“It has been quite a long time staying home,” Pemba Sharwa Sherpa writes to me. “For a year, I couldn’t work because of the corona pandemic. It’s the same with all my friends here in Phortse. Most of all are getting ready to get back on Everest. Some have already left for Everest Base Camp to start preparing campsites.” This spring, Pemba wants to lead two Brazilians to the summit of Mount Everest.
The 29-year-old is from Phortse, 3,840 meters above sea level, the village in the Khumbu region with the highest density of Mount Everest summiteers: more than 80 of the current inhabitants have already stood on the highest point on earth at 8,849 meters. Pemba was born into an “Everest family”: his father, Lhakpa Dorje, reached the summit in 1987 and worked on a total of more than 30 eight-thousander expeditions. One of Pemba’s grandfathers supplied yaks to the 1953 expedition of Everest first ascenders Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, and the other grandfather hired out on nearly 20 expeditions.
Always active in the mountains
The secret of success of the climbers from Phortse lies in the everyday life of the people there, Pemba believes: “Every morning starts with some physical workouts, i. e. fetching water in gallons or chopping firewoods. The day follows with working in group in potato fields or buckwhet fields or collecting firewoods. We often have to hike up high pastures to let yaks graze. We hike down eleven kilometers to the weekly market in Namche Bazar and make it home the same day in the evening. So to stay physically active throughout the year, we don’t need any additional training or exercise. I believe this is the secret behind the best climbers from Phortse.”
Already on top of three eight-thousanders
Although he is not yet 30 years old, Pemba Sharwa has already gained a lot of eight-thousander experience. In 2012 and 2013, he reached the summit of Mount Everest as a Climbing Sherpa for the US expedition operator International Mountain Guides (IMG). In 2014, he narrowly escaped the avalanche in the Khumbu Icefall that killed 16 Nepalese climbers. In 2019, he accompanied a U.S. science expedition to Everest and helped install a weather station on the so-called “Balcony”, a small plateau at 8,430 meters.
In 2018, Pemba also summited the 8,516-meter-high Lhotse. Twice – in 2018 and 2019 – he scaled the 8,163-meter-high Manaslu, in 2018 without bottled oxygen. It was Pemba’s first eight-thousander success without breathing mask.
First ascent of Luza Peak
The first winter ascent of K2 in Pakistan on 16 January by ten climbers from Nepal was “a great inspiration and motivation,” says Pemba, “for each and everyone who dares to take himself to another step or level.” He says, also his own winter success on Luza Peak inspired the younger generation of climbers in his home country.
In late 2020, Pemba had succeeded with his friends Urken Lendu Sherpa (he fell to his death on a later climb at the end of January) and Lakpa Gyalje Sherpa in making the first ascent of the 5,726-meter-high Luza Peak in the Khumbu – in clean style, via a challenging route.
Living from and for mountaineering
One of the main goals at Luza Peak, Pemba Sherpa says, was to send a clear message to the climbing community in Nepal and the rest of the world “that we Sherpas don’t just climb to earn a living. We do climb for ourselves as a passion, as a hobby and for self growth as well to uplift the climbing skills standard as professional climbers.”
Pemba is part of the young Sherpa generation who want to live from and for mountaineering. The 29-year-old is head of expedition operator Sherpath Treks & Expedition. As an instructor he also trains Nepalese mountaineers in ice climbing at the Khumbu Climbing Center in Phortse. The center was founded in 2003 by US climber Conrad Anker and his wife Jennifer Lowe-Anker.
The message that young Sherpas also pursue their own sporting goals has yet to sink in with many people in Nepal, especially the older generation. “For our friends and people here in Phortse and Khumbu, it’s not normal to go on expeditions or climbing trips themselves,” Pemba says. “So we stayed low profile before and during the expedition on Luza Peak and only came out with the big news of the first ascent afterwards.”