10 Questions to Nate Menninger, The first American Porter

The American man who became a porter on Everesttitled article on CNN travel website intrigued me. I couldn’t wait another second-I jumped into the article with lots of questions and curiosity.

By the time I finished reading this amazing article about Mr. Nate Menninger and watching his superb-unbelievable-and-awesome documentary, I had learned a lot about porters- the unsung heroes of Everest. He earned my sincere respect, and the video is superb, fantastic, wonderful, powerful, and magnificent.

I would rather say it an unusual and incredible performance by Nate. Truly remarkable!

He lived a porter-life for 11 days in search of an answer to the question- “What would it be like to work the hardest job on the planet?” 

The documentary portrays the daily life of a porter, whose work is to carry loads of the clients, up to 100kg through the rugged trail, for as little as $ 15 a day. But the different and unheard story is a real deal, and this documentary exactly unfolds (the other side of porter life) it. Watch it for yourself!

Life as a porter is different and difficult. If it wasn’t for this documentary, I would never have known that porter works for 6 months as a porter and rest 6 months as a farmer or something. And there are more.

No adventure to Everest is complete without the superheroes- the porter. 

I want to talk more but also would like to request you to watch the documentary. Here’s the link: The Porter Documentary

Fascinated by what Nate did, I straightly looked for his profile on Instagram and expressed some love for his great work. I truly admired his great work.

At times, I couldn’t believe my eyes- like on the 11th day, Nate carried 100kg to Lukla. Yeah, he made it! 

I asked if he could answer my questions, and guess what?- he said yes. And here are the questions and his answers.

1) What motivated you to take this job as a porter in the Everest region?

I had several motivations, in truth. 

One, I had seen and heard of this rift forming between clients and locals, like in the Everest Brawl of 2015 and the strike later on. So, I thought a project like this might be able to help bridge that growing divide. But even more so, I can’t lie. I really wanted to climb Everest.

The problem was, I had nowhere near enough money. So when the idea hit, I thought that by working as a Porter, I could climb Everest for free. Or even get paid. 

Finally, at the time, I’d been doing a lot of similar projects around the world. And I wanted to prove my work to the world. To show people what I did and why. And to hopefully crawl out of the hole I’d dug myself into. Clearly, this turned into so much more. 

2) How did you think of being a porter, knowing that you will have to carry up to 100kg through a rugged trail?

I was guiding in the Himalayas and noticed how Porters slept. What they endured and how strong they were, and I wanted to see if I was capable of doing the same. If I could be as strong as someone who does one of the hardest jobs in the world.

But then, when the possibility to climb Mt. Everest as a Porter fell through, the option to Porter to Everest Base Camp presented itself instead. And so, as I like to create an end challenge to keep oriented, I thought in place of Everest, it’d be a good goal to attempt to carry what the strongest of Porters carry: 100 kilos. 

It was a long trip, and I often thought of how much was left. Part of me didn’t want to try 100 kilos. But the other part definitely did. 

3) I saw you sleeping with Nepali Porters, eating with them on a low budget, and wearing the same clothes for days. How was your experience?

I think what I experienced was only a fraction of what Porters truly experience. And my experience is very specific to my background. I experienced life as a Porter for a short period of time, and I did it knowing that I’d be able to leave soon after.

My experience was especially unique because everyone else knew we were different, and so I’m sure I experienced something unlike that of someone who’s career is that of a Porter… 

I could talk forever about the experience itself. About the hard moments, the fun ones, the quiet times and dinners. There are so much to share, and so many ways to share it, but I hope that the film does a good job of showing my experience. I feel there is too much to write here 🙂

4) I was amazed to hear the way you speak the Nepali language. You sing so well, and replied without any mistakes at all! Probably the best non-native Nepali speaker. How and when did you learn it?

I don’t think I’m a very good singer! And I think the film makes me look more fluent in Nepali than I actually am!

I taught myself Nepali on the internet about two years ago in preparation for another project — I wanted to swear to noble silence in the Himalayas. It took me about two to three weeks to learn Nepali at first, using YouTube and the internet, and when I got to Nepal, I wasn’t too great. After swearing to silence for nearly two weeks (in Vipassana), I came out and could somehow understand Nepali better. 

I guess my mind was sharper. 

I remained in Nepal for nearly three months that first time and returned again over the summer. A few months later, I came back for my third time and to attempt to work as a Porter. My language had definitely improved as I had been taught and learned much by and from people over my time in Nepal before. 

5) Were you as fast and as strong as the Tamang Porters? 

No! Not even close. And I’m not sure I would be even if I worked as a Porter for 20 years. Most of the time, I was in the back. Trailing behind. 

6) What was the best part of being a porter? 

I think other Porters know better what the best parts of being a Porter are!

For my experience, the best part for me was to live amongst others in a world so far from the one I grew up in. To understand and see a different perspective. And, to be honest, to see how much I could carry! And how strong the human body can be.

I love the challenge, but to Porters, it is their means of income and very different. I hopefully learned to recognize that now. In truth, I can’t answer this question for Porters. My experience is only unique to my experience. 

7) You heard the story of your fellow porters and their way of life. They work for 6 months as a porter and another 6 months as a farmer. What do you have to say about it?

There is still much I have to learn about the industry. Plus, I have not yet been a farmer in Nepal, so I don’t know what it is truly like to work as a Porter and then return to work as a farmer. I only know that it is quite hard to save money as a Porter.

8) (Don’t answer me if you think this question is wrong) How much did you earn? How much was the expense per day, and how much did you save? Did you get tips from your client?

We earned 1,500 rupees a day. We spent 700 rupees at the lower elevations. But as we climbed, prices rose and by Kala Patthar, we spent (I believe) over 2,000 rupees. So that day, we were losing money as we were working.

We each received $100 in dollars US in tips from our five clients combined. $300 US dollars in total. 

9) I am excited to know your next project. What are you planning on?

Ooh, I don’t want to make anything too public before it’s a go! But I hope something soon. I definitely have many ideas. And many hopes I would like to pursue. 

10) What would you suggest to the Nepal Government and Tourism board regarding the porter salary and other facilities? What can we do for the porters?

I think foreigners have a great responsibility in this issue and we all must work together to create sustainable change. Someone I spoke with passed on the idea of a certification program. The idea that companies could gain access to a fund of money if they meet certain requirements for their porters… Then that money could help improve Porter’s homes and livelihood. 

I think that is definitely a good idea. 

And the last question, 

Would you recommend this experience of being a porter to other people? (main reason being that they can genuinely understand hardship in life.)

I recommend that everyone in life take one day, just one day to follow around their brother, sister, mother or father. To repeat their actions, study their books, eat the same food, brush their teeth at the same time, sleep in the same bed, and live in the same conditions.

I think an experience like this can help you understand at least a fraction of what someone else feels. And that feeling, whether you want to call it empathy or something else, may help you better guide your own life, because now you know what you might want if you were someone else. 

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Once again, I would like to thank Nate for his wonderful work. And for his time sharing his experience with me. I genuinely am thankful to him for everything. And wish him all the good luck for his next project and beautiful life.

“Nate, You are an amazing person. Derai ramro video 🙂 Ekdamai mann paryo. Tapai lai derai derai dhanyabaad. Mero sathi haru sabai lai mann paryo, ekdamai touched. Dhanyabad. Namaste.”

(Image Credit: Nate Mennigner and Babin Dulal)

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