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 www.everestnews.com.

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, www.k2news.com, 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.)


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