EXTREME Exclusive: Lhakpa Sherpa
Mountaineering pioneer and nine-time Everest summiteer, Lhakpa Sherpa, talks with EXTREME about her upcoming expedition to once again reach the top of the world and the challenges she has faced in funding her world record breaking achievements.
Sherpa. The name carries a reputation and heritage that is shrouded in bravery, commitment and physical robustness. Lhakpa Sherpa’s achievements prove that she is no exception. Growing up in Balakharka, a village in the Makalu region of the Nepalese Himalayas, she experienced first-hand the plight of her people and takes enormous pride in their incredible history.
Having moved to the United States in 2002, Lhakpa now works multiple jobs and, as a single parent, she carries the name Sherpa wherever she goes through her work rate and commitment to her three children.
As one of eleven children herself, five of whom have summited Everest, mountaineering is in her blood. On 16th May 2000, she became the first Nepali woman to summit Everest and survive. EXTREME caught up with her to understand where her passion comes from and how she has found peace in the most dangerous environment on the planet...
EXTREME: Lhakpa, where do we start?! You’ve climbed Mt Everest 9 times, the most of any woman in the history. What is it about the mountains, and particularly Everest that keeps pulling you back?
Lhakpa: When I was a child, I had no electricity. Growing up in Balakharka I was surrounded by beautiful mountains, and I fell in love with their beauty at a very young age. There is something so pure and enchanting about them. I would look at the mountains and wonder what kind of people lived on the other side of the mountains. I loved spending all my time outdoors and as I grew older, I became addicted to climbing mountains. It is hard to replicate that feeling in today’s world of technology.
EXTREME: Growing up in Nepal, was it always a dream to climb Everest? How did you end up living in America?
Lhakpa: I began climbing in the same way many of my siblings and cousins did, helping an uncle move equipment for tourists on Makalu at 15, serving as a kitchen hand and porter. I have always wanted to climb every mountain possible, including Everest. Even though it is the tallest, there are so many that offer different challenges. I came to America in 2002 so that I can live a better life and to learn new things within a different culture.
EXTREME: Clearly climbing the world’s highest mountains doesn’t come without risks. Do you think the elements of risk and fear increase your performance in the mountains?
Lhakpa: I would say the risk is part of the challenge! Nothing is easy when you are 8,000 metres up and even taking a few steps can be exhausting. Staying focused on the task is so important because one lapse in concentration could result in something awfully bad happening. There are many dangers; avalanches, crevasses, falls, the thin air, the list is endless, and it certainly does motivate me to make no mistakes while climbing. I go but I know that I will come home, I must come home.
EXTREME: How do you go about training your mind and body for an expedition? Do you follow a strict training regime?
Lhakpa: I work at Whole Foods where I wash dishes. My job requires to be on my feet all day and lift heavy things. I work hard and try to do as much hours as I can. On my days off, I enjoy going hiking as much as I can. That’s pretty much the extent of my training. I would have to train more if I worked in an office or on a computer all day.
EXTREME: How does it feel to stand on top of the world and of your 9 ascents, are there any that stand out as being the most memorable?
Lhakpa: I feel incredibly happy at the summit but as soon as I get there, I start thinking about how to get down safely as the descent is notoriously more dangerous than the ascent. My first summit is definitely the most memorable, I became the first Nepalese woman to summit Everest and survive. I was so excited! I felt like a champion! I felt like I won gold at the Olympics!
EXTREME: How do you fund your expeditions? Do you have sponsors who support you?
Lhakpa: I fund my expeditions by working retail jobs. As a native to the Himalayans in Nepal, my climbing cost is much less than a foreign tourist in regards to Everest. I have had sponsors in the past, but I have none currently. I am always searching for sponsors and hope that good people can reach out to me. Recently I started crowdfunding at golhakpa.com but I now require additional funds if I want to successfully summit K2. I also fund my expeditions by doing talks at schools, libraries and conferences. I am always happy to share my stories and inspire others so please reach out to me on my Facebook or Instagram pages!
EXTREME: What do you get up to when you’re not climbing?
Lhakpa: I love hiking and cooking. These are my passions.
EXTREME: What are your next goals? Do you aim to conquer more of the world’s highest mountains?
Lhakpa: My next goal is to summit Everest for the 10th time in May 2022 and then K2 in July 2022. I would also like to find more clients to build up my guiding business Cloudscape Climbing. We now have an official website where you can find more information about my life and guiding at cloudscapeclimbing.com.
EXTREME: Is there an added level of pressure when guiding clients? Do you feel a duty to bring more awareness to the work that Sherpas do in helping people achieve their dreams?
Lhakpa: There is definitely more pressure while guiding. I have to take care of the clients and do everything I can to make sure they are successful and don’t get hurt. People at high altitude can be very unpredictable since the thin air affects their brains. I do feel a duty to raise more awareness about Sherpas and their work. Without them there would only be a fraction of the number of successful summits. You must know the mountain, understand weather patterns and always be looking one step ahead.