Saturday 25 May 2019

‘Queen of Everest’ aiming for ninth successful trip to top of the world

Nepal-born Lhakpa Sherpa, who works as a dishwasher in the US, has already scaled the world’s highest mountain more times than any woman.

General view of Mount Everest and the Himalayas (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
General view of Mount Everest and the Himalayas (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

By Pat Eaton-Robb

A US-based dishwasher is determined to live up to her reputation as the “Queen of Everest” by scaling the world’s highest mountain for the ninth time.

Lhakpa Sherpa, who was born in Nepal, already holds the record for a woman of eight ascents and is determined to be on cloud nine when she tackles the Himalayan giant again.

Between raising her children and working as a dishwasher at Whole Foods in the US state of Connecticut, the 44-year-old does not have much time to train for her annual trip to the top of the world.

She returns to Nepal this month for what has become an annual expedition to Everest.

Mountain climber Lhakpa Sherpa prepares to start her shift as a dishwasher at the Whole Foods Market in West Hartford, Connecticut (Pat Eaton-Robb/PA)

“My body knows that I have already been this high. It’s like a computer,” she said.

“It figures it out very quickly. My body knows the high altitude. It remembers.”

Lhakpa Sherpa is recognised by Guinness World Records and is well known in mountaineering circles, but she spends most of the year living a modest life in obscurity in Connecticut, where she moved with her now ex-husband, another well-known climber, in 2002.

She gets up most days at 6am to walk her two daughters, 16-year-old Sunny and 11-year-old Shiny, to school.

Then, because she does not know how to drive, she often walks the two miles to her job, where she washes dishes in the prepared foods section and takes out the rubbish.

“You would never know she hiked Everest unless you knew her and talked to her about it,” says Dan Furtado, the manager who hired Ms Lhakpa at Whole Foods.

Everest Base Camp, Nepal (David Cheskin/PA)

“She’s the most humble person I know, and her work ethic is astounding.”

Ms Lhakpa says that she would have liked to be a doctor or an airplane pilot, but that as a girl growing up in the Sherpa ethnic community with her four brothers and seven sisters, she was not allowed to attend school.

Without a formal education, she has taken jobs in Connecticut cleaning houses, as a clerk at a local convenience store and as a dishwasher to give her daughters and now-grown son a chance at a better life in the United States, she said.

“My rent is expensive here,” she said. “But this is where the best schools are.”

Ms Lhakpa said she is used to overcoming adversity.

Sherpa girls were discouraged from climbing, but she was a tomboy and would not be deterred from helping the men in her family, serving as a porter to bring gear to Everest base camps.

Lhakpa Sherpa works as a dishwasher and is a mother of two (Pat Eaton-Robb/AP)

Becoming a climber was harder, she said, especially after the first Nepali woman to reach the summit, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, died on her way down the mountain in 1993.

Ms Lhakpa joined an expedition of five women in 2000 who convinced the government to give them a permit.

She was the first Nepali woman to reach the summit and return alive.

The record for successful climbs to the top of Everest is 21, shared by three Sherpa men who worked as mountain guides.

Two have retired from climbing, but the third, Kami Rita, said he was heading to Everest to attempt his 22nd climb.

I climb for all women Lhakpa Sherpa

Ms Lhakpa said: “I wanted to show that a woman can do men’s jobs.

“There is no difference in climbing a mountain. I climb for all women.”

Ms Lhakpa said she does have some fears about climbing, especially who would take care of her daughters if there were an accident on Everest.

She was at a camp in 2015 when an earthquake triggered avalanches that killed 19 people on Everest.

Her daughter Shiny says it was a week before they received the phone call telling them their mother was OK.

Press Association

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