Friend of Maldivians to climb Mount Everest
A young Sherpa, whose family has welcomed Maldivians in their house for years, is about to embark on his first Everest summit bid.
Springtime is in bloom in the Himalayan nation of Nepal, as days get longer and warmer. But spring is not only a time to spot rhododendrons, the national flower, it is also the preferred season to attempt to summit the highest mountain in the world.
Expeditions from around the world will already have started setting up tent at Mount Everest Base Camp (5,300 metres). And, hundreds of climbers will be hoping to stand on the highest point of the earth some time this May.
In the spring of 2012, 400 climbers successfully summited Mount Everest from the Nepal side, including 220 high-altitude Sherpas. But ten people also died in the attempt last April and May, including climbers from the Tibet side. To date, 3,755 have climbed the world’s highest mountain, while 225 people have died in the attempt.
All this is on Pasang Geljen Sherpa’s mind. A 26-year old trekking and mountaineering guide, he hopes to stand on the summit of Mount Everest in the middle of May. Hailing from the village of Lukla (2,800 metres), the gateway to Everest, Pasang comes from a family which has been hosting Maldivian trekkers in the region since 2005. In all, 13 Maldivians have lodged with Pasang’s family, many of them repeaters who have kept in touch long after the trek. Indeed, Maldivians passing through Lukla have delivered smoked tuna to the Sherpa family from their friends and have, in return, been given homemade Sherpa pickle to carry back to the Maldives. But Pasang himself has met very few of these Maldivians.
“I only met three Maldivans, in Namche Bazaar (3,500 metres),” Pasang tells me. “But my mum and sister have met all the Maldivians and I’ve heard good things about the Maldives.” We move on from his family’s ties with Maldivians to discuss his summit bid.
“Like many Sherpa kids, I wanted to climb Everest from a very early age,” Pasang explains. “It’s the environment we’re brought up in.”
Pasang’s dad was a guide while his mum worked as a porter for trekking agencies. They crossed paths during an expedition, fell in love, and got married. They had four children, two sons and two daughters. Pasang is the youngest son. But tragedy struck the family when Pasang’s dad died of a blood disorder, forcing him to leave school at 18 to support the family.
He guided for trekking companies for years, gaining valuable experience in both Khumbu and Annapurna, the two main trekking regions of Nepal. Pasang has also guided climbers up popular trekking peaks, including Island Peak, Mera Peak and Tent Peak. Two years ago, he formed his own trekking company in partnership with a friend. With clients from Australia, New Zealand and UK, the company is slowly building up and many of his customers are repeaters. But there are hundreds of trekking companies in Nepal and I ask him what set his company apart.
“Competitive prices and good guiding,” Pasang replies. “Trekkers need to chose wisely, and look for guides that can communicate well in English, as well as those with a good knowledge of trekking, first aid, and safety. When you are in the mountains, you need a guide who you can rely on.”
For Pasang, guiding people up the trekking trails and lower peaks of Nepal is not merely a source of income, but a way of life.
“Life is an adventure”, he declares. “I love nature, being out in the mountains, and getting to know people from around the world.
Despite his passion and experiences, he has never reached much higher than 6,000 metres, which is still 2,800 metres short of the summit of Mount Everest. Is he really ready for the additional altitude gain?
“With three or four weeks of acclimatisation, and with supplemented oxygen, I can summit Mount Everest,” Pasang tells me confidently.
But until five years ago, he had a number of obstacles standing in his way and some of them were painfully personal. According to www.mounteverest.net, the death percentage on Everest is currently at five percent. And, while Sherpas are famed for their hardiness and skill on Himalayan expeditions, they also account for one-third of the total deaths on Mount Everest. With one death in the family already, his mum just wasn’t ready for her youngest son to take the risk.
“According to Sherpa culture, I am required to look after my mother,” Pasang explains. “She asked who would look after her if something happened to me.”
But after five years of persistent pleading, his mum finally relented. Pasang has since completed more than 15 trainings carried out by the Nepal Mountaineering Association and the Nepal Mountaineering Instructors Association, involving basic, advanced and rescue skills. While it normally requires an additional 65 days on Mount Everest to acclimatise the body for the actual summit bid, Pasang expects to be ready in just four weeks. I ask him if even Maldivians, who live at sea-level, can acclimatise to such altitudes.
“You can only know your limits when you try,” he says. “Anyone who is physically and mentally fit, and is good at heights will have no problems trekking or climbing in the Himalaya.”
This will clearly be encouraging for Maldivians, who have recently been showing a keen interest in high-altitude adventuring, thanks to increased coverage of Maldivian trekkers in the media. And, just as some Maldivians have a fascination for mountains and trekking, Sherpas dream of holidaying by the sea and diving.
The Maldives occupies a special place on Pasang’s wish-list. He confides to me that he has long dreamed of spending a few weeks in the Maldives. He is particularly interested in scuba diving, to see the famed undersea world there.
“I have heard so much about the Maldives from my clients,” he tells me. “A holiday in the Maldives after climbing Mount Everest would be a truly great gift.”
By Ali Rasheed in Kathmandu
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