Nepali Times
Life Times
The State of the Himalaya


Apa Sherpa and his team have just completed the first month of their epic 1,700 km journey on foot across Nepal's Great Himalayan Trail to draw attention to the threats of global climate change and the opportunities of eco-tourism. This week, Nepali Times spoke to Apa Sherpa as he sat besides Tso Rolpa lake in Rolwaling, the glacial lake that is dangerously swollen by global warming. Apa's team has just traversed the Tesi Laptsa Pass, and will now be heading towards Langtang.

GREAT COUNTRY: Camping under the constellations in the Tamor Valley.

What most people know about me is only that I have climbed Mt Everest 21 times. What they don't know is that I am also a victim of climate change.

In 1985, when the Dig Tso glacial lake burst because it was swollen with melted ice, the flash flood of muddy water and boulders washed away my potato farm and homestead near Thame. Most of my property and belongings were destroyed, and I could no longer remain a farmer. I was forced to become an expedition porter in the Everest region, carrying loads to higher camps. I climbed to the top of Chomolungma for the first time in 1990.

Portrait of an elderly porter at Salpa Phedi.

I have never looked back since. I just kept climbing the world's highest mountain over and over again. With god's grace I was successful in climbing the mountain 21 times in 21 years. I never intended it, but I became a world record holder. 

I was happy and content. But it was only in recent years that I started to ask myself why I was doing this, putting my life on the line in one of the most dangerous places on earth. In 2008, I met Prashant Singh of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) who was a friend of Dawa Steven Sherpa, my long time associate, and someone I love like my younger brother.

Local fisherman prepares to throw in a line on a river.

Prashant pointed out something that I had not noticed. He said: "Apa Dai, you are famous for climbing Everest multiple times, but you lost everything to climate change and you earned everything back because of mountain tourism." I had never thought of it like that. Prashant was right.

After thinking about it for a bit, I found my goal in life. I decided to dedicate myself to saving the fragile mountains of my motherland from the impact of global warming by building awareness about it in my community and the world. Dawa promised he would help in any way he could.

That is when Prashant, Dawa and I planned to do the Great Himalayan Trail. On my 19th climb on Chomolungma I had unfurled the WWF banner with the message 'Stop Climate Change. Let the Himalaya Live'. It had brought world attention on the effects of climate change on the Himalaya. I picked some rocks from the summit and handed it over to our prime minister, President Barack Obama and several other world leaders.

Child helps mother hoe the field at Lelep.
I had been building awareness by going vertical, now it was time to make a horizontal journey across Nepal from east to west to see the impact of climate change on remote mountain communities. This is why Dawa, me and the team are now on the Great Himalayan Trail. I have come to realise that Nepal is not a small country, it is huge and is facing an immense problem from global warming.

We are just one month into our four-month journey on foot. We are talking to people along the way, sheperds, traders and farmers and hearing local experiences about erratic rains, unseasonal blizzards, receding glaciers and flashfloods. We have in our team photographers, journalists and bloggers who are spreading the word around the world.

The Climate Smart Celebrity Trek at the Nepal-Sikkim border in eastern Nepal at the start of their journey last month.
We are also advocating pro-poor sustainable tourism so that local communities can build resilience against the effects of climate change. The establishment of the Great Himalayan Trail is a part of that plan. My argument is simple, and is based on my own example: climate change will create problems for us in the mountains, we must be prepared for that.

If villagers and communities can promote eco-tourism by linking to the Great Himalayan Trail this will bring the trekkers who will provide employment and help raise living standards. To fight climate change we have to help lift the quality of life so Himalayan communities can cope. Climate change may damage us, but tourism will heal us. Just like it did with me. 

On the trip across eastern Nepal I have been greeted by large numbers of local people who have wished us well on our journey. I know I have the blessings of my fellow Nepalis, and I will do my best to return their kindness.

Climate Smart Trek is being organised by Himalayan Climate Initiative with active support of the Government of Nepal and its development partners.

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1. Dumb about climate
It is hard to take these guys seriously. No wonder there's hardly any comment. These guys are funded by some donors who want them to prance and dance on the trail. The walk is good for their own private tourism and trekking businesses. It's not good for anyone else. There's no telling how much carbon they are burning on this long walk. The walk is good for them personally, but the whole thing comes across as a lame, cheap and inauthentic publicity stunt with the local media in bed with these guys. 

2. Dumb U
@ Dumb about climeate - Lame, cheap and inauthentic publicity stunt. Seriously?? Clearly you have never been in the mountains.. Hypocrites like you only know how to critisize even though some people want to make a difference..  

3. utsav
@dumb about climate: What other solutions did you have in mind? 

4. So True
@Dumb U - What does this have to do with never having been to the mountains.... I have trekked a lot in the mountains and I still think this is a cheap and inauthentic publicity stunt..... I mean, come on, even the whole article seems like some guy behind the scenes put this whole story together... this heartwrenching story of Apa and climate change and how he is convinced that he has to do something for the planet.... It is sooooo contrived..... the whole thing screeeeams of publicity stunt just so some lame NGO can hog some limelight and earn a share of the 'climate change funding' coming in......

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)