Thursday, May 31, 2007

Benefit for Sherpas

 They scaled Mount Everest last month as part of the SuperSherpas
Expedition and now Apa Sherpa and Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa are trying to
raise money to help the Sherpa community in Nepal.

The "Go to New Heights" benefit is set for June 20, 6 p.m., at the
Fort Douglas Commander's House on the University of Utah campus.

Tickets are $100 per person, with proceeds going toward
publication of the book, "The SuperSherpas: Our Story." Funds from
the sale of that book will benefit educational programs back in Nepal.

The event includes dinner and an auction of items used during the
all-Sherpa team's summit of the world's tallest mountain.

For tickets, call 801-585-9786 or go to

More photos ...

All of the following photos come to you courtesy of SuperSherpas LLC.


Apa (left) and Lhakpa celebrate after their summit.

Apa relaxes in a tent, giving thumbs up after summit.

The team pauses at the summit.

Team member takes video for a documentary about the expedition.

A sample of the steep, tricky terrain climbers face on Everest.

Apa, looking relaxed above the clouds.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Welcome home

By, Stephen Speckman

While Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa climbed the world's tallest peak earlier
this month, his wife Fulli was back at home in Draper climbing her
own mountain, one made up of the time and distance that had separated
her for so long from her husband and three children in Nepal.

(Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa gets a warm welcome home - photo by,
Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News)

It had been six months since she had seen her children, Ang Dawa,
Nima and Tashi - they were at a boarding school in Katmandu until
their parents were able to successfully navigate immigration laws to
secure the proper visas. And after two months without Lhakpa, Fulli
was at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Wednesday to
embrace her entire family.

"I'm so sad," she said about the wait. "Now, I'm happy."

Lhakpa said it was hard getting his children out of Nepal and to
their new home in Utah. He thanked Utahns Jerry Mika and Roger Kehr
for their help with all of the red tape.

"I'm so very happy," Lhakpa said. "Everyone is together."

Lhakpa and fellow Draper resident Apa Sherpa made history May 16
in Nepal when they led an all-Sherpa team of climbers, dubbed the
SuperSherpas Expedition, to the summit of Mount Everest.

(Apa Sherpa greets well wishers at Salt Lake City International
Airport -- photo by, Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News)

For Apa's 17th Everest summit (a world record), he and Lhakpa also
helped recover the bodies of two Korean climbers. Base-camp manager
Jerry Mika said this season has been a particularly deadly one on
Everest, which claimed the lives of three people close to members of
the SuperSherpas team.

Normally, foreign travelers pay huge sums of money to outfitters
for a go at reaching the mountain's 29,035-foot peak. Members of
Nepal's isolated Sherpa community, living in the high Himalayas, are
typically hired by the outfitters as porters.

Sherpas, who often share the same last name although they are not
directly related, carry heavy loads so that the foreign climbers can
stay light, increasing the chance that they will reach the summit.
The Sherpas endure the same extreme weather conditions as their
clients. And Sherpas, like Lhakpa and Apa, set ropes for climbers,
keep them out of danger and even rescue Westerners who get in trouble
on the mountain.

But after the high-paying customers reach the peak, all the glory
in the media goes to them, while Sherpas comparatively get little

"They don't mention anything about Sherpas," Apa Sherpa said. "I
don't know why."

The pay for Sherpas, considered the world's best high-altitude
climbers, is often only a small fraction of what climbers pay for the
Everest experience.

So the twist for this expedition was that Mika and other Utahns -
Westerners - were the support crew for the Sherpas. The goal was to
raise awareness of Nepal's Sherpa community and the struggles they
face in getting health care for their families and an education for
their children.

Just as sweet as summiting Everest, Apa and Lhakpa were able to
leave behind $2,500 each in donated money for education and medical
needs in their hometowns before heading back to Utah.

(The welcoming party for Utah members of the SuperSherpas Expedition
-- photo by, Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News)

At the Salt Lake City International Airport, Apa's wife Yangjin
and their three children, Tenzing, Pemba and Dawa, were relieved to
have Dad back home.

