WNPR

Lhakpa Sherpa: The Queen Of Mount Everest

Aug 24, 2018

Whole Foods in West Hartford might seem like a pretty unremarkable place, but in fact, it employs one of the world’s greatest athletes. Lhakpa Sherpa is a record-setting mountaineer—the only woman to have reached the summit of Mount Everest nine times. Born and raised in Nepal, Sherpa always dreamed of climbing the world’s tallest mountain. She settled in Connecticut with her now-ex-husband, but she makes regular trips home. Next year, she’s looking to reach the peak for the tenth time.

 

Recently on Connecticut Public Radio’s Where We Live, Lucy Nalpathanchil interviewed Sherpa to learn how a humble dishwasher at the supermarket chain has lived an inspiring life as a mother, an immigrant, and a world record holder.

 

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On growing up in Nepal…

I was born at a high altitude. Since I was a baby—in my childhood—I just see this mountain around me. I never had anything nice, I never had a cell phone, but I see this mountain when my eyes open. And I love this mountain. My dad was also a guide for the mountain, for many tourists. And I would say, I want to follow them.

 

I have 7 sisters and four brothers, and my brothers are guides for tourists. In Nepal, girls didn’t go to school, so I helped my brothers carry many things. Four hours—two hours of walking to school and back, my mother send me to pick up my brothers, and I must go. I feel like I was a yellow school bus.

On when she wanted to become a climber…

Tourist comes and my dad wanted to show them—to guide them, hiking. And I wanted to go, and be like my dad. And my mom said, no. You are the woman. You must stay home and learn woman things—you need to be married. And I said no—this is not my job. I don’t want it. I want to go hiking, I want to explore myself. I don’t want to be a housewife. And my mom worried for me, she thought I would not find a man.

 

On how she became a porter and how it sparked her love for climbing…

I carry because I’m very strong, like my dad. I’m taller than my sisters so I could carry heavy things. My dad tested me, and I could follow his level of walking. So he took me. I wanted to feel my body, I wanted to test myself. I wanted to climb a mountain. I never went to school, I just wanted to learn about myself. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned myself, step-by-step. I write some letters to the government and they say, why do you want to go? And the prime minister’s daughter accepted. I said in my mind, for many, many years I want to summit Everest. I want to show that Nepalese women can do it. And I want to show them that all women can do it. A lot of women follow in my footsteps and that makes me very happy.

 

On dealing with the dangers of Everest…

Mountain Everest is very dangerous. This is something we can’t fight. Some avalanches will come, and we just have to accept them. But I’m lucky. In 2015, there was an earthquake in Nepal. I feel all the mountains coming my way. I feel like I wasn’t going to see my daughters again. It looked like the mountains were falling down. I survived but so many people died because mother nature happened. I accepted Mother Nature, but I came back in 2016 and I reached the summit.

 

On why she keeps returning back to Everest…

People who drink wine all the time, and never stop—I feel like that now. I feel all of Mt. Everest in my body. I need to go. If I don’t go, I feel like I’m sick. I feel like something hurt me. I need to go because Everest is my doctor. It makes me feel good.

 

On what her children think about her accomplishments…

Both of my daughters were born in Hartford, and even though my English is not so good, I feel like I am a Connecticut resident right now. I’m so happy to give my girls this education, and they need it. And I really want them to have a great education. They’re both very good girls and they’re very happy. But when I go to Everest they say, Momma, are you going again? No way! I’m scared! You can die. Who will watch us? And I look them in the face and I say, believe me, trust me, I’ll come back. I have the experience—many, many years. I’m very comfortable on that mountain. I’ll come back. I promise. And of course, I come back, and now they trust me. They have different dreams from me, and I tell them to follow their dreams.

 

On her next climb…

It takes two months to climb Everest. It’s a season. It comes once a year. The next season is coming in April/May next year. It’s a very good season because it’s spring. On April 10, I’m flying to Kathmandu and I’ll start climbing. On May 20 or 21, I’ll summit, but it depends on Everest weather. I feel like I need 10 [climbs]. I want the ten times. My dad, he told, eat healthy food, work hard and you’ll never die. And I believe in that.

 

For more on Sherpa’s experience, including her own climbing company, visit Cloudscape Climbing.

 

This is an edited interview from the August 24, 2018 episode of Where We Live. Listen to the entire show. Where We Live airs every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday at 9:00 am and 7:00 pm.