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1190: Time

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On Friday, xkcd #1190—Timecame to an end.

It was a huge project, but since it was all concealed within a single comic panel, I thought I’d end with this short post to explain what was going on. If you want to see the story yourself before I spoil anything, you can use one of the many excellent third-party Time explorers, like the Geekwagon viewer, or one of the others listed here.

When the comic first went up, it just showed two people sitting on a beach. Every half hour (and later every hour), a new version of the comic appeared, showing the figures in different positions. Eventually, the pair started building a sand castle.

There was a flurry of attention early on, as people caught on to the gimmick. Readers watched for a while, and then, when nothing seemed to be happening, many wandered away—perhaps confused, or perhaps satisfied that they’d found a nice easter-egg story about castles.

But Time kept going, and hints started appearing that there was more to the story than just sand castles. A few dedicated readers obsessively cataloged every detail, watching every frame for clues and every changing pixel for new information. The xkcd forum thread on Time grew terrifyingly fast, developing a subculture with its own vocabulary, songs, inside jokes, and even a religion or two.

And as Time unfolded, readers gradually figured out that it was a story, set far in the future, about one of the strangest phenomena in our world: The Mediterranean Sea sometimes evaporates, leaving dry land miles below the old sea level … and then fills back up in a single massive flood.


(A special thank you to Phil Plait for his advice on the far-future night sky sequence, and to Dan, Emad, and everyone else for your help on various details of the Time world.)

Time was a bigger project than I planned. All told, I drew 3,099 panels. I animated a starfield, pored over maps and research papers, talked with biologists and botanists, and created a plausible future language for readers to try to decode.

I wrote the whole story before I drew the first frame, and had almost a thousand panels already drawn before I posted the first one. But as the story progressed, the later panels took longer to draw than I expected, and Time began—ironically—eating more and more of my time. Frames that went up every hour were sometimes taking more than an hour to make, and I spent the final months doing practically nothing but drawing.

To the intrepid, clever, sometimes crazy readers who followed it the whole way through, watching every pixel change and catching every detail: Thank you. This was for you. It’s been quite a journey; I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did!

P.S. A lot of people have asked if I can sell some kind of Time print collection (or a series of 3,099 t-shirts, where you run to the bathroom and change into a new one every hour). I’m afraid I don’t have anything like that in the works right now. I just made this because I thought it would be neat, and now that it’s done, my only plan is to spend the next eleven thousand years catching up on sleep. If you liked the project, you’re always welcome to donate via PayPal (xkcd@xkcd.com) or buy something from the xkcd store. Thank you.

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izogi
2644 days ago
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16 public comments
bhandley
2638 days ago
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Has anyone written up a Brief History of Time? (sorry).
opheliasdaisies
2647 days ago
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I loved following Time as it progressed, and love it even more now that I know the level to which it was planned out. Even making a future language? Figuring out future constellations? That's all super awesome. I'm a little sad its over.
NYC
llucax
2647 days ago
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When you think he can't do something even more surprising... BOOM!
Berlin
smishra
2647 days ago
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This is amazing! Make sure you follow the geekwagon link.
newsforlane
2647 days ago
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This guy is INSANE. In a great way. I want to live in a world full of more creations like this.
Washington, District of Columbia
norb
2647 days ago
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awesome!
clmbs.oh
neilcar
2647 days ago
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Yet another reason that he's my favorite cartoonist.
Charlotte, North Carolina
glenn
2648 days ago
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Wow
Waterloo, Canada
supine
2648 days ago
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xkcd Time comes to an end after 3099 panels!
An Aussie living in Frankfurt
bogorad
2648 days ago
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Wow.
Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Michdevilish
2648 days ago
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Time: it's a long story
Canada
timlikescake
2648 days ago
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Incredibly cool.
Sly
2648 days ago
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XKCD
Planète Terre - Don't Panic
DMack
2648 days ago
in 2010 i got fired from a programming job for not liking xkcd
Sly
2648 days ago
Oh, my, really? That's insane. Did it make you read and like it or did it do the opposite?
DMack
2647 days ago
I remained indifferent! They'd tell you I was laid off because our biggest client's contract finished... but I know the real reason
mrobold
2648 days ago
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This. Is. Art.
Orange County, California
zackfern
2648 days ago
I'd love a poster version of the night sequence.
adamgurri
2648 days ago
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on what that Time stuff was all about
New York, NY

United States captures Carmen Sandiego

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An emotional journey of nearly 30 years has come to an end for those in the U.S. intelligence community, many of whom have been pursuing Carmen Sandiego for most of their careers.

