The most recognized name associated with climbing Mount Everest only made it to the top once. Now that Apa Sherpa has made it 20 times — breaking his own world record the past 10 — what honor awaits the native of Nepal and adopted Utahn?
Apa made the summit of the 29,035-foot mountain at 8:34 p.m. Friday evening (MDT), climbing through the crowded Hillary Step — appropriately named after Sir Edmund Hillary — on the way.
Apa, who moved to the Salt Lake Valley in 2006, has made the summit the past nine years in a row and 20 of the past 21 years. The 5-foot-4, 120-pound and 50-year-old native Sherpa from the village of Thame once made a living guiding climbers to the top, but several years ago he gave up the guiding and started to use his status as the record holder to promote causes close to his heart.
“I am thankful to have been able to climb Mount Everest for the 20th time,” Apa said in a prepared statement. “I climbed this year to raise awareness about the Apa Sherpa Foundation, which is dedicated to increasing educational opportunities for people in the Himalayan Region. I also climbed to bring attention to the damage done to the Himalayas because of global climate change.”
Back home in Draper, Apa’s family huddled around the Internet like people across the world following his progress on Twitter (@ApaSherpa), Facebook (Apa Sherpa) and through his blog (apasherpa.com).
“We just saw it posted. I am very happy he has made it once again,” said Tenjing Sherpa, Apa’s oldest child. “We are very proud of him. It is amazing he has done it 20 times.”
The family laughed with relief when a first post on his Twitter account read “Now, we will have a party at base camp, then a party at Kathmandu, and then a party in Utah. Woo hoo!”
That Tweet was quickly followed by another “But first, I’m going to get some sleep.”
Chances are his family will not sleep until he has made it back down to at least Camp 4 for some well-deserved sleep.
In the days leading up to his summit, Apa helped other climbers in base camp remove three bodies long buried in the Khumbu Ice Fall. It was part of the continuing effort of the Eco Everest Expedition to remove oxygen bottles, litter and human waste from the mountain.
Apa was highly honored to be asked to carry some of the ashes of the departed Sir Edmund Hillary, who, along with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, reached the top of Everest on May 29, 1953.
But Buddhist lamas decided spreading human ashes on the top would not be a good idea. Hillary’s ashes are now resting in a monastery in the Khumbu region of the Himalayan Highlands.
Last year Apa carried a sacred vase called a Bhumpa to the top of Everest. The vase — filled with holy relics, medicinal plants and spiritual elements — had been blessed by a high-ranking Buddhist monk and placed on the summit to help restore the mountain’s ability to provide protective powers over mankind.
Is No. 20 the end? Apa never makes these decisions until he is back home with his family. But 20 may be just the landmark number to hang up his ice axe and crampons.
It has never been about the records for Apa, just the chance to make a living and do the right thing with the responsibility of making it to the highest point of the planet more than any other human. There are others eager to take on the burden. A fellow Sherpa from his home village of Thame made it to the summit for the 18th time earlier this week and will try again before the end of May.
Apa Sherpa’s summits of Mount Everest
1. May 10, 1990
2. May 8, 1991
3. May 12, 1992
4. Oct. 7, 1992
5. May 10, 1993
6. Oct. 10, 1994
7. May 15, 1995
8. April 26, 1997
9. May 20, 1998
10. May 26, 1999
11. May 24, 2000
12. May 16, 2002
13. May 26, 2003
14. May 17, 2004
15. May 31, 2005
16. May 19, 2006
17. May 16, 2007
18. May 22, 2008
19. May 21, 2009
20. May 22, 2010