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Jangbu "JB" Sherpa, a Cloverdale restaurateur, has experienced firsthand the dangers facing climbers on Mt. Everest. He has survived fierce storms, rockfall and avalanches, much like the slide last week that killed at least 13 Nepalese guides in the deadliest day on the world's highest mountain.

Raised in a village in eastern Nepal, Sherpa, now a Santa Rosa resident, worked as a climbing guide on many expeditions, braving inhospitable conditions and alpine risks on his way to summiting Everest five times. The owner of Railroad Station Bar and Grill in Cloverdale, Sherpa said Monday that he knew some of the guides who lost their lives in the slide last week.

"It was really tough for the Sherpa people," he said. "Those were people who dedicated their lives to helping other people make their dream a reality. Most of them had families, kids. It makes me sad."

The tragedy has shined a spotlight on the relationship between international climbers, who spend huge sums to summit the world's highest peaks, and the Sherpa ethnic group, the hearty mountain people of the Himalayan region who carry the heavy loads and bear much of the risk on high altitude expeditions.

Kenwood mountaineer Jon Reiter, who was climbing the 29,035-foot Everest when the avalanche struck, said in a blog post Monday that all of the climbing Sherpas have left the mountain, demanding better treatment from the Nepalese government.

The events have left in doubt the Everest climbing season. Hundreds of mountaineers are at base camp waiting until conditions are ideal for a summit bid, usually in mid-May. Some groups have cancelled trips and returned home.

JB Sherpa, 42, was involved in the second-deadliest disaster in Everest climbing history, a May 1996 snowstorm that caused the death of eight climbers and was chronicled in Jon Krakauer's book "Into Thin Air."

Sherpa was working for climber and filmmaker David Breashears, who was shooting an IMAX documentary on Everest. A storm hit just as he had just reached camp from a successful climb, where he carried a 45-pound camera to the top of the mountain. He returned to the route to help rescue fellow climbers.

He said Sherpa guides are often the unsung heroes on expeditions, helping international clients, who pay upwards of $50,000, to reach the roof of the world. The guides can make $6,000 during the three-month climbing season, well above Nepal's $1,300 average annual income.

A guide's salary often supports large extended families, Sherpa said, and the loss of at least 13 climbers will have an impact on the economy of the region.

"Usually they are the ones that bring in all the income," he said. "It is hard to replace that kind of income."

JB Sherpa, who has three children, left the guiding business in 1997, just as Everest climbing was becoming commercialized. He led mostly elite climbers and research teams in the era before guiding companies opened up the mountain for average adventurers who could afford the experience.

"Commercial expeditions on Everest have been a money maker," he said. "That's good and bad. It has brought a lot of money to Nepal. But inexperienced climbers put others' lives at risk."

The striking climbing guides are disappointed at the Nepalese government's offer of $408 each for the families of those who died in the avalanche, according to the Associated Press.

Reiter, the Kenwood climber who is making his second attempt on Everest, said Sherpas should receive better compensation.

"What they're asking for is certainly deserved and we support their cause 100 percent," he wrote in his blog from base camp. "They simply want the families of the deceased to be taken care of as well as assurances that they themselves and their families will be taken care of should they be hurt or killed while climbing Everest."

The climber-guide relationship has been mutually beneficial since 1953, when the mountain was first conquered by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. More than 4,000 climbers have reached the summit since then.

"We cannot climb this mountain without them by our sides just as they were not able to climb it without our logistics and resources," Reiter wrote. "We make a perfect and inseparable team. From the very beginning (1953) until today, Everest is climbed not by individuals but by partnerships."

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com.

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