Asia

Nepal's Lhakpa Sherpa: 'I want to climb Everest 10 times'

File photo of Lhakpa Sherpa on Everest Image copyright Mingma Gelu Sherpa
Image caption Lhakpa Sherpa has conducted more successful Everest climbs than any other woman

Last month Lhakpa Sherpa, reached the peak of Mount Everest for the seventh time, breaking her own world record for the number of ascents by a woman. But she told BBC Nepali's Surendra Phuyal that she isn't done with climbing yet.

Lounging on a sofa at her brother's home in Kathmandu, Lhakpa looked sunburned and a little exhausted as she described her latest expedition to the summit, on 20 May.

"We began our final ascent at night, stars were twinkling as we moved up."

"I didn't feel weak. I felt strong enough to climb and get to the top.

"I prayed for my children when I reached the top. I thought of my children and felt much stronger to descend much faster."

A childhood of mountains

Lhakpa is 43 and a mother of three. She was born in Nepal but has travelled repeatedly to the Himalayas from her home in West Hartford, Connecticut, where she works as a housekeeper.

"I work very hard in the US," she said. "It's not easy. But I want to educate my children. And I am working hard for them."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The mother-of-three started her career as kitchen help for trekkers and climbers in Nepal

Lhakpa grew up in a remote village in the shadows of Mount Makalu, as one of 11 children of a yak-herder-turned-lodge-owner.

She began her career as kitchen help, preparing meals for trekkers and climbers.

But like many of her relatives worked in the mountaineering industry, she often had the chance to climb, and worked carrying loads for climbers.

In 2000, she climbed Everest for the first time, as part of the Nepali Women Millennium Expedition, following in the footsteps of Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, the first Nepali woman to reach the summit.

"Our equipment was old-fashioned and heavy, boots and other gears weren't that good compared to what we have now. It was hard."

Afterwards, at a gathering of mountaineers in Kathmandu, Lhakpa met US-based Romanian-born climber George Dijmarescu, who she went on to marry.

Image copyright Mingma Gelu Sherpa
Image caption "You did it for Nepali women" Lhakpa's father told her after knowing she scaled Everest successfully

The couple climbed Everest together five times between 2001 and 2006.

In between, they had two girls - now 13 and nine.

"I climbed Everest eight months after giving birth to my first daughter," she recalled, "and I climbed when I was two months pregnant with my smaller daughter. It was not easy, but I managed alright."

On the 2003 climb, she was joined by her brother and sister, becoming the first three siblings simultaneously on an 8,000m mountain - a feat recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records.

But during the 2004 Connecticut Everest Expedition, she and Djimarescu had a violent altercation that left her seriously hurt, and sparked a sort of media sensation in the mountaineering world.

The couple divorced in 2015, after a lengthy court battle.

'You did it for Nepali women'

Lhakpa still lives in Connecticut, with their daughters and her 19-year-old son from a previous relationship.

Several of her relatives live in the US, too, who are part of the growing Nepali Sherpa expatriate community there.

But her parents are still in Makalu, where she visited soon after her first ascent in 2000.

"They were very happy. My father told me, 'Great, you did it for Nepal, you did it for Nepali women. It's achievement for Nepal'."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Lhakpa says she still feels strong enough to climb many more peaks

She has not been able to visit them since, but said they follow her climbs closely.

During her most recent ascent, she said, "they were not sleeping; they were getting up in the middle of the night and were trying to get updates about me".

Lhakpa - who never went to school herself, nor learned to read or write as a child - said she's happy things are changing in the mountains of Nepal.

"Nowadays, there are schools up there and little boys and girls are getting proper education.

"Still, parents should not discriminate between the boy and girl child. Everyone deserves good education."

She also insists she has many more climbs left to do, including the world's second-highest mountain, K2 in Pakistan.

Her attempt to climb it in 2010 was ended by bad weather.

"I am planning to return to Nepal again in October to climb Choyu," she says. That's the sixth highest mountain in the world, standing at 8,201m.

"I am still not tired. I want to climb Everest a few more times. I want to climb it 10 times."

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