"My heart feels good and happy," Yangjin said.

Some in Apa and Lhakpa's families are still learning English. Most
of their children will be or are attending schools in Draper. Apa
works for an outdoor retailer, and since moving to Utah Lhakpa has
been employed by Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort's coffee house Peak

A book and documentary are in the works about the SuperSherpas
expedition. One goal of those two projects is for more people beyond
the climbing community to learn about Sherpas. Fund-raising efforts
will continue in order to help Sherpas back in Nepal.

"It was about the Sherpas," said Rulon Bunker, who was part of the
support crew at base camp on Everest. "Our mission was to support the

Jerry Mika, who returned Wednesday with Apa and Lhakpa, was in
Katmandu when the two Sherpas were paraded through the streets as
heroes and cheered by Nepalese dignitaries and citizens.

"Hopefully, Salt Lake City welcomes these Sherpas like Nepal did,"
Mika said.

The moment in Katmandu is something that will stay a lifetime with
Apa Sherpa.

"All the Nepalese people are very proud," he said.

Apa is hopeful the book and documentary about the team will change
the way the world views Sherpas and what it knows about them.

The medical community also will be learning more about Sherpas
based on research conducted during the expedition to figure out why
Sherpas perform so much better than anyone else under extreme
physical and mental stress at high altitudes.

As for Fulli and Yangjin, having their husbands home means that
their prayers were answered - and that the revered Mount Everest,
known to Sherpas as Chomolungma, or "Goddess Mother of the Land," had
a hand in delivering these two fathers back to their families, safe
and alive.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Coming home

Apa Sherpa, Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa and Jerry Mika, members of the SuperSherpas Expedition, will be arriving in Salt Lake City Wednesday morning. Lhakpa will be bringing his three children from Nepal back to his home in Utah. Apa and Lhakpa were part of the first all-Sherpa summit team earlier this month to reach the top of Mount Everest, the world's tallest peak.

Congratulations to the team - and, welcome home to Apa, Lhakpa and Jerry.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Studying Sherpas

(Note: Nu Skin Enterprises sent out a reminder today about the scientific research being done on the all-Sherpa team that recently reached the summit of Mount Everest - below is a summary of their press release.)

A five-pound piece of equipment among the hundreds of pounds of gear used by the SuperSherpas Expedition may soon give the scientific world a glimpse into why a small group of climbers from Nepal can handle physical stress at high altitudes so much better than experienced mountaineers from all over the world.

The so-called Pharmanex Biophotonic Scanner was used during the SuperSherpas recent successful summit of Mount Everest. The intent was to study cellular damage from "oxidative stress" experienced during high-altitude climbing by members of the all-Sherpa team, including two Sherpas who now live in Utah.

On May 16 at around 9 a.m. in Nepal, a SuperSherpas summit team, led by Utahns Apa Sherpa and Lhakpa Sherpa, reached the summit of Everest. Along the way, a team of Utah researchers used the scanner as a non-invasive means of measuring antioxidant levels in the Sherpas.

"By using the scanner on their expedition, the SuperSherpas team members and researchers may gain a greater understanding of how antioxidants work and what role they play in the unique physiology of Sherpas versus other high-altitude climbers," said Dr. Joe Chang, chief scientific officer of Nu Skin Enterprises.

The scanner is described as a "cutting-edge testing tool that safely and non-invasively measures carotenoid levels in living tissue, providing an indication correlated with a person's overall antioxidant levels. Antioxidants help neutralize damage from free radicals within living tissue," according to the Nu Skin release.

For more information about the scanner, visit the Web site,

Friday, May 18, 2007

No walk in the park ...

Base camp manager, Jerry Mika, sent along the photo below of the SuperSherpas summit team navigating Mount Everest. The team should be back in Utah within the next few weeks. For more on their adventures, see the blog entries below. Enjoy the photo.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

At base camp, headed home soon

(note: new photos have been posted to the entry below this one)

By, Stephen Speckman

After reaching the summit this week of the world's tallest peak,
Utahns Apa Sherpa and Lhakpa Sherpa took part in what was a grim
reminder of how Mount Everest can claim lives in an instant.

