I’ve Climbed Everest 21 Times. It’s Not the Mountain It Used to Be.
Over nearly three decades, Apa Sherpa has witnessed the effects of a warming climate and an overcrowded peak.
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.