An Interview with Lhakpa Sherpa, The First Woman to Summit Everest
Lhakpa Sherpa, the first woman to successfully summit Mount Everest in 2000, completed her eighth trek up the highest mountain in the world this past May. Born and raised in Nepal and now living with her family in Connecticut, she holds the Guinness World Record for the most ascents of the 8,848-meter-high mountain by a woman. On October 25, she was hosted by the Himalayan Students Association at Yale and Pierson College for a College Tea, and The Politic had the honor of interviewing Mrs. Sherpa. Many thanks to Kelsang Dolma and Mila Dorji, co-presidents of the HSAY, for making this possible.
Photos courtesy of Ms. Sherpa.
The Politic: What was it like growing up in Nepal?
Lhakpa Sherpa: I am from the Sherpa family, and I have seven sisters and four brothers. I have never been in school at all in my life because girls [are expected to] work. My mother never sent me or my sisters to school because there was no school for me to attend. The boys go to school, however, but this is changing. But when I was in Nepal, girls were expected to do housework and raise younger kids. My mom always told me to make sauce or hats in the home, but it was so boring. I wanted to go hike in the mountains! She said if you never listen to me, you will not be married. Early marriage, around age 16, is common.
When were you first introduced to climbing and trekking?
My dad took me to Tibet. I’m taller than my sisters, and I never listened to what my mom says. So, he took me. We went over the big hills. He sold salt in Tibet. I built myself to be very strong. I asked my grandmother about the people who lived on the other side because I wanted to know [about them].
Was summiting Everest always a goal of yours?
I always wanted to climb. I had no schooling, so I couldn’t be a lawyer or work in an office. I learned on the mountain, and I made money guiding people on the mountain. I wanted to make them happy. I may have been something else if I had gone to school, but I never could and can’t now. I want to go again and again. I hate my [Guinness] record because I want to go again and again. I have gone eight times and want to go more. My life has been up and down, just like the climbing the mountain.
What’s the biggest obstacle to summiting Everest?
First of all, I have to leave my two daughters in the United States. If I were to die there, who would watch my babies? I must come down every time and see my girls. This is a dilemma in my mind every time.
How long does it take to summit Everest?
It takes two months each time.
What was your friends’ and family’s reaction to your achievement?
They thought a woman could not do it and did not understand it. They did not understand why I wanted to do it because girls are weak, according to them. My country has this mindset. They only respect men while in America they respect the men and women. I said no, that I want to change this idea, that women could do it, too. I really wanted to do it. Some people say climbing is for men and women thought I looked like a man, but I knew I had to do it. I never gave up. Nobody helped me. Now, they’re recognizing what I’m doing, but not at first. Women can do this sport as well as men can.
What’s next for you?
I would like to go to Everest again and K2. I tried to summit K2 in 2010 and did not make it. It was very difficult, and it’s hard leaving behind my daughters.
Where do you get your news?
I love The New York Times!
What place would you most like to visit?
New York—I’ve been many times, and I love it.
If you weren’t in your current job, what would you be doing?
I haven’t been educated, so I would be a stay-at-home mom.
Which living person do you most admire?
I love Ellen DeGeneres. I carried her picture to the top of Everest and would love to meet her.
What makes you happy?
Music. I love to listen to peaceful, calm music.
What is your advice for college students?
Never give up. Keep going, and follow your dreams no matter what. We make our own world.
Don’t try to do everything, but do what you love. And someday you might climb your Everest!