Summit team members of the SuperSherpas Expedition, led by Apa and
Lhakpa, reached the 29,035-foot peak at about 9 a.m. Wednesday in
Nepal. Around the same time, an avalanche hit near base camp, where
a SuperSherpas celebration included banging on pots.

"It seemed like the gods were chiming in their own way," Roger
Kehr said about the avalanche.

There was no direct hit on the camp and everyone there came away
uninjured as the SuperSherpas and other teams celebrated the world's
first all-Sherpa team ascent of Everest. The climb also marked Apa's
17th successful summit, a number that no one in history has matched.

But the so-called gods had a different message for members of a
team of Korean climbers, who lost two people to the mountain this
week. Oh Hee-joon, 37, and Lee Hyun-jo, 34, both died, either in a
separate avalanche as reported by Apa or, according to two Web sites
devoted to Everest news, in a fall while attempting to summit.

Every year foreigners and Sherpas die on Everest and some of the
bodies are never found. If they're found, like the two Korean
climbers, Herculean efforts are made to get them off the mountain.

Apa and Lhakpa were on their way to base camp when they came upon
what was most likely a recovery effort. They helped to lower the two
climbers down the infamous Icefall, an obstacle that is in constant
motion. It's an area, located not far from base camp, where climbers
remain as quiet as possible out of fear a loud noise will cause a
chunk of the icy formation to shift or break off.

"I lost three friends last year on that ice fall," said Kehr, who
was with the SuperSherpas team until he became ill and had to return
to Utah.

The bodies of the two Koreans were cared for, apparently without
incident, and as of Thursday afternoon in Utah (Nepal is 12 hours
ahead of Utah) the entire SuperSherpas team was back at base camp,
tired, recovering from stomach problems in two cases, but safe and

"This all started with a dream that somehow we, the team, could
change the way the world looked at the Sherpa and Nepali people,"
Kehr said. "We're sort of pinching ourselves. People will finally get
to understand that the word Sherpa refers to an incredible group of
human beings and not just a bunch of porters. It's got all the pieces
of a great story."

It's estimated that the SuperSherpas team will reach Katmandu
around May 19 for a "hero's welcome" there. Within the next few weeks
Apa and Lhakpa, along with his three children currently still living
in Nepal, should be back in Utah.

Summit, then grim task

Enjoy the new photos, courtesy of SuperSherpas LLC.

The descent to base camp for Apa, Lhakpa and others on the SuperSherpas Expedition summit team has been delayed in order for them to help bring down the bodies of two Korean climbers.

Team spokeswoman in Utah, Katie Eldridge, said the climbers were killed when an avalanche swept through their camp below the summit - they were in their tent at the time.

The Web sites, and, both have information about the climbers. Their names are listed as Oh Hee-joon, 37, and Lee Hyun-jo, 34, both members of the Park Jong-Seok expedition, according to one Web site. Both sites say the men fell to their death.

The most dangerous and difficult part of bringing down their bodies is getting them over a large ice fall, an obstacle in constant motion that poses one of the biggest risks on Everest near base camp. The ice fall is located between 17,500 feet and 19,500 feet in altitude.

The SuperSherpas all-Sherpa summit team reached the top of the 29,035-foot peak at about 9 a.m. Wednesday in Nepal. Below are a few photos of some of the Sherpas on top of the world.

Sherpas in the photos include Utahns Apa and Lhakpa, as well as Pasang and Mingma.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The history makers

On May 16, at 8:44 a.m. in Nepal, two Sherpas who live in Utah and five more Sherpas who were the support crew, reached the summit of Mount Everest. It's the first all-Sherpa team to climb to the top of the world.

Below are the men from the summit team who were part of the SuperSherpas Expedition.

