The Who’s Who of Sherpa Life

You’ve probably had a memorable moment when meeting someone who has achieved greatness. Depending on your idea of greatness, it could be a superstar or a musician or athlete. But because of the circles of people I know, in the outdoor industry, my experience with the Sherpa culture, and my trips to Nepal, most of the celebrities I meet are climbers and mountaineers.

This past weekend was Sherpa Losar (New Year) in Seattle. The Sherpa calendar follows moon cycles, so there is a specific date when it starts, but deciding when to celebrate it is pretty subjective.

Because it’s the largest gathering of Sherpas in our area, I love to go to say hi to everyone I’ve seen and not seen in previous years. Besides, Sherpas know how to throw a party. I contacted my dearest friends to see when they would arrive – also something that varies a lot – Nepali parties tend go for about 12 hours on average – and I asked them to save me and my hubby a spot at their table. Several hours later, as the second round of dinner was served, I was slightly in awe of the people who were sitting with us, so I asked for a photo. If you count the total number of Everest summits among them it was dozens.

It’s still funny when I think about it: most people don’t know anyone who has ever climbed Mt Everest, and this room was humming with those who have not only climbed it, but made its history. Among them was Tenzing Norgay’s son, Norbu who was visiting from California. He was flanked by a couple of high power business folks – AC (the subject of my book, Song of Chomoungma) and Pemba, a successful business owner from Denver.

Our host for the evening was Lakpa Rita – the most senior Sherpa guide on Everest in recent years. He is one of my favorite people because for me he epitomizes a life well-lived. I could write a whole book on my thoughts about Lakpa Rita, but I’ll sum it up here by saying, he is the most humble, grateful and heroic person I know. And I know a lot of Sherpas. In all of the disasters on Everest, Lakpa Rita has been there, directing, assisting, and being first to rescue survivors and recover victims. He’s a week from heading back to Everest for the beginning of the 2018 climbing season, which he has done every year since 1986. This night, however, he was celebrating, and stopped by a few times to chat with me and the other members of the table, after welcoming us in the door.

Then an older woman passed the table and I asked AC who she was, “I recognize her but can’t place her,” I said. AC shrugged and asked the Sherpa next to him, in Nepali, of course. “Oh, he answered back to me… she owns Panorama Lodge in Namche. She is visiting her family here now for a wedding.” Of course! I’ve stayed there on my trips through Namche. I’ve taken photos there with her family. Her daughter was the nurse who took care of John when he fell ill. It’s all rolled together like a big ball of twine.

And on it goes. Pemba and I talk about flying, as he pilots his own small plane in the Denver area. I meet Dorjee, who is brother to the first Sherpa woman to summit Everest: Pasang Lhamu, who is nearly a saint in Nepal, immortalized in statues around Kathmandu. He sits at our table for a while before being whisked off to greet others. Throughout the evening I whispered to my husband, who was sitting quietly, enjoying the show and the food, to tell him who each of these amazing people are. It’s still pretty amazing each time I encounter these folks.