Ngim Chhamji Sherpa is not your typical Southern Utah college student. Sherpa, who hails from Nepal, is one of 36 Nepalese students who have enrolled at Southern Utah University. However, Sherpa possesses a unique distinction from her fellow students: She is the Guinness World Records holder for the youngest female ascent of Mount Everest (Sagarmatha to the Nepali people and Chomolungma to the Tibetan people who live at its base) from the southern side.
Sherpa was 16 when she climbed the highest mountain in the world, reaching the apex with her father around noon, May 19, 2012. She is now 20.
It took Sherpa around two months to climb the mountain.
According to Everest veteran Alan Arnette, the reason it takes so long is due entirely to the extreme altitude of Everest. It is impossible to climb anywhere near the summit without taking weeks and months to acclimate — the human body simply cannot adjust that quickly, so climbers make repeated, short trips to an increasingly higher-elevation set of camps, then return to base camp to rest.
Sherpa is used to big transitions. When she was young, her family moved from the tiny village of Sanam in the eastern part of Nepal to the sprawling city of Kathmandu. Her parents wanted better education opportunities for Sherpa and her brothers. Sherpa said that relocating 7,000 miles from Nepal to Southern Utah has been a mixed bag — challenging in some aspects and smooth in others.
“It’s completely different. The education system and the culture and the people, everyone’s so different. At first it was hard for me to adjust with the new environment,” Sherpa said. “I’m now totally adjusted with it. I’m just loving the environment of SUU and of Cedar City.”
Two things Sherpa misses from Nepal is food and family.
“The food, that’s one thing I’m really missing here,” she said, “and of course my family and friends.”
Her family worries about her, she said, especially her father. They keep in regular contact through the phone or Facebook.
“We are always in touch,” Sherpa said. “That always helps me. If I want to talk to him, I just call him and we always have a good conversation.”
Sherpa said that the people she has met have been both friendly and encouraging.
“The local people here are awesome,” she said. “The support … is overwhelming.”
A biology major, Sherpa said it is really important for her to graduate from SUU.
“A degree from here is really valuable and awesome,” she said.
SUU President Scott L. Wyatt said his own background as a mountaineer drew him to Sherpa’s story.
I appreciate being at SUU because it puts me in the middle of a community of brilliant people who have accomplished great things; people who are striving to be even better. Ngim Sherpa is one of the students who is an inspiration to me. I am confident she is an inspiration to the students and other university employees she associates with as well. We are honored she chose to study in Cedar City and we love having her here.
She has not done any mountaineering since her arrival in the United States, she said, but she wants to learn how to ski and plans on doing more climbing and hiking during the spring break.
Her ascent of Everest was a dream come true, she said, despite the hardships and struggles.
“It was a golden opportunity for me that I could get into a group of 11 people who were going to climb Everest. Fortunately everything was going well. It was exciting and a very new experience for me. It was amazing,” Sherpa said.
Sherpa’s father was not originally going to climb with her, but at the last minute decided to accompany her to the top. They ended up being the first father-daughter team to climb the mountain together.
“It was an incredible experience,” Sherpa said. “He was a climbing guide before, and has already climbed Everest three times, and the fourth time with me … at the final day he thought he would be the best person to go with me to the top.”
The mountains in the United States are largely unknown to her, but she does have in mind a mountain that she would like to climb in the future: K2 in Pakistan.
K2 is the second-tallest mountain in the world, topping out at 28,251 feet, but is regarded as one of the more serious, difficult and dangerous climbs in the world. In fact, according Arnette, only 4.14 percent of climbers who make the summit of Everest die. On K2, that ratio is more than 25 percent. Everest has seen more than 7,000 ascents, while K2 has only seen around 350.
“It’s going to be tough for me, but I just want to try once. I’m really looking forward to that,” Sherpa said.