From Utah:

Apa Sherpa, 47 - 17 summits
Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa, 39 - 13 summits

Support crew:

Pemba Rinjin, 36 - 6 summits
A Rita Sherpa, 44 - 9 summits
Ang Passang Sherpa, 39 - 8 summits
Passang Gyaljen Sherpa, 20 - 1st summit
Ang Chhiring Sherpa, 25 - 1st summit

The men endured high winds and bitter cold to place Nepal's flag atop what Sherpas call Chomolungma, also known as Everest. They climbed over 7,000 feet in less than 24 hours, according to SuperSherpas Expedition spokeswoman Katie Eldridge.

Quoted collectively, Apa and Lhakpa said, "We want to continue in Sir Edmund Hillary's footsteps and contribute to education and improving health care in the Khumbu region and for all Nepali people in the remote regions."

A book and a documentary about the SuperSherpas experience are planned for the future.

(Note: the above names were sent by Prabodh Sagar Dhakal - spellings of names may differ from previous blog entries and newspaper articles.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

All-Sherpa team reaches Everest summit

By, Stephen Speckman

The Sherpas did it.

A group of Sherpas, including two who now live in Utah, reached
the top of the world Tuesday night, when it was Wednesday morning
in Nepal, according to

Utahns Apa Sherpa and Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa were part of the
seven-Sherpa summit team that set out for the top of the 29,035-foot peak,
located in a time zone that is 12 hours ahead of Utah.

"With great excitement in his voice, Apa (Sherpa) called base camp on his
radio and said, 'We are on the summit. We are all on the summit,'" Roger
Kehr said in an e-mail. Kehr has been in constant contact with the group
from his home in Utah.

Kehr said all but one of the seven made it to the summit (Dawa Sherpa
had to return to Camp 4) and that all were "safe and sound," ready to take
the "necessary" photos just before 9 a.m. Wednesday and then make a
"hasty" departure.

The SuperSherpas Expedition became one of the first two teams this
year to summit from the mountain's more technically difficult south side.

This time, however, these Sherpas weren't porters working for
pennies on the dollar.

They weren't carrying heavy loads of food and supplies in the bitter
cold and wind for foreigners who typically pay an outfitter tens of
thousands of dollars for a trek up Everest.

On the world stage, they were just a bunch of Sherpas, that is,
before they became the first ever all-Sherpa team to summit Everest.

But how will the successful summit of the SuperSherpas Expedition
be received by an international media that critics say has in the
past has glorified foreign climbers while leaving Sherpas essentially
in the shadows of their own back yard?

"They still do not command even a fraction of the attention that
foreigners still attract," Kehr said in an interview earlier Tuesday.
He was part of the SuperSherpas team in Nepal until he became
ill and had to return to Utah.

"It's our fervent hope that they become Hollywood stars," Kehr
said in an interview. "That way the can get paid. Right now they
don't' have enough money to pay for their children's education."

In a 2001 interview posted on the Web site,, Apa
Sherpa said he considers his work on Everest, which includes a record
17 summits, as only a job, one he hopes his children won't have to
do. He said back then that Sherpas are stronger climbers than
Westerners and that Sherpas should be paid on the same level as
Western porters and guides on Everest.

The trek for the SuperSherpas Expedition - and the danger -
isn't over yet.

The hardest part, the descent, is still ahead for the Sherpas. And
a majority of the people who die on Everest every year perish during
the descent.

"Going down is harder than going up in many areas," Kehr said.

Physically, climbers are weak if they haven't been conserving
enough energy during the ascent. And mental exhaustion can lead to
mental mistakes, Kehr added. He also offered words of reassurance.

"You've got the strongest team in history," he said. And the group
has about 50 summits of Everest between them. "They're brilliant

Other Sherpas on the summit team are believed to have been Ang
Passang, Arita, Pemba, Dawa and Passang Gaylzan Lhakpa.

In their community of over 100,000 people nestled high in the
Himalayas of Nepal, Sherpa is a shared last name. Typical first names
are derived from the day of the week on which Sherpas are born -
Ngi'ma for Sunday, Dawa for Monday and so on. Utahn Lhakpa Gelu
Sherpa, for example, was born on a Wednesday.

