Lhakpa Sherpa, a Nepalese woman, broke her record by climbing Mount Everest for the tenth time on May 12, 2022, at 6:03 a.m., becoming the most successful female climber ever. She and several other climbers took advantage of the favorable weather to reach the summit of 8,849 meters (29,032 feet). According to her brother and expedition organizer Mingma Gelu, she was in good health and could descend from the peak safely.
Early life as a Sherpa
She was born in a village more than 4,000m (13,000ft) above sea level in eastern Nepal’s Makalu region. She belongs to the Sherpa ethnic group, which is descended from nomadic Tibetans who are accustomed to living in hostile high altitudes.
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“I grew up right next to Mount Everest,” she explained. “I could see it from my house, and Everest never ceases to inspire and excite me.”
Since the mountain’s first ascent in 1953, an increasing number of people have attempted to scale the peak each year. Those who do so almost always hire Sherpa guides and porters.
Indigenous groups have long lived in the valleys of the Himalayan mountains. The Sherpa people are the most well-known of these. The term “Sherpa” is frequently used to refer to a mountain guide, but it refers to an ethnic group. The Sherpas have valuable mountain climbing experiences they can share with other climbers.
Without the Sherpas’ logistical assistance and knowledge, most Everest climbs would be impossible. Their way of life, however, extends beyond assisting Everest climbers. Their traditional way of life included farming, herding, and trade. They are also accustomed to low oxygen levels because they live at such a high altitude all year.
Some Sherpas, however, such as Lhakpa, set out to become mountaineers in their own right. It was a difficult transition. Lhakpa’s parents did not support her. “My mum said I would never get married,” she told the BBC. “She warned me that I would become too masculine and undesirable. The villagers told me it’s a man’s job, and I would die if I tried it.”
Achievements in climbing Everest
She ignored those doubts and reached Everest’s highest ridge in 2000. She became the first woman to climb Everest three times in 2003, and more records followed.
During her 2003 climb, she was joined by her brother and sister, making her the first person to climb an 8,000-meter mountain with three siblings. The Guinness Book of World Records recognized the achievement.
She went on to marry US-based Romanian-born climber George Dijmarescu and climbed the peak five times with him. She moved to the United States after marrying, but the marriage ended in divorce in 2015. During her first expeditions, she planted the Nepali flag at the summit. She was carrying the American flag this time.
Her accomplishments, however, did not garner media attention or sponsorship. So, for many years, she went unnoticed and worked for minimum wages.
A passion for the climb
“My jobs included taking care of the elderly, house cleaning, and dishwashing,” she said. “I didn’t make much money. I couldn’t afford to buy clothes or pay for haircuts. So I just had to focus on caring for my children and then hope I had enough to return to Everest.”
She did, however, continue to enjoy climbing. She went up twice as a guide; sometimes, friends and family contributed to her expenses. Mountaineering was “not very rewarding compared to the risks involved,” she admitted, but she believes it helped her escape a mundane life in the village.
After she learned to speak English well, her financial situation improved. She did interviews and spoke at various events. Finally, she found a sponsor for her ninth summit ascent. Then, for the tenth time, she raised funds through crowdfunding.
Climb to the top
Lhakpa always begins her voyage with a traditional prayer. Her number one priority is safety. Lhakpa and her team have to walk by ice-preserved bodies since more than 300 individuals have perished while attempting to climb Mount Everest.
“The mountain decides the weather,” she said. “During bad weather, I would just wait. Unfortunately, we can’t wrestle a mountain.”
“Past 8,000 meters, I feel like a zombie,” she said. “You can’t eat, and everything is frozen. You have to climb at night so that you can descend from the summit in the daylight. It’s scary.”
There isn’t much time for climbers at the summit. Lhakpa only has five to ten minutes, which is just enough time to snap a few photos and think about all the individuals that support her climbs.
An inspirational woman
After this season, she aspires to climb K2, the second-highest peak in the world. Because “mountain climbing is my passion, and this is what I want to accomplish,” she is also considering conquering Everest in the future with her son and children.
“I’ve had a challenging life,” she added. “Mountains made me happy and relaxed. I will never give up. I want young women not to give up.”