I, like my grandfather, am passionate about climbing and about the mountains and in particular about one mountain – Chomolungma….Everest. This great peak is like a member of my family and I have always felt we have a special relationship with her. She has not always been kind to us and she has tested our deep faith to its limits. Seven times my grandfather Tenzing, tried to reach the summit and only once did she permit it. She was more lenient on me for I reached the top on my second attempt but she gave way only after extracting the ultimate price – the life a much loved family member.
I believe that Everest and the peaks of the Khumbu region of Nepal belong to my Sherpa people. Our spirits dwell on them and our devotion to them is deep and eternal. Before foreigners came to the Himalaya and discovered this greatest of mountain ranges we lived in harmony with these towering giants and while they sometimes demanded sacrifice they always offered us a livelihood, however meagre and protection from the world beyond their icy flanks.
With the coming of foreigners and the opening up of the Himalayan region to all, the Sherpa world began to rapidly change. The peaks beneath which my people had been born, lived, worked, played, sung, danced and died were no longer only ours but became open to all who sought the ultimate challenge – the top of the world.
This quest was quite alien to us – it was foolhardy and pointless. Yet in time it was to absorb us and change us irrevocably. This has been good and it has had negative effects. Life was unquestionably hard in the old days of isolation and subsistence and the opportunities which came with the foreigners and the advent of Everest climbing brought unimaginable levels of wealth and affluence to these high, wild valleys. Where once we lost our people to illness and poor harvests we now have wonderful medical facilities, schools and food aplenty. However that which we held so true before this change – a deeply ingrained sense of tradition, cultural strength and a family and social structure which held all of this together – is now being weakened and slowly dismantled by the intrusion of a life which offers comparatively so much more excitement, comfort and variety to our young people.
Yet we Sherpas are tough people – we adapt well and quickly and I feel confident that we will survive this transformation with our culture and our ancient values intact.
The story of Sherpas on Everest is a story of such strength and courage – both physical and spiritual. To the world at large the Sherpas of the great Himalayan expeditions were faithful, strong and reliable climbers and load carriers. They were the backbone of an expedition and its success relied largely on them being able to function well at the great heights to which they had such natural adaptation. However, because of barriers of racial attitudes and language and due to their own lack of ambition in this mountaineering world Sherpas were never seen as central players on the Everest stage.
My grandfather changed this image completely. He was illiterate and spent his childhood and youth unexposed to any world other than that of his own people. Yet in him burned a desire and dream which was quite alien to his own race - that of climbing Chomolungma. He knew not how it was done but felt that he had in him the power to succeed. The coming of the big Everest expeditions paved the way for the extraordinary dream of this exceptional Sherpa boy to become reality.
This book is about my Sherpa people and for them.
It is about those great old Sherpa climbers of the early days of Everest who held no dreams of glory or summit success but who climbed bravely and selflessly for decades to help others in their quest. It is for my family who have achieved much in the field of mountaineering and in other, now far more diverse fields. It is for the young Sherpas who today wear the laurels of Everest success as easily as any foreign climber. Indeed Sherpas currently hold most of the major “records” on Everest
- First to reach the summit (Tenzing Norgay with Edmund Hillary)
- First person to climb Everest twice (Nawang Gombu 1963, 1965)
- Climbed Everest most number of times (Apa Sherpa – 11 times)
- Fastest ascent time (Babu Chiri Sherpa – Base Camp to summit in 16 hours 56 mins on 21 May, 2000)
- Youngest person to summit Everest (Dikki Dolma – Indo Nepalese Women’s Expedition 1993 – aged 19)
- First time a 3rd generation member of one family has climbed Everest (Tashi Tenzing – May 23, 1997)
This book is about Tenzing and the Sherpas of Everest – it is about climbers, doctors, porters, teachers, businesspeople, nomads, hoteliers, holders of elite administrative posts at home and abroad, traders and yak herders. It is written to give all Sherpas the recognition and credit they have so longed deserved. It is written to disperse the veil of anonymity which they have worn for most of the past century. It is written to expose their weaknesses and problems and explain the challenges they have faced and still encounter.
Primarily it is written to honour the Sherpas – a people of great strength and spirituality, of intelligence and good humour and a people whose loyalty and personal integrity have earned them a reputation world-wide to equal that of the great mountain beneath which they dwell – Chomolungma … Everest.