Being a Sherpa and a mountaineer has almost become synonymous today. Most of us can do nothing but be amazed at the feats that the Sherpas have achieved by spending years of their lives embracing the mountains, facing the challenges posed by the lofty peaks and helping others manoeuvre the tough terrains. Pasang Sherpa, Dawa Finjok Sherpa, Dawa Ongchu Sherpa and Chijji Nurbu Sherpa are visiting Pune with Giripremi, a mountaineering club, as part of a special event to celebrate International Mountain Day. They talk to Amandeep about their life experiences on and off the mountains. Excerpts:
Why did you start mountaineering?
Pasang: The government schools and the education system in Nepal are not too good. It wasn’t like we were educated and could get government jobs. We had to do something and earn. So, we started mountaineering.
The feeling of reaching the summit, does it ever get old?
Chijji: It is a different feeling every time. Sometimes, you feel strong mentally, and sometimes, you are at 8,500 m and your brain is barely functioning. All the experiences are in the moment and different from each other.
What is the best memory you have of an expedition?
Pasang: In 2008, I went to Mount Kangchenjunga with the Indian Army. It is a memory I cherish. I reached the summit and the overall experience was great.
How dangerous has an expedition been?
Finjok: In 2017, a man had died on the balcony of Mount Everest. It was May 16. Pasang bhai and I were on an expedition on the Tibet side with a man from the Netherlands. Three people had gone and just one woman had returned safe. I was asked to go on a recovery and rescue mission. My job was to guide four young Sherpas, who went with me, and videograph the whole operation. We went to 8,500 m to recover the body. The youngsters didn’t know much. I had to stop the videography and help them out.
Chijji: Once in 2009, there was an avalanche. It hit an Italian man right in front me. I still remember it distinctly.
How would you describe your state of mind when you were about to go on your last expedition as compared to when you went on your first expedition?
Finjok: The first time I went mountaineering, I didn’t have any experience. I hadn’t even gone to a base camp, and I had to summit at Dhaulagiri. It took us 17 to 18 hours from camp 3 to the summit. It was 28 hours later that I returned to camp 3.
Pasang: You aren’t all that afraid after you have done it once. You get a sense that you can do it again.
How long do you want to continue mountaineering?
Ongchu: I am 46, I want to continue till I turn 65. I have done 12 to date and I want to climb all 14 ‘8,000ers’.
Pasang: Till I am 45. I am going to do it only for a few more years. I am 38 now.
Finjok: I have been wanting to leave for two years now. But, I don’t. When the climbing season comes, people keep asking where I will go this time and then I tell myself that I will have to go mountaineering now.
Chijji: I also aim to complete the 14 ‘8,000ers’. There’s just one to go.
If not a mountaineer, what do you think you would have been?
Ongchu: If not a mountaineer. I would have set up a small business and stayed home.
Finjok: The Nepalese didn’t have much to do before mountaineering. I have always been fascinated by the Army. I loved the adventure as a child. I would have joined the Army otherwise.
Pasang: I would have been in the Army too. I have even served for two years.
How has climate change impacted the mountains?
Pasang: There used to be snow even in front of the base camp a few years ago but it is just rocks now. The climate change is affecting mountains.
Finjok: There used to be expeditions up to June first week. Now, after May 25, the equipment doesn’t work as the ice falls apart and there are accidents. The monsoon lasts longer now, and the snowfall is far less than it used to be. The mountains don’t have their appeal in September now. And if everyone comes in October, it becomes too crowded.
Do you think mountaineering as a hobby is picking up?
Finjok: Yes, the number of people coming on expeditions is increasing. But mostly, they come for that achievement that is associated with reaching the peak.
What advice do you give to the younger generation of Sherpas and mountaineers?
Pasang: There are a lot of young Sherpas who make fake certificates and don’t have proper training. This is dangerous. Why put someone else’s life in danger? Also, mountaineers need to understand that a Sherpa can help, but can’t do everything for them. Some things they have to do themselves. Sherpa or not, people should train properly.
Ongchu: I would advise mountaineers to train and be prepared as there are a lot of accidents and deaths on the slopes. People come thinking mountaineering is easy. It’s not. People should have ample knowledge.