'Super Sherpa' hangs up Everest boots after 21st summit

By Sudeshna Sarkar (IANS) | Published on Fri, May 27 2011 19:00 IST | 206 Views | Add comment
Kathmandu, May 27

The best-known Sherpa climber in the world after Tenzing Norgay Friday announced he was hanging up his Everest boots after having created an incredible record of having summited the world's highest peak 21 times.

"Old age is catching up," said Apa Sherpa, the wiry, legendary climber, looking just as he had done five years ago in his red Lacoste T-shirt.

"I risked my life and climbed Mt. Everest 21 times for my country. Now I give my best wishes to the younger climbers to carry on."

The 51-year-old said he was still fit and experienced no trouble while reaching the 8,848-metre peak this month as the climbing leader of the Eco Everest Expedition 2011 started by Kathmandu-based Asian Trekking since 2008.

"But how many times can I convince my family," said the climber also famous for his humbleness. "They don't want me to go on risking my life."

Born in remote, mountainous and disadvantaged Thame village in the foothills of the Himalayas, Apa was forced to become a porter when he was just 12 to provide for his family after his father died.

He climbed Mt. Everest first in 1990 and is considered to bring luck to the team he goes with due to his incredible record.

"Apa wanted to hang up his boots after his 17th summit (in 2007)," said Ang Tshering Sherpa, owner of Asian Trekking. "But then he met my son Dawa Steven and what Steven told him touched a chord in his heart."

In 2007, Dawa Steven Sherpa also summited Mt. Everest and was appalled by the growing human waste left on the mountain considered holy by the Sherpas.

"About 8,000 people go up the mountain every year and stay there for almost one and a half months," Ang Tshering said.

"The Everest became an open toilet, not just stinking but becoming an acute health hazard. Dawa wanted to remove the garbage and raise awareness and it touched Apa's heart."

In 1985, a lake above Apa's village home, that used to remain frozen earlier, suddenly burst, creating a deluge that destroyed the village.

"My family managed to escape with just a tarpaulin and a blanket," Apa said.

From 2008, he began taking part in the Eco Everest Expeditions conceived by Dawa to draw the world's attention also to global warming and its negative impacts on the mountains.

"When we were young, the lakes that were frozen are now full of melted water," Ang Tshering said.

"If these burst, there will be a tsunami on the mountains that will not just destroy the mountain villages but also impact the hills, the plains and even the coastal regions."

The Eco Everest expeditions have brought down over 14,000 kg of garbage so far, including food cans, tents, oxygen cylinders and part of a wrecked chopper.

Though Apa will not climb the mountain that brought him fame any more, he will, however, continue to take teams up to the base camp.

He migrated to the US, where he now lives in Salt Lake City, to provide quality education to his two children.

Now after having established his Apa Sherpa Foundation last year, his focus will be to take education to his village in Nepal where there is just one school.

The quiet legend with a ready smile had one sorrow as he announced his retirement.

"In India, the government gives promotions and other facilities to Everest summiters," he said, pointing at the six Indian climbers who had summited this year as part of his expedition.

"But in Nepal, the government never gave us any thought."

Though Sherpas are acknowledged to be the best natural climbers with inherent stamina to withstand high altitude and carry loads on the towering ranges, they also remain among the most disadvantaged in Nepal with Solukhumbu, their home district, lacking schools, hospitals and jobs.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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