Jun 18, 2019

I’ve Climbed Everest 21 Times. It’s Not the Mountain It Used to Be.

Apa Sherpa as told to Emily Atkin
The New Republic
Photo: Apa Sherpa Foundation
Photo: Apa Sherpa Foundation

I was born in Thame, Nepal, around 1960. I’m not exactly sure what year. When I was 12 years old, my father passed away. He was the only breadwinner of the family, and I was the only child who could go out and work to earn. My mother, being a housewife, had no other source of income. I was in fourth grade. I had no choice but to become a porter.

Being a porter will pay you about $5,000 per climb—but only if you get to the top. It’s less if you just go to the base camp. It doesn’t seem like that much, but a dollar here is like 100 over there. So in our minds, it’s worth the risk, because what else are we supposed to do? Back in our village, they do have schooling, but the education isn’t that great. So most people end up climbing to earn money for their families. There aren’t many other opportunities.

I didn’t get that much money from portering. So when I became older, I became a trekking guide. It’s very risky, very dangerous, but you get a little more money. So I started climbing these smalls peaks—6,000 meters. I didn’t summit Everest, which is about 8,800 meters, until 1990.


There are big changes on the mountain from when I first climbed to the last time. There is less snow, and more rocks. There used to be house-sized ice pyramids at basecamp, but now you don’t see that. Back then, we had to melt ice and snow for water at basecamp and at Camp II. Now, you can find streams of water at both places.

In 2008, I noticed that all the glaciers all over the mountain were melting. There were messes of human waste all over the road that came from the ice melt. On the mountain, the human waste is not stinky, because it is very cold. So we brought it down in zip-lock bags and dumped it in barrels in the valley. That year, we started bringing human waste down, and collected 17,000 to 18,000 kilograms of it.