Lhakpa Sherpa: What I’ve Learned
Lhakpa Sherpa: Female world-record holder for climbing Everest nine times; mountain guide, single mother; Hartford, Connecticut.
I was the first Nepali woman to climb Everest and survive [May 18, 2000]. I estimate my age based on the information I heard from my family. I wasn’t born in a hospital. I have no birth certificate, and when I was a child, Sherpa people did not celebrate birthdays. Now the young generations do.
My father was a traveling merchant. As a child, I traveled to villages far and wide with him, sometimes trekking for up to a month through mountainous terrain. I have four brothers. One of my older brothers taught me how to hike with groups of people.
When I was 15, I worked as a porter. I would deliver supplies to base camps. At the time, it was uncommon for a girl to be a porter. I wanted to challenge boys doing that job. I told my family that I wanted to make my own money. So I set out to prove to everyone that I could handle carrying heavy loads. People told me that it was a man’s job, that no one would want to marry me.
They told me to stay home, but I really wanted to spend all my time outside. If I listened to them, I wouldn’t have gotten into mountain climbing. … I’d be stuck at home on a potato farm with 15 children.
I learned about survival, like where to walk safely and to go long periods without eating.
Trust is very important in taking care of each other. You must be careful when deciding who to trust.
The Khumbu Icefall is incredibly dangerous. We have to pass through the Icefall very quietly so as not to disturb the ice. No music. We have to be gentle. The ice cracks and crumbles all around you. One must walk through it peacefully.
I learned that my abilities can show that Nepali women can enjoy the outdoors. When Pasang Lhamu died [the first Nepali woman to climb Everest, in 1993, Pasang Lhamu died on the descent], women were terrified to climb. When I first summited Everest, women became less scared. Now many Nepali women follow my footsteps.
Being two months pregnant [on Everest] or climbing eight months after having a baby didn’t really change the climb. It felt the same. I do worry about my kids every time I climb.
I came to the United States for a shot at a better life. I wanted to live in a free country. I learned how to give my children an education and how to deal with American teenage daughters.
Last year I took them to Makalu Base Camp. I learned that despite being born somewhere completely different, they are capable of trekking for weeks in the mountains. Many of my family members didn’t believe that they could make it, but they proved them wrong.
I worked at Whole Foods as a dishwasher. I quit [in spring] to climb Everest for my 10th summit (cloudscapeclimbing.com). I quit right before the pandemic, which was unfortunate. Everest got canceled about two weeks later.
I told my daughters not to compare themselves to other people. All that matters is to follow what’s in your heart. It’s important to be your own leader.
This interview with Lhakpa Sherpa appeared in Rock and Ice issue 265 (September 2020).