Lhakpa Sherpa finds healing in her eight Everest summits
As soon as Lhakpa Sherpa starts climbing Mount Everest, she whispers "please don't kill me" into the cold. She tells the mountain, where almost 300 people have died trying to climb it, that she is arriving for a reason.
"I'm hurt. I want to recover myself on the mountain," she says. Lhakpa is guarded when discussing her pain. But in an interview with Outside Online in 2016, she described alleged abuse by her now ex-husband. She shakes her head and says: "I don't want to talk about it."
Lhakpa, who holds the world record for summits of Everest by a woman, will attempt her ninth climb this month.
Sixteen years ago, she left Nepal for the United States, eventually marrying and having three children, a boy and two girls, she tells espnW in an interview at Whole Foods in West Hartford, Connecticut, where she works as a dishwasher. Her voice struggles to compete with the noises of the store. She explains that, while living in Nepal, she and her brothers worked as Everest guides. She remembers receiving pushback because she was a woman.
"In Nepal, man is first and woman is second," Lhakpa, 44, recalls. "I said, 'No. Men can learn women things and women can learn men things.'"
It will take her about two months to complete her next summit attempt, spending about six hours a day climbing. And for the first time, she will be sponsored. Black Diamond, a climbing company, will cover both her gear and her airfare from Connecticut to Nepal.
"We are a tribe of climbers, and when it became apparent that a member of our tribe needed support, we stepped in to help," the company wrote in an email to espnW. "Climbers take care of their own. Always."
She never prepares for her summits. "My training is here ... washing dishes, taking out garbage. I want a hard job," she says, referring to her duties at Whole Foods.
When Lhakpa is in Nepal, she rides in a Jeep with other climbers to Everest. As they look out of the truck's windows, blue sheep or even a snow leopard might be walking on a nearby mountain. The first night is spent at the basecamp, where Lhakpa eats food like carrots, cabbage, yak meat and fruit. The next day, her eating habits change as she begins backpacking to the mountain. She'll mostly eat garlic noodle soup and beef jerky. "We cook small," she says.
To rest, she digs a hole in the blue ice on Everest, pitches a tent, and crawls inside a sleeping bag. She thinks of Everest as her healer, helping with easing her depression and lifting her spirit.
"We believe Everest is a god. The earth and the mother," she says. "Mount Everest and I have a connection. I feel it talking when snow blows on the top of the mountain."
And sometimes, the shivery winds whip her face as she climbs, watching mountain birds spot the sky. She can also hear every noise, from water falling to ice cracking. Only on Everest do her worries about bills or hurt seem to shrink. Lhakpa isn't nervous while climbing, either. Through her eyes, Everest is like a puzzle that she says she can solve. Besides, she wants to show the world that women can do more in life, especially single mothers like herself.
"We don't give up," she says. "We will not go down after divorce, after hurt. I want to show them. I can do. You too."