An emotional journey of nearly 30 years has come to an end for those in the U.S. intelligence community, many of whom have been pursuing Carmen Sandiego for most of their careers.

During a worldwide hunt for National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, the United States has accidentally stumbled upon the whereabouts of long-sought-after international fugitive Carmen Sandiego.

Sandiego, who has been on the run from authorities for nearly 30 years, is wanted in connection with the theft of a large number of extremely valuable objects, including the Olympic Flame, the Silver Pagoda, and Nairobi International Airport.

Of the many countries who have issued warrants for her arrest, the United States has been the most active in pursuing Sandiego, but until now has been desperately starved for leads. Observers say that the failure of U.S. intelligence officials to locate Sandiego was likely because they did not know enough about geography.

But all of this has changed today after a group of CIA agents discovered Sandiego while sweeping a Moscow hotel room in hopes of finding Edward Snowden. Sandiego has been placed in custody by Russian police, and is awaiting extradition to the United States.

President Barack Obama announced the capture in a live speech that interrupted late night programming across the entire nation.

“Good evening,” said Obama, his demeanour conveying the enormity of the moment as he approached the podium in the West Wing. “Tonight I can report to the American people, and to the world, that the United States has conducted an operation that captured Carmen Sandiego, thief of Gandhi’s glasses and the River Nile.

“Today we are reminded of the strength and resolve of our brave intelligence officials, who work tirelessly and without recognition to achieve results such as the one we have seen today.

“Make no mistake; this triumph for justice will not miraculously heal the wounds of the last thirty years, it will not get back the Liberty Bell or the Willis Tower, nor will it repair the lives of those who have lost at the hands of Sandiego. But it is an important first step in a process of healing that, as Americans, we all must share in.”

The White House is winning praise both from inside the U.S. and around the world this evening, and is fielding nonstop calls from countries curious to know whether their stolen objects have been located as a result of the capture. Obama has promised that Sandiego will be interrogated as soon as possible, and says he is committed to helping as many countries as he can to “get back all their things.”

While the success of the operation has been welcomed, it has also raised questions about why similar progress is not being made in the hunt for stripe-suited eccentric Wally, something the White House says is complicated because “there are just too many people who look like him.”

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izogi
2683 days ago
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The Pace of Modern Life

23 Comments and 64 Shares
'Unfortunately, the notion of marriage which prevails ... at the present time ... regards the institution as simply a convenient arrangement or formal contract ... This disregard of the sanctity of marriage and contempt for its restrictions is one of the most alarming tendencies of the present age.' --John Harvey Kellogg, Ladies' guide in health and disease (1883)
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izogi
2687 days ago
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Fortunately, as I'm informed, it had all calmed down again by the time of my parents' generation.
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21 public comments
chrisamico
2675 days ago
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All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.
Boston, MA
oliverzip
2678 days ago
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Has twitter wrecked modern communcation?
Sydney, Balmain, Hornsby.
antgiant
2687 days ago
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"Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things." -- Douglas Adams
Oviedo, Florida
bloodvayne
2686 days ago
Society will be society, what's interesting is how inherently the "nostalgia fallacy" is simply society's self-preservation against seemingly "hostile" undercurrent. Reminds me of this article from Art of Manliness, also a very thorugh read http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/07/12/the-generations-of-men-how-the-cycles-of-history-have-shaped-your-values-your-place-in-the-world-and-your-idea-of-manhood/
stsquad
2687 days ago
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Nice commentary on modern commentary.
Cambridge, UK
bscherrer
2688 days ago
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@mahea50 Word.
San Diego, California
iridesce
2688 days ago
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now let's make one for "damn kids are spoiled and have no respect for their elders these days"
DC
iridesce
2688 days ago
whoops, nevermind, i see you 1906.
rgsunico
2688 days ago
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Brilliant.
Quezon City
marcrichter
2688 days ago
tl;dnr :P
redson
2688 days ago
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The Golden Age Fallacy in action.
claysmith
2688 days ago
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“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” — Ecclesiastes 1:9
Escondido, CA
dcwarwick
2688 days ago
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And on it goes.
Edmonton, AB, Canada
taddevries
2688 days ago
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Get off my internet lawn you free loaders.
mscholes
2688 days ago
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The summary is beautiful ;-)
benmurray
2688 days ago
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Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things. -- Douglas Adams
adamgurri
2688 days ago
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the public comments on this comic seem to imply everyone swallows the premise of the letters...I had though Munroe's point was more that we keep hearing the same arguments over and over again in each age.
New York, NY
btomhave
2689 days ago
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Those who fail to learn from history... yada yada yada...
Michdevilish
2689 days ago
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Definitive proof that human faculties have been dwindling since at least 1871, and show no signs of abating in their sad dwindleMent...
Canada
the7roy
2688 days ago
1871? Try ~360 BCE when Plato wrote, "they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality."
tfrab
2689 days ago
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O tempora, o mores
italy
pdp68
2689 days ago
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Nostalgia isn't as good as it used to be.
Belgium
yyota
2689 days ago
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Where will it stop?
internetionals
2689 days ago
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Nice to see it spelled out to people that "nostalgia" is of all times. And the that troubles of today were often already there earlier, but people just remember them differently.
Netherlands
Ludwig
2689 days ago
Consider the possibility that the authors of these quotes were correct (well, except the divorce and nudity one,) like that Aristotle quote where he bitches about “kids these days,” instead of resigning it to “ah, it was ever thus.”

