World’s most dangerous job: A Sherpa on Everest

One of the most experienced Sherpas to ever scale Everest, Lakpa Rita talks misconceptions, being buried alive and why clients just don’t listen.

Lakpa Rita Sherpa has been climbing since he was 18 years old and is known today, some 30 years later, as the ‘Best Sirdar in the Khumbu’. In other words, if you want to get up a huge mountain and down again and live to tell the tale, he’s the man to call. Under his leadership, 253 climbers have reached the summit of Everest on over 23 expeditions (including British Adventurer Kenton Cool) and is the first Sherpa to climb the highest peak on all seven continents.

Lakpa Rita Sherpa

Photo © Sherpa Adventure Gear

It’s also not a career without risks, clearly. One third of the hundreds of people who have perished while trying to conquer Everest have been Sherpas.

Pulling no punches, here Lakpa Rita reveals all about difficult clients, the best preparation and why there are no certainties when mounting the world’s highest peak.

We spend eight months of the year away from our families

“For me, my work is climbing, and I will be on a mountain more than eight months of the year. All Sherpas miss a lot and get homesick for our families and friends; but this is what I do, and I am always focusing on what I am doing. As we say, one step at time – we do not think too far ahead.”

Nobody listens to you

“It is always tough to guide people up a mountain, no matter who it is you are guiding. The hardest part is that often people will not listen to you. We will tell them that the most important things on a climb are self care, being honest with yourself and your guide, and not pushing so hard that you risk injury. While we are advising all of this, they seem like they’re listening and taking it all in, but often it goes in through one ear and out the other.”

We’ve prepared all our lives for this

“When I was younger, we did not have access to cars, so we had to walk for miles and miles to get supplies. This would then mean carrying heavy loads home on our backs. I would also walk to my school every day, which took four hours each way. All of these have combined throughout the years to build up my physical strength.

“While I was growing up, mountaineering was not as commercialised as it is today, but there are a few well known climbers from my home town of Thame, including Ang Rita who summited 10 times without any O2 supply, Ang Dorjee who summited Everest several times and who also guided Bachendri Pal [the first Indian woman to climb Everest]. Sir Edmund Hillary would visit our school every two to three years. Since then, I have always wanted to climb Everest.”

Avalanches are sometimes unavoidable

“Sometimes you can simply not avoid avalanches. The worst hazard is when climbing in strong winds and stormy weather. If you can, you’d avoid these conditions by simply not climbing. But if not there isn’t much you can do if something comes down right above you. I have been buried in an avalanche three times: first on Everest in 1984, my first expedition to Everest. The second and third times were both on Manaslu in 1986 and 2012, when we were buried in our tents.”

We’re not superhuman

“I am not allowed to climb without O2 when I am guiding on Everest, so for all my climbs on Everest, I always carry O2. But I have guided other 8,000m peaks without O2. I am not sure whether this will have a bad effect on the sport.”

Most clients have no clue what goes on behind the scenes

“We do not have much time to get to know our customers because we are always working, carrying loads up and down, fixing the route and setting up the camps. The clients do not see all of this hard work we do to get ready for them. Clients think that climbing Everest is easy, so often they do not give the Sherpa much appreciation. Avoid overloading your Sherpas. Take time to learn how many trips Sherpas have to go through in these dangerous conditions, learn about their family and be generous with their work by trying to help them.”

Here’s how first-timers can prepare

“There are many ways to prepare for a climb. First, you need to take a mountaineering course to get your climbing skills. Once you know how to climb, you can get yourself in shape in the gym by working on your cardio, running and lifting weights. Then you can train outside on a hill, carrying heavy packs and hiking four to five hours a day. You will also need to build up your climbing skills on a smaller mountain. As you begin to know and learn more, you can start climbing something bigger and bigger each time so you know how well you do in each environment.”

Source: Red Bull

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