27 November - 3 December 2015 #784

Breaking barriers

A Nepali mountaineer-turned-relief worker is in the race to win NatGeo’s Adventurer of the Year
Tsering Dolker Gurung

Pasang Lhamu Sherpa shares her name with Nepal’s most iconic female mountaineer. And just like her namesake who in 1993 became the first Nepali woman to climb Everest, the 30-year-old mountaineering instructor from Solukhumbu is determined to overcome gender stereotypes, and make her mark in a field dominated by men.

In 2006 Pasang completed a diploma course in mountaineering from France’s National School of Ski and Alpinism, becoming the first Nepali woman to achieve an instructor license. She went on to summit the unclimbed Nangpai Gosum II (7,321m). A year later she climbed

Mt Everest from the Tibet side, followed by successful expeditions to Ama Dablam (6,812m), and other small peaks including Lobuche, Island and Meera Peaks in Nepal.

Last year Pasang fulfilled her long-standing dream (pic) of planting the Nepali flag atop K2 (8,611m) in Pakistan with friends Dawa Yangzum Sherpa and Maya Sherpa. The trio set a record for being the first Nepali women to achieve the feat.

“Many people have this misconception that because I am a Sherpa this was a field I was groomed for,” says Pasang who is actually the first in her family to take up mountaineering. “What they don’t seem to know is that even within the Sherpa community women are usually discouraged from following this career path because of the job’s physically strenuous nature and the risk it involves.”

Pasang herself was unsure about working in the mountains until later in her teen years. She completed college, took up rock climbing as a hobby and eventually moved onto mountaineering. The rest, as they say, is history.

Despite an increase in the number of women guides in the country Pasang says she is the sole woman climbing instructor. She has trained dozens of climbers including the Seven Summits Women’s team, a group of Nepali women who climbed the highest mountains in each of the seven continents last year. At present Pasang divides her time between Nepal and the US, where she works as a guide with Alpine Ascent International during summer.

Pasang has been nominated for this year’s NatGeo Adventurer of the Year along with ten others from America, Afghanistan, Brasil, Germany, South Africa and Switzerland. She is currently leading the public poll with more than 50 per cent of the votes.

“I think what sets me apart from other nominees on the list is that I have not only been recognised for my mountaineering work, but also for efforts to help victims of the earthquake in remote villages,” says Pasang.

Timeline by Ayesha Shakya

When the earthquake hit central Nepal in April, the Lukla native was drinking tea with a client near Base Camp on Mt Everest. After the initial tremors stopped she heard a loud boom and looked outside to find that the Base Camp had been hit by an avalanche.

“It was the scariest thing I’d ever seen,” she recalls. But instead of heading down to Lukla to catch a plane out Pasang rushed to Base Camp to help with rescue. She was especially worried about an Indian group that she had met only a day before, but was relieved to find them safe.

“The scene at the base camp resembled a war zone. Gas cylinders had been blown up into pieces, only poles of the tents remained, it was incredibly heartbreaking” she remembers.

Once in Kathmandu she and her husband got together with friends and began to raise money to buy food and tarps which were first distributed to villages on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Pasang regularly posted about the group’s relief efforts on Facebook which helped in attracting more supporters. Her large network of friends all over the globe also helped the fundraising.

The couple then shifted their focus to villages in Gorkha, dispatching emergency supplies and organised health camps. They are now preparing to distribute blankets and warm clothes to Salyantar in Dhading. Both husband and wife are dedicated to helping the needy and want to move onto rebuilding homes for quake victims if they can gather the required fund.

After their successful summit of K2 in July last year Pasang and her friends had made plans to climb Kangchenjunga to further spread their message about the impact of climate change on the mountains. That dream is on hold for now.

She says: “All three of us felt it would be selfish to raise funds to set personal records when the money could be used to help those most in need.”

To vote for Pasang Lhamu Sherpa as National Geographic Adventurer of the Year 2016, click here

Read Also:

After Everest and K2, Sherpa women set sights on Kanchenjunga, Tsering Dolker Gurung

Ketis on K2, Ayesha Shakya

Conquering the world, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita

Women on top, Tsering Dolker Gurung