Like many Nepalese guides, Apa Sherpa started trekking to the top of Mount Everest in the shadow of more famous climbers — including the son of the late Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to climb to the top of the world’s tallest peak.
But the 49-year-old Nepali — who now lives in the United States — on Thursday morning became the only person in the world to summit Everest 19 times. Apa says his goals in climbing the 29,029-foot (8,848-meter) mountain have nothing to do with setting the world record for Everest summits, a title he has held since 1998. “Up to the 17th time in 2007 I climbed as a professional, as part of my occupation,” Apa said, according to the Web site tracking the progress of his most recent expedition. “But last year I climbed to raise funds for a school in Thame, my village on the foot of Everest.” In addition to raising money for Nepali schoolkids, Apa also plans to remove more than two tons of garbage from Everest. Over the past 55 years, some 2,000 mountaineers have climbed the peak, leaving behind a trail of trash that includes oxygen bottles, food cans, gas cylinders, paper, plastic and even tents.
Apa’s ‘Super Sherpas’ Web site
Everest — known by Nepalis as Sagarmatha — is considered sacred by the Nepalese people, and is worshipped as a goddess of wealth and power by the Sherpas, the inhabitants of the Everest region. Apa comes from the famed Sherpa community of mountain guides, who work as porters and climbing guides for mountaineers from all over the world. While Everest is not considered the most technically challenging climb by experienced mountaineers, the world’s highest peak attracts an array of climbers who spend tens of thousands of dollars for the chance to make it to the top. However, the mountain is deadly for many climbers: More than 200 people have died trying to scale Everest. Apa began working as an expedition porter for Everest climbers to earn money after his father died when he was 12 years old, according to his biography on his team’s Web site, SuperSherpas.com. Many of the mountaineers noticed the young Sherpa who, despite his small size, was able to carry large loads “with strength, quickness and a wide smile,” according to his biography. But it wasn’t until he was about 30 years old that Apa began climbing Everest as a guide. He made it to the top in 1990 with a team that included Peter Hillary, whose father first summited the peak along Tenzing Norgay Sherpa in 1953. That team also included Rob Hall, a New Zealander who lost his life on the mountain in 1996, the deadliest season for climbers in Everest’s history. Eight climbers, including Hall, died trying to summit the peak on May 11, 1996, known as the “Everest disaster.” The incident highlighted the pressure that mountaineering companies face when their clients — who have paid as much as $60,000 — want to make it to the top despite foreboding weather and their lack of experience. Hall had asked Apa several times during the 1996 season to work for him, but Apa refused in order to be with his family, according to Everestnews.com. Apa reached Everest’s peak for the 19th time at 8 a.m. local time on Thursday, announcing over a crackling radio, “I am at the top and looking at all the prayer flags,” according to the Web site tracking his progress. “I have just satisfied the deities and placed the Bhumpa on the summit.” He was referring to an 8-inch-tall copper vase which is considered sacred and contains 400 elements, including precious metals, Buddhist relics, shreds of robes worn by venerated monks, holy water, and soil. Last month, Apa said that putting the vase on the mountain would be a prayer for world peace and prosperity. After spending 30 minutes at the top, he headed down. “It is so cold here … I am heading down.” Crowds of climbers forced Apa to delay his ascent to the summit by an hour. May is considered the ideal time to try to reach the top of Everest, and Nepali tourism authorities said 98 people had climbed the mountain on Tuesday and Wednesday from the south side. Apa currently lives near Salt Lake City, Utah, where he works as a climbing instructor and gives lectures. He has three children — two sons, ages 23 and 18, and a 14-year-old daughter. He has said he does not want his children to follow in his footsteps as a climber. His SuperSherpas team has raised $30,000 to educate the children of Nepal, and Apa hopes that his climbing successes will continue to raise more money for the impoverished Himalayan country. “I never had a plan to make a record,” Apa told The Salt Lake Tribune last month before leaving for Nepal. “I never had that as a dream. It just keeps happening.”