Opinion: I’m not a scientist, but allow me to say a few things about science

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By Sam Neill

By Sam Neill

As with most people, I didn’t really hear about science for the first few decades of my life. Oh, every now and then you’d see it mentioned in the newspaper, or perhaps in a book somewhere; “science” had solved some great conundrum, such as how to make butter spreadable. But for the most part, we lived on merrily here at the edge of the world, gazing out over bleak coastlines and not speaking about all the great family crises that apparently gripped our grey, hopeless communities.

But then I became an ac-tor, and this allowed me to go out into the world and learn a great many things, such as how to ride a horse for Ivanhoe, and how to strangle a priest for Omen III: The Final Conflict. This came in tremendously helpful when I travelled to Elizabethan England several hundred years ago, but I shan’t go into more detail at this time as I am still gripped by the wizard’s curse.

These skills were useful, but as my career ascended so too did the value of the new things I learned. When I filmed The Hunt for Red October, I was amazed to discover that beneath the water there was a whole other area known as “under”water. What I didn’t know then was that we had this “under”water thanks to something called science. At the time I asked Sean Connery if he knew anything about science, but I was unable to understand anything he said, as he is Scottish.

It wasn’t until filming Jurassic Park some years later that I began to find out more about science, where fortunately the Scots were kept out. When I auditioned, Steven Spielberg told me he was interested in me for the part of Dr. Alan Grant, a “pay-lee-on-toll-oh-jist”.

“What’s that, Steven?” I asked, while swirling tea around in my goblet.

“Well, Sam,” he answered, while tearing at a large piece of unadorned baguette, “it’s a scientist who studies dinosaurs.”

“Oh,” I responded.

“Yes,” he said.

After we then sat in awkward silence for six-and-a-half hours, occasionally offering each other a smile and looking like we were about to say something, but then stopping for the other, and then neither of us saying anything, I thought I had perhaps find out just what this science thing is. And I think the most marvellous thing about science is, is the fact that nobody really knows what it is. It just does things, which is quite wonderful.

But even though we can’t really understand science, I still like to talk about it and listen to people say things that have science in them. However, it can also be concerning, and as an actor I believe it’s important that I speak out about the issues that science presents us with in this day and age.

I was going to speak out against genetic modification, but I thought that may have been a mite hypocritical after my starring role in the Jurassic Park, and also due to the fact that I was engineered by a team of exiled German biologists in a secret facility in rural Northern Ireland in 1947. I also considered global warming, but then lots of people are already on that bandwagon and I don’t like to share, which is why I’ve been systematically buying up every last haberdashery in Aotearoa.

But then I was asked to host the documentary television series Space, which is about something called “space”. I was fascinated to learn that science had not given us only “under”water, but also “space”, which is everything that is not land, “over”water, or “under”water. And although I have never been there and have no real reason to believe it exists, I’m told that it is very large indeed.

I was alarmed, though, to discover that Earth does not sit flat on some kind of cosmic tabletop, but is rather sitting suspended in “space” – with nothing beneath it. Nothing. It is really only by sheer luck that it has stayed put these past 972 years.

I decided to science my way through this idea a bit. And it was then I thought, “Hang on a moment, Denzel” – I call myself “Denzel” sometimes – “sometimes if you put too many things on something, it collapses, or falls, such as that time you piled all the skulls of the unfaithful atop the Crystal Altar of Grah’froourhk”.

That is when I realised: the Earth is getting heavier. And if it gets too heavy, it may fall out of “space”.

Try sciencing yourself through it: we keep building things. Heavy things. Concrete is very heavy. And with all this concrete we put on Earth, we increase the strain to a level it simply cannot take. Yes, for now our buildings stand tall, and proud, but I do not believe Earth can sustain its enormous erections much longer.

Also, I have noticed that people are much fatter than they used to be. And fat people are heavy.

