12-18 December 2014 #736

After Everest and K2, Sherpa women set sights on Kangchenjunga

Tsering Dolker Gurung

Dawa at the summit.
When Maya Sherpa, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, and Dawa Yangzum Sherpa told friends they wanted to climb K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, many tried to talk them out of it. Although all three had already climbed Mt Everest, K2 was much more dangerous.

The most frequently asked questions were: Why would you want to put your lives at risk? Why do you want to go to Pakistan, aren’t there enough mountains in Nepal? 

But, the three were determined. As trekking and climbing guides, they had often heard K2 referred to as ‘the killer mountain’ – one in every four people haven’t come back down alive. Six of the 86 killed on K2 have been Nepalis. The other reason the three Nepali women wanted to do K2 was because only 18 of the 376 people who have climbed K2 have been female. And theirs would be the first all-women expedition on the mountain.

Despite lack of government support (one common question from officials was “K2? Where is that?”) the team took up the cause of spreading awareness about climate change and in June 2014 headed off to Pakistan. “They told us in our faces we won’t make it past Base Camp,” says Maya Sherpa describing the shabby treatment from officials who have never left their desks in Kathmandu.

The Ministry of Tourism had promised to contribute Rs 500,000 to the K2 expedition which the girls are yet to receive. “Every time we go there, they say they have lost our application,” says Pasang Lhamu Sherpa. “More than the actual climbing, fundraising was more difficult.”

MISSION K2: Dawa Yangzum Sherpa, Maya Sherpa, and Pasang Lhamu Sherpa at the K2 Base Camp.
The group raised most of the required money for the K2 expedition from individual donors, friends, families. The NMA (Nepal Mountaineering Association), ICIMOD and trekking companies also helped, but the team still owes the expedition company Rs 2 million.

When the women of the Women for Change Expedition unfurled the Nepali double triangle on the 8,611m summit of K2 on the afternoon of 26 July, they also became the first Nepali women on the mountain.

Despite their achievement, the three climbers are finding it difficult to garner support from the government for their next goal: to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of Kangchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain, by climbing it next spring.

One reason could be that they are women, but the three also do not have right connections in the corridors of power in Kathmandu. All three are self-made climbers who have gained the height they have through sheer hard work. Pasang Lhamu is from Solu Khumbu, but Maya is from Okhaldunga and Dawa is from Dolakha – districts not generally associated with Sherpa people.

“The initial plan was to climb Kangchenjunga straight after K2 but we now realise until and unless the government provides us help, it will be a long wait before we achieve our goal of climbing all three highest peaks in the world,” says Maya.

The women also don’t want to ask their friends, family and associates again, knowing most of them had contributed as much as they could for K2. Going on a personal expedition also means losing out on a season’s earnings for these working guides who are so busy during the climbing season, they rarely meet.

All three are married, Maya has a four-year-old daughter, and all three have full support from their families. However, Dawa says: “On K2 we often wondered how we were going to face each other’s families if one of us didn’t make it through.”

When not working on mountains, the three are involved with the Himalayan Women Welfare Society (HWS) which arranges trekking trips for young Nepalis, and uses the money for health and education for mountain communities. 

“Most of the young Nepalis have zero knowledge about their mountains,” says Maya. “We want to focus on tours through which youngsters get to explore Nepal’s mountains.”

Number 7

The Seven Summits Women’s team is heading for its expedition to Mt Vinson Massif in Antarctica this week to become the first all-women group to have climbed all the top seven highest peaks in seven continents.

Team members include Shailee Basnet, Pujan Acharya, Maya Gurung, Asha Kumari Singh, Nimdoma Sherpa, Pema Diki Sherpa, and Chunu Shrestha, who met in 2008 as part of the First Inclusive Women Sagarmatha Expedition. After their successful Everest summit, the women became good friends and kept in touch. In 2009, they started the Everest Women Seven Summits Eco-Action.

“We didn’t want to go back to our normal lives. We wanted to fulfill bigger dreams and inspire people,” Shailee told Nepali Times of the team’s motivation to climb all the top seven highest mountains in the world.

Starting 2010, the team has climbed the six highest peaks in six continents: Mt Kosciuszko in Australia, and Mt Elbrus in Russia in 2010, Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in March, 2013, South America’s Mt Aconcagua in March, 2014, and Mt Denali in Alaska earlier this year.

The story of their journey has now been turned into a film directed by James Giambrone and Russ Pariseau, called Holding up the Sky. The crew followed the team through their Mt Kilimanjaro adventure, where three African women including South African actress Hlubi Mboya (pic) joined the seven summits women team. The film records the team’s preparation for their climb, their trip to the summit of the mountain and their school visits where they give presentations about the inspiring journey. Holding up the Sky will be screened at this year’s Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival.

Holding up the Sky

13 December, 3.30PM

Kumari Hall, Kamalpokhari

Read Also:

Ketis on K2, Ayesha Shakya

Conquering the world, Pasang Lhamu, Sherpa Akita

Himalayan Spring, Billi Bierling

All eyes on K2, From the Nepali Press

Kanchenjunga and Makalu, Abha Eli Phoboo

They climbed another mountain, Matt Miller

Denali Nepali Women

Seven women, seven summits, Candice Neo

High five, Nimadoma Sherpa

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