On 23 October, Chhewang Nima Sherpa (pic) went missing following an avalanche on Baruntse (7129m), a neighbour to Lhotse and Everest. He had been fixing ropes below the summit on the north face of the mountain for an international expedition. He was 43.
Chhewang was no ordinary Sherpa. He had summitted Everest 19 times, one short of Apa Sherpa's world record, and had completed many difficult climbs on peaks such as Cho Oyu, Manaslu and Sishapangma, as well as in the United States. He was also the brand ambassador for Nepal-based clothing store Sherpa Adventure Gear. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.
Following the abandonment of the search for Chhewang, Nepali Times spoke to his cousin, Lakpa Rita Sherpa, the first Nepali to climb the highest peak in all seven continents, and himself a 14-time Everest summiteer.
Nepali Times: What went wrong on Baruntse?
Lakpa Rita Sherpa: I am not sure what happened, but I have climbed Baruntse twice in the last couple of years. It's very technical in the last five to six hundred metres below the summit. You are climbing on a knife-edge ridge with a huge drop on both sides, with very soft snow. If anything happens, or if you make a small mistake, there is no chance of survival. When I first heard the tragic news, I was speechless. Tears were running down my face, my wife and kids were crying beside me. It was a very sad moment for us.
Did Chhewang hope to one day hold the world record for climbing Everest the most times?
Since he was only one short of the world record by Apa Sherpa, he had dreams to claim the record. In fact he was due to climb Everest twice in the spring next year.
Tell us about your experiences with Chhewang.
Chhewang and I had lots of great times while we were climbing together. We summitted Everest together eight times, and celebrating our success on the summit made for unforgettable memories. His main goal was to help other mountaineers when they were in trouble; we did this twice together, for instance when we helped rescue the Nepali climber, Usha Bista.
How risky is mountaineering as a profession, and why do Nepalis do it?
As a mountain guide, it is risky whether you are climbing the world's tallest or smallest mountain. You never know how and when accidents may occur, even if you are very good at what you do. It all depends on Mother Nature. No one can beat nature. At the same time, you need to take care of your clients, and doing this on a mountain is riskier than climbing by yourself.
In a country like Nepal, people like us do not have many options other than climbing. Most Nepalis who climb mountains do it for a living, only a few do it for fun.
What will you remember most about Chhewang?
He was in the US, where I am based, a month before his accident. His cousin Norbu Tenzing Sherpa had invited him to attend a fundraiser for the American Himalayan Foundation on 13 October, where he would have met former US Vice President Al Gore. My wife and I tried very hard to convince him to stay on with us for another month and a half, but he said, "Sorry, I can't stay longer this time but I'll definitely be back next year." I wish he had agreed with us.
Chhewang was always very humble, he was always smiling, and we will miss him a lot. Our family's deepest sympathies and prayers are with his family.