Yet, for all they have accomplished - or rather for as much as they
have helped others become famous - most people around the world know
little about Sherpas, who within the last 500 years left Tibet for

With the SuperSherpas Expedition, doctors in Utah's medical
community hope to collect enough data - through blood samples taken
and observations made during the climb - in order to find out why
Sherpas are so much stronger on Everest than virtually everyone else
around the world.

"We really don't know exactly what we're going to find," said
Geoffrey Tabin, who helped assemble a team to study the Sherpas
before, during and after the Everest climb.

Tabin has known Apa Sherpa since 1988, when the two were together
on an Everest expedition. Tabin said Apa was strong enough, but
lacked the experience back then to summit.

"He got nervous," Tabin said about Apa.

But the following year Apa Sherpa would summit and he hasn't stopped
reaching the peak since, holding the record for the most successful

What Tabin and others hope to learn from two of the world's
strongest climbers - Apa and Lhakpa - is how their bodies utilize
oxygen during physical stress at high altitudes and whether there is
anything in their DNA to suggest they have a head start on climbing
from the moment they're born.

"(The study) has a lot of implications in terms of what we can do to
control certain parameters with people who have congestive heart
failure and pulmonary disease," Tabin said. The research collected
from Apa and Lhakpa, he added, "... may be something that will be of
great benefit to patients in the intensive care unit in a very short

(Note: We will try to update this site throughout Wednesday and the
rest of the week as the team makes the treacherous trek back down
the mountain.)

Getting close ...

As of Tuesday afternoon, Apa Sherpa had phoned into Jerry Mika at Base Camp to say that he was near the "balcony" and was nearing the summit from the south side of Mount Everest, according to SuperSherpas Expedition spokeswoman Katie Eldridge. At about 1:30 p.m. (Mountain time) the team of seven or eight Sherpas, led by Utahns Apa Sherpa and Lhakpa Sherpa, were approximately four hours into their big summit push from Camp 4. It's estimated they may reach the summit, if the weather holds, between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., Utah time. If that happens, the all-Sherpa team will be the first team to summit from Everest's south side this year.

Stay tuned ...

Good time climbing ...

Apa Sherpa (front) and Lhakpa Sherpa make climbing an ice fall on Mount Everest look easy.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Big Push ...

The SuperSherpas Expedition's "big push" for the summit of Mount Everest was supposed to have begun on May 13. However, we're still awaiting word on where the 8-person Sherpa summit team is at on the climb. We will publish new information and photos to this site as they become available.

In the meantime, Katie Eldridge, the media contact in Utah for the group, was able to forward a few comments from Utahns Apa Sherpa and Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa, who between them have 28 summits of the world's tallest mountain. A documentary is being made of the team's dangerous climb. On everyone's mind is how on April 26, Dawa Sherpa, a porter with a different team, died while working on the mountain.

Apa -- "This expedition is very important to the Nepali and Sherpa people because no one knows about us and what we do. This documentary is going to be good for our people -- it will help with health and education of our children.

"The Sherpa who died on the mountain (sic) this is a very big mountain and it can happen to anyone. But what I am thinking is how can we help the family. There needs to be an insurance fund for the families, like in America if they die on the job, then their family is taken care of. This is a job just like any other, but with a higher risk."

Lhakpa -- "I am hoping this expedition will be a success and may provide for the health and education of the next generation -- that they will have a choice and that people will realize we need to be responsible if someone dies (sic) and insurance would help these families whose fathers have passed away working on the mountain. It is very sad to lose friends."

Here are a few more quotes from Sherpas in the group:

Arita Sherpa (Apa's brother) -- "My brother and Lhakpa are doing this with way high causes (sic) for our country and our community. I am so very proud to be on this team."

Pemba Ringee (Lhakpa's cousin) -- "Apa and Lhakpa's success will help our country. That's whay I am climbing -- and I have lots of hope."

Dawa Sherpa (same name as the Sherpa who perished April 26) -- "This SuperSherpa team is with lots of promise to our country and people. Indeed, it feels great when you are working with the people who have success larger than life."

