was a bit easier as I was accustomed to my cameras,” he said.

While watching “Storm Over Everest” on DVD in Kathmandu, Mingmar said he remembered each frame in the movie — the time and circumstances they filmed.

“But when you see that small credit [at the end of the movie, which is barely noticeable], it makes you a little sad,” he lamented. “If they had mentioned us a little more and explained that we were part [of the making process] that would’ve been nice.”

However, Mingmar, who started his profession as a primary schoolteacher to a porter and a trekking guide before making it to Everest, said he is happy about the skills he has gained and what he has made out of it. He climbed mountains for two seasons, which roughly generates Rs 300,000 (approximately US$4,100 per climb) which is fairly enough to support his family of four in the capital and his TV reporting during off seasons is nothing compared to the money he makes from climbing.

NTV pays a maximum of Rs. 1,200 (approximately $16) per TV package.

“I appreciate his efforts but we don’t have special allowances for the risks he takes during reporting,” Silwal said.

Pema Sherpa, his wife, agreed. Scurrying into the kitchen time and again to fill the empty cups with tea, she joined the conversation.

She said there is risk in mountaineering and anxiety when her husband sets out for his expeditions. But the 26-year-old boldly said she is happy about Mingmar’s accomplishments, both on conquering the mountains and his coverage on TV.

Mingmar says he climbs Everest for “good money, experience and reputation at international level” and reports on TV to “spread awareness of the problems men have created” which are affecting the environment. Talking about the large number of Sherpas who have migrated to Western countries, he cited Nepal government’s lack of interest in providing facilities for mountaineers.

Wongchu also criticized the migration trend of many mountaineers to the West and said people like Mingmar is creating new examples for the next generation of climbers. He added, many climbers have been inspired by Kami and Mingmar’s stories and have followed in their footsteps—interested climbers are taking training and freelancing for private television channels in the capital.

“Climbing is easier, though,” said the soft-spoken man who is currently gearing up for an expedition to Mt. Ama Dablam and Mt. Lhotse this spring.

“There’s a fixed line while climbing the mountains. But while working with the camera, you have to go into the risk zones away from the fixed lines — you have to stand in the icefalls for a longer time.

“Videography [reporting] is more difficult than regular guiding or climbing,” he said.

All things considered, Mingmar sounded happy about his accomplishments, and in a cheery tone, he said he wants to stay in the country, climb Everest upto 10 times and continue filming and reporting from the trails, base camps and summits of the Nepal Himalaya.

Published on 2010-04-09 10:21:44
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