Feature: Record-holding Sherpa not climbing Himalayas for 1st time in 30 years amid Nepal's lockdown

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, April 21, 2020
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by Shristi Kafle

KATHMANDU, April 21 (Xinhua) -- April to May is the major mountain expedition season in Nepal when hundreds of climbers from across the world and Sherpa guides gather in the towering Himalayas.

During this time, like many, Kami Rita Sherpa, who holds a record for the most ascents at 24 times of the world's highest peak Mount Qomolangma, would usually be around the mountain providing guidance and training to his clients, mostly foreign climbers. Sherpa was also eyeing a new record 25th summit this year.

But the coronavirus pandemic has forced the 50-year-old Sherpa to be locked inside his rented apartment in the capital of Kathmandu, far from the touch of the snow and icy breeze of Mt. Qomolangma.

"This the first time in my career of more than 30 years mountaineering that I am not in mountains in the spring season. If it weren't for the pandemic, I would be setting up Camp II of Qomolangma at this moment," Sherpa told Xinhua by video chat from his room recently.

Sherpa, who hails from Thame, a popular Sherpa village en-route to the base camp of Mt. Qomolangma, known as Sagarmatha in Nepalese, started his career in the mountains from the late 1980s. After climbing a few small peaks, he climbed the tallest peak in 1992 for the first time.

"There were no expeditions in Qomolangma in 2014 and 2015 due to a deadly avalanche and an earthquake respectively. Even in those spring seasons, I was at base camp surrounded by the mountains and engaged in rescue efforts," Sherpa told Xinhua.

"I never took a break in spring as it's the major time to work and earn in the mountains which sustains my livelihood," the seasoned climber, who is currently associated with Seven Summit Treks, added.

In the second week of March, the Nepali government decided to call off all spring expeditions in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. The country has been on a nationwide lockdown since March 24.

With this, Sherpa's routine has changed. There is no hurry to complete the acclimatization process with his clients, worry about the bad weather or anticipate the summit day. Instead, Sherpa has been spending his leisure time with his wife and two children inside their home.

"I learned the Tibetan language in my childhood in a nearby monastery as the regular school was a three-hour walk from my home. These days, I am reading various books written in the Tibetan language," he told Xinhua, adding that he also regularly talks with his friends and clients.

The record-holding climber did not have any specific plans for the post-lockdown period, but expressed hope to be back in the mountains again in the autumn season, if not, the following year's spring.

"COVID-19 has affected the entire world, but I feel the tourism industry of Nepal has been particularly hard hit as tourism is one of the major revenue generating sources for the economy. As hundreds of people working in the mountains have been left jobless, I feel sad," Sherpa said.

Lakpa Sherpa, a young but seasoned climber, who runs an expedition and trekking company called Pioneer Adventure, felt dejected about the cancellation of all the spring expeditions resulting in a huge loss to the country's tourism industry.

"I had at least 20 clients for Qomolangma and other mountains and many trekking groups booked. Since everything is cancelled, I have returned the advance payments to most of my foreign clients and given leave to my staff," Lakpa told Xinhua.

At a time when many concerns have been raised about the employment situation of mountain guides and workers in particular, Lakpa, who has reached the top of the world's tallest mountain seven times already, believed that they can sustain their livelihood for the time being.

"The situation is not that miserable. No work and no earnings for one season doesn't mean mountain workers will die of starvation. The mountains are there, we can work again next season," he told Xinhua, adding that for now, it's important to support the government's lockdown.

To utilize the lockdown period, Nepal's mountaineering authority had suggested that the government clean up the highest peak and other tall mountains with the help of the mountain guides, but it had not received approval yet.

"We are trying to mobilize at least 1,000 guides and workers in activities like mountain cleaning and trekking trail maintenance during the lockdown period. We have discussed this with the tourism minister and other stakeholders and hope they will provide their consent soon," Santa Bir Lama, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, told Xinhua. Enditem

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