The all-Sherpa team is being led by Apa Sherpa, who holds the record (16) for the most summits of Everest. Dr. Scott McIntosh is also making the summit climb while collecting data on why porters and climbers from the Sherpa community in Nepal are so much more adept at tackling high-altitude climbing than people from elsewhere in the world.

This year it's estimated there are 800 people trying to summit Everest, which along with quickly changing weather patterns could push back the SuperSherpas' estimated summit date of between May 14 and May 17. Again, we will update this site with new information about the climb as it becomes available.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Leaving base camp

Two Utah Sherpas who are revisiting their old friend Mt. Everest have left base camp this week and embarked on the long, grueling trek for the summit.

Both men are part of a unique all-Sherpa team that is on its way across the Khumbu Icefall, not far above base camp, at the head of the Khumbu Glacier, according to Katie Eldridge, a spokeswoman for the expedition. The climbers must use ropes and metal ladders to cross the icefall, which is regarded as one of the most treacherous stages of the South Col route to the summit.

Large crevasses can open up with little warning, and climbers have fallen. Big blocks of ice sometimes tumble down the glacier and have crushed climbers in the past.
The two Utah Sherpas are intimate with the dangers they face when trying to summit the world's highest peak. Apa Sherpa has reached the top of the world a record 16 times. Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa holds the record for the fastest ascent.

Both Utah men, who come from part of a relatively small Sherpa community in Nepal (and therefore share the same last name), are keenly aware that people, many of them Sherpas who Apa and Lhapka sometimes know, die every year on Everest.

Just last week, on April 26, Dawa Sherpa, 40, died between camps 2 and 3 on the mountain. There are conflicting reports on exactly how he died.

On the Web site, Dawa is called a "high-altitude worker" from Solokhumbu. He was part of a 10-member commercial team led by an Austrian climber.
Even less information is known about Dawa in a report on the Web site A quote on the site reads, "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Sherpa family." Dawa's death came just a few days before the Utah Sherpas arrived at base camp of the 29,035-foot peak.

What is upsetting to Utah mountaineer Roger Kehr is that there isn't more information published in the media about Dawa's family, including who he leaves behind.

"He's labeled the first death (of the climbing season on Everest), and that's the end of the story," Kehr said Tuesday in an interview.

After the interview, however, Kehr's wife was able to find out that Dawa was married with four children, the oldest being 10. His other job was in construction.

Kehr was, along with Utahn Jerry Mika, a co-manager of the base camp for Apa and Lhakpa's team. However, Kehr was unable to correct some irregular vital signs and was recently forced to return to Utah.

The team actually left Utah at the end of March, but it can take several days just to reach Everest's base camp in the Himalayas, and then more time is needed for most climbers to acclimatize at altitude, which for Everest's base camp is at 18,370 feet. As of Tuesday afternoon (they are 12 hours ahead of Utah in Nepal), Mika was still on the mountain.

The historic SuperSherpas Expedition is being filmed for a documentary on Sherpas, the unheralded heros of climbs that typically glorify rich clients of companies that hire Sherpas to carry heavy loads, paying them about $8 a day. Kehr said Sherpas receive very little, if any, recognition when the media reports on a Westerner who summits.

"People treat them like mules," Kehr said. "But how many mules can save your life?" They also set up tents for everyone, cook the food and "keep you from doing something stupid" on the mountain, Kehr added.

With the SuperSherpas Expedition, however, "it's payback time," Kehr said. This time, Westerners are the support team for Apa and Lhakpa. The documentary about the climb, he added, will focus on the Sherpas, their lives, the community they come from and the challenges they face there. The Sherpas hope the documentary will raise money for education and other services in Nepal and increase awareness about Sherpa culture.

So far this climbing season, two men from Kazakhstan, with help from Sherpas, have reached the summit of Everest. "Five Sherpas, who probably fixed ropes for them, summited, too — but you don't hear any of their names," Kehr said.

Exactly when — or if — the Super Sherpas team will make it to the summit is uncertain. As with any expedition on Everest, a lot will depend on what weather conditions are like in the coming days and weeks for Apa and Lhakpa's team.

by, Stephen Speckman,