Mourning for Nepalese mountaineer Lhakpa Tenji Sherpa

Lhakpa Tenji Sherpa
Lhakpa Tenji Sherpa (1970-2024)

Farewell to Lhakpa Tenji Sherpa. Today, Monday, family and friends – including his wife, his daughter, his two sons and his brothers – paid their last respects to him at a funeral in Kathmandu. Lhakpa Tenji had led a Jordanian client to the 8,485-metre-high summit of Makalu on Monday last week (6 May) and died on the descent to Camp 3 at around 7,500 meters – probably from high altitude sickness. Opinions differ as to whether the experienced mountaineer’s death could have been prevented.

It was the first fatality of this spring climbing season on Nepal’s eight-thousanders. And as is so often the case when employees in the Nepalese expedition industry die at work, it was initially only a brief announcement from the Ministry of Tourism that informed of the 53-year-old’s death. My request to his employer Seven Summit Treks (SST) for more information about Lhakpa Tenji’s death remained unanswered. It was only yesterday, Sunday, that Nepal’s largest expedition operator provided more detailed information about the Sherpa’s death on social media.

Family accuses expedition operator of negligence

“As he guided an international climber to the summit, Lhakpa fell ill (exhausted) during the descent. Despite immediate assistance and efforts to rescue him, he breathed his last at C3, around 7:00 pm, while being rescued with oxygen support,” SST reported. “The Sherpa team with him fought against all odds on the slopes of Makalu to keep Lhakpa alive, but they lost to fate.”

Makalu in first daylight, from Gokyo Ri (in 2016)
Makalu (seen from Gokyo Ri)

However, Lhakpa Tenji’s family doubts that his death was really fate and could not have been prevented. “I am still confused about the cause of his death,” Wang Chhu Sherpa, one of the deceased climber’s brothers, writes to me. “I don’t trust the story spread by Seven Summit Treks. I am sure my brother would have survived if there had been a timely rescue operation with enough bottled oxygen.” Mingma Sherpa, the head of SST, had “accepted his company’s fault”, says Wang Chhu. However, this was not mentioned in the official statement, although he had requested this on behalf of the family.

He also accuses SST of having spread the summit successes very quickly via social media on 6 May, but only informing the family of Lhakpa Tenji’s death on 8 May. At that time, the information was already on the internet. “This is the main part of complaint,” Wang Chhu Sherpa writes to me.

Three times on the summit of Mount Everest

Lhakpa Tenji Sherpa
Lhakpa Tenji is survived by his wife, a daughter and two sons

In the obituary, Seven Summit Treks paid tribute to Lhakpa Tenji as someone who “dedicated his life to the mountains, guiding climbers with unmatched expertise and a deep passion for the high Himalaya”, adding that “Lhakpa was not only a veteran Sherpa guide but also a mentor and friend to many. His climbs and legacy will remain alive, and he will forever reside in our hearts for his humility, kindness, and enduring contributions to our community.” The SST obituary did not provide any details about Lhakpa Tenji’s mountaineering career. I have researched the key dates and his brother Wang Chhu Sherpa has confirmed this information.

Lhakpa Tenji was born in 1970 in the village of Gudel in the Solukhumbu region, around 50 kilometers south of Mount Everest as the crow flies. He had five brothers. One of them, Lhakpa Dorje Sherpa, nine years his senior, scaled Everest eight times and reached a total of more than twenty summit successes on eight-thousanders. Together with him, Lhakpa Tenji climbed Makalu, his first eight-thousander, in 2004 as a Climbing Sherpa for the US operator Jagged Globe.

According to the chronicle Himalayan Database, seven further eight-thousander summit successes followed, one of them, in 2005 on Cho Oyu, without bottled oxygen. He climbed this mountain a second time in 2014. Lhakpa Tenji stood on the summit of Mount Everest three times (in 2006, 2012 and 2019), once on Kangchenjunga (in 2018) – and now on Makalu for the second time on 6 May, almost exactly 20 years after he first climbed it. This time, the ascent to the fifth highest mountain on earth cost him his life.

Butterlampen_Gebetsmuehlen
R.I.P.

“He was a kind and caring person,” recalls six-time Everest summiteer Jamie McGuinness from New Zealand about Lhakpa Tenji. In 2019, they both reached the highest point on earth via the Tibetan north side of Mount Everest. Lhakpa Tenji Sherpa was “genuine and good to work with”, Jamie writes to me, “and competent of course.” A great loss – for his family and for the mountaineering scene not only in Nepal. May he rest in peace.🙏

Update 7.30 p.m.: Another death is reported from Makalu. According to the “Himalayan Times”, a 60-year-old French mountaineer died on Sunday at an altitude of around 8,100 meters, apparently due to high altitude sickness.

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