What then for us, should we fall? Fortunately, I know about science, and I know about awareness, and I know that once a respected celebrity has made you aware of a problem, then it is no longer really a problem at all.

What’s more, you can “science” up solutions to things. For example, in response to this, I say we simply attach helium-filled balloons to everything. I saw the documentary film Up whilst I was travelling on an aeroplane once, and I learnt how balloons can lift things up very effectively. This will have the secondary benefit of making the world seem much jauntier. I like jaunty things.

I realise that some of you may be now wondering if “science” is really all that positive a thing. But it’s important to remember that as scary and mystifying and confusing as it can be, it also gives us wonderful things, like telephones, and the clap. In fact, just last week, that nice Tom Cruise man was telling me all about some new science that I hadn’t heard of before. I’m going to see him next week to talk about it some more. My goodness. I certainly do feel lucky to know about science, and to be able to tell you all about it.

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izogi
2709 days ago
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The effect of personal memory on environmental consciousness

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I have often wondered why I am so interested in the link between deforestation, flooding and erosion. I put it down to my love of forested environments, and therefore my interest in the history of these environments. But it has occurred to me that it is perhaps more than this – that it relates also […]
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izogi
2727 days ago
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Fight on Everest between Sherpas and Western climbers.

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Being woken up on a frosty morning at first light by Ang Tharkay (below) with a mug of hot tea at his farm, south of Kathmandu, on 23 April 1975, is a memory that remains vivid in my mind. With a broad smile he handed me the tea, made in the Sherpa manner with tea, sugar and milk boiled together. He greeted me in English and Tibetan. 


                                                  Ang Tharkay (right) with Bob McKerrow


I somehow had a flashback to photos of Eric Shipton in the 1930s and this is how he must have been woken up on his expeditions by the very same man. We had a breakfast of chapati and eggs from his farm. He had risen before day break and had milked cows and goats. Ang Tharkay was about 69 and I twenty seven.

We talked of the great climbers he went on expeditions with: Eric Shipton, Sir Edmund Hillary, Maurice Herzog, Gaston Rebuffat, Lionel Lachnel, Lionel Terray, Cmdr. Kohli and others. You could see he had a soft spot for Shiption and the French expeditions he had been on. 

I was fortunate to know Ang Tharkay, who would be considered Father of the Sherpas. I also knew Tenzing Norgkay  See the articleI wrote on Ang Tharkay

Therefore the fight between a group of Sherpas and a small band of Western climbers high on Everest last week has raised some basic questions about the nature of the Sherpa-climber social contract, and about the culture of Sherpas. Although the term "Sherpa" has long been a part of the popular lexicon, outsiders generally know little about the role they play in Himalayan climbing.

                             Mt. Everest. Taken in 1975 from Kalar Pattar by Bob McKerrow

An article written by Broughton Coburnfor National Geographic News yesterday really sheds light on who the Sherpas are.

The Sherpas are a small ethnic group that share many cultural, racial, and linguistic features with Tibetans, who live to their immediate north. About 3,000 Sherpas reside in the drainage areas immediately below Everest; a population of 20,000 or more live in villages to the south.
Until the early 1950s, no high Himalayan peak in Nepal had ever been climbed—at least by mortals, the Sherpas say. Then, as now, they saw the Himalayan peaks and foothills as the realm of a cavorting pantheon of gods. Presciently, a prominent Sherpa Buddhist lama predicted 80 years ago that much attention would come to be focused on Everest, and that people would "suffer hardship as a result of negative deeds generated in her vicinity." 
The Buddhist lamas, the spiritual leaders of the Sherpa community, say that one's motivation in climbing Everest and the nearby peaks is of key importance. Foreign climbers, when asked why they climb mountains, offer a range of responses: Testing one's limits. Personal achievement. Companionship in a shared challenge. Escape. Fun. Spiritual understanding. One Everest climber admitted that he merely wanted a bullet point on his resume.
By comparison, Sherpas share a rather straightforward motivation: Mountaineering is their livelihood, and they do it to support their families. It's tough, seasonal work—similar to the role of commercial fishing in Alaska for enterprising college students. They approach the task with good cheer, and the pay is exceptional by Nepal's standards (high-altitude Sherpas earn several times the prime minister's monthly salary).
Nonetheless, wives of Sherpas who climb are known to hike to Base Camp to persuade their husbands to give up expedition work.
"Climbing is exciting, but dangerous," a young Sherpa named Lhakpa recently told me. "It's best left to young, single men." Like many high-altitude Sherpas, Lhakpa plans to retire early, build a lodge, and invest in the "bigness"—business—end of climbing and trekking. And as the Incarnate Lama of the Tengboche Monastery pointed out, "You can't eat climbing awards, or numbers of summits." (Read more about National Geographic's 2012 Mount Everest expedition.)
Besides, Buddhists feel that casually placing one's precious human body at mortal risk is irresponsible, especially for a frivolous, recreational pursuit such as climbing. The Tengboche Lama has admitted that he doesn't always feel comfortable offering traditional blessings to foreign expeditions, saying that he's tempted to counsel them to take up other pursuits instead. But most Sherpas, for their part, need the work and the money. As everywhere, pay and profit tend to prevail over religious pursuits, though the latter are a close second.
                                                            The summit of Mount Everest
The Sherpas and the sahibs—the Sherpas' generic, not necessarily deferential, moniker for foreign climbers—share an extremely close relationship. And it's an unusual one, in cross-cultural terms, given that they originate in such different worlds. They have found a near perfect symbiosis on the side of Mount Everest. Each provides for the other what they lack: manpower for the sahibs, money for the Sherpas.
But the dynamic goes beyond this. They each embody the romantic human idealthat each is striving for: The sahibs see the Sherpas as spiritual, grounded, resourceful, self-effacing, and light-hearted. To the Sherpas, the well-educated sahibs have an enviable command of technology and organization. In many ways, they want to become more like each other.
For Sherpas and foreign guides, the job of establishing and fixing a route up Everest can be described as a tense work situation. They toil long hours together or beside each other (or above and below each other—hence the falling shards of ice that initiated the recent scuffle). The stakes are high. They need to establish a safe route over difficult terrain for hundreds of climbers and guided clients.

Briefly put, arguments happen, as they do in most workplaces among sahibs, among Sherpas, and occasionally between Sherpas and sahibs. The Sherpas are fiercely loyal (they are often related to each other), and they have a keen sense of fairness. They are also aware that the anger that naturally develops in such work situations should be tempered with understanding.
The understanding part comes in because the south side of Everest is regarded as a béyül—one of several "hidden valleys" of refuge designated by Padmasambhava, the ninth-century "lotus-born" Buddhist saint, revered by the Sherpas as Guru Rinpoche.
And a full-on deity resides on Mount Everest herself: Miyolangsangma, the "Goddess of Inexhaustible Giving." The mountain is her palace and playground, and Sherpas view climbers and themselves as only partially welcome guests, all of them having arrived without invitation. It is this goddess's power, one Sherpa Buddhist monk said, that has delivered to the Sherpas great bounty—in the form of climbing expeditions and foreign travelers, to begin with.
In 1975 I traveled with fellow New Zealander Murray Jones and we were accompanied by Domalay and Neema, Sherpas from Kunde. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Thus, Everest and her flanks are blessed with spiritual energy, and the Sherpas say that one should behave with reverence when passing through this sacred landscape. Here, the karmic effects of one's actions are magnified, and even impure thoughts are best avoided. When climbing, opportunities for fateful mishaps abound.
The scuffle that occurred at Camp 2 on Everest may have merely been a garden variety of professional jealousy. Simone Moro and Ueli Steck are skilled, professional, thoughtful climbers. And now—after a half-century of struggle, training, and experience—the Sherpas are exactly that too. Eastern-minded Westerners are intersecting with, well, Western-minded Easterners.
During the 1963 American Mount Everest expedition, Sherpas and Americans alike experienced a mutual loss of innocence. Arguments broke out then too—serious ones. And then everyone came to terms and returned to work in a spirit of professionalism and good cheer. It's the Sherpa way: fairness and forgiveness on an equal footing.
So, in the years to come, who will wind up as kings of the mountain? Sahibs or Sherpas? Don't be surprised if the Sherpas abandon the race to the summit altogether, and cede Everest to the designs of the recreation-obsessed sahibs.
The Sherpas have demonstrated a remarkable ability to learn, adapt, and excel. In less than two generations, they have traversed a staggering cultural arc. They have gamely followed the natural progression from noble savage (of romantic proportions) to renaissance men and women. Many have targeted careers as doctors, airline pilots, scientists, and professionals.
Along the way, they have seen the world and found it to be a big place, where there's room for everyone—and no need for fixed ropes. The Sherpas of tomorrow have already embarked on a path toward goals that are bigger than Everest and its squabbles.
Editor's Note: Broughton Coburn contributed a chapter to National Geographic Books' forthcoming The Call of Everest, to be released May 14, and he is the author of the recently released The Vast Unknown: America's First Ascent of Everest, from Crown Publishers.
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izogi
2735 days ago
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