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Racing to the Top of the World
Pemba Dorjee Sherpa, who holds the world speed record for climbing Mt. Everest, is not quitting yet
Mukunda Bogati (mukunda)     Print Article 
Published 2005-07-29 21:03 (KST)   
Would you believe a man could climb Mount Everest (8,848 meters) and return in eight hours, 10 minutes? It seems impossible but Pemba Dorjee Sherpa, a 28-year-old Nepali, accomplished this feat May 21 last year and his most heralded success is a mention in the "Guinness Book of World Records" as the fastest climber of Mount Everest in the world.

Before this record, on May 20, 2003, he climbed the mountain in 12 hours, 45 minutes. But Pemba says this success encouraged him to climb Mount Everest again and in less time. In a group of Nepali mountaineers he was called a "sprinter climber. He talks with OhmyNews about his adventurous life in the mountains, his future plans and the environment of the Mount Everest region.

On one expedition, Pemba climbed Mount Everest in traditional Sherpa dress. On the mountain's summit, he shows the photographs of the king and queen of Nepal.
©2005 Pemba
OhmyNews: Why do you want to climb Mount Everest in such short lengths of time?

Pemba: When I was working in the mountaineering field as a trekking guide, I read in the news that Kaji Sherpa and Babu Chiri Sherpa were listed in the "Guinness Book of World Records" for having the fastest Mount Everest climbing records.

After a few years I got the chance to work with Kaji and Babu Chiri Sherpa in a high-altitude area. At the time, when Kaji and Babu Chiri Sherpa took four to five hours to cross some mountainous area, I crossed it within three hours. So I thought, why can't I climb Mount Everest faster than my elder climbers? This type of success encouraged me to climb Mount Everest in such a short length of time.

What have you done to become the fastest climber in the world?

To set a new fastest climbing record on Everest is not an easy task. So in 2000, I first climbed Mount Everest with a Japanese expedition team to observe how difficult Mount Everest was. On that expedition I slept for two nights at 8,300 meters. It was more challenging for most of the mountaineers.

After coming to the capital, Kathmandu, I had to search for a sponsor and prepare by doing physical exercise. I did my altitude training in the Everest region, where I had to go up and down more than 100 times. Every day I rode my cycle 30 kilometers and ran 10 to 20 kilometers. I did more rock climbing. Altogether I did 10 months of hard exercise. On May 20, 2003, I climbed Mount Everest in 12 hours, 45 minutes, and it was fastest record in the world.

After setting this new record for climbing Mount Everest, why did you again try to break it?

After setting a new world record for climbing Mount Everest the fastest, it was broken by another Nepali climber after two days. So I had to re-establish my world record. Then, in 2004, on May 21, I again climbed Everest, in eight hours, 10 minutes.

Why is there such competition among Sherpa climbers to set records on Mount Everest?

Mount Everest itself holds one of the world's records, and you can find hundreds of records that mountaineers have set on this mountain.

It is also the most challenging place for adventuring in the world and for the Sherpa community it is a major working place. If you wanted to become a good mountaineer you had to establish different types of records so you could prove that you are good mountaineer.

If you look at the history of the fastest climbing on Everest, it was first established by French mountaineer Mark Batard, who climbed Mount Everest in 1988 in 22 hours, 29 minutes. After one decade, Nepali climber Kaji Sherpa broke this record, with 20 hours, 24 minutes.

In 2000, another Sherpa climber, Babu Chiri Sherpa, climbed Mount Everest in 16 hours, 56 minutes. Then I broke Babu Chiri Sherpa's record with 12 hours, 45 minutes, on May 20, 2003. After setting a new record, I was back in Kathmandu to congratulate another Sherpa climber, Lakpa Gelu Sherpa, who broke my record on May 25, 2003 with 10 hours, 56 minutes. So I had to establish a new world record, and I went to Mount Everest in 2004 and set the new fastest climbing record of 8 hours, 10 minutes.

Pemba bathes in a dangerous zone of Mount Everest. He says it was too cold.
©2005 Pemba
Do you think that because Sherpa climbers have climbed Mount Everest so quickly, the adventure of Everest will weaken?

No. No. It is one of the most challenging places on earth. But everybody will not be perfect and not all mountaineers can do this type of work. It is very hard and risky for us, also. You may know that Babu Chiri Sherpa, who has climbed Mount Everest more than 10 times, stayed at the peak for 20 hours and set a different world record on Mount Everest. He died at camp 1.

But we just take this type of challenge to exhibit our skill in the mountaineering field. If we embark on this type of adventure we become experts and we get more foreign mountaineers to climb with us.

How much money do you get for climbing Mount Everest?

In one year there are two seasons for climbing Everest. If we have to climb Everest, a group will pay more than $2,000 for equipment. Until the base camp they pay $8 a day. After the base camp to camp 1 they pay $40 a day. From camp 2 to camp 4 they pay $200 per day.

After arriving at the summit and succeeding at the expedition they will pay us $500 to $1,000. In one season we can earn around $3,000 from one expedition. After this expedition we are free and sometimes we go to another country for mountaineering training.

Sometime we hear that Nepali Sherpa climbers carry foreign mountaineers climbing Mount Everest.

Sherpa climbers are experts in mountaineering, so foreigner mountaineers hire us to help in mountainous zones. To succeed in climbing Everest they spend lots of money. So it is our duty to help them when we are climbing.

But it is false that we carry them. It is very difficult to carry people on Everest. If they feel any difficulty we make a path, prepare a rope and pull them. We have to care for them because they have hired us for this work.

When you climb Everest, which place do you feel is the most difficult?

From Tibet it is quite easy to climb Everest. You can go to the base camp by vehicle. But from the Nepal side it is quite difficult and more adventurous for mountaineers.

When I am climbing Everest I feel the most dangerous part is the Khumbu Icefall. This icefall is from 5,300 to 6,400 meters high. So every climber has to be careful in this place. In this area, Babu Chiri Sherpa died.

You climbed Mount Everest four times and you were also a member of the Mount Everest clean-up team. What is the condition of Everest? Is it really becoming the world's highest dumping site?

Four years ago the Everest region was littered by used oxygen cylinders, cans, plastic and dead bodies. If this ratio increases for a few years it will be very hard to preserve the environment of Mount Everest.

We cleaned Everest twice with a Japanese expedition from the Nepal side, from 5,000 to 8,500 meters, and twice from the Tibet side. After this clean-up we had collected around four tons of garbage from Mount Everest and around seven dead bodies of mountaineers. We buried those bodies in mud and we brought the garbage to Kathmandu.

We collected a more than 40-year-old oxygen cylinder from Everest. Now that cylinder is on display in Japan. So to preserve the environment of Everest there has to be a new environmental law. Like on every expedition, mountaineers should have to return their waste to the base camp, otherwise they should have to pay a fine. If not, the government will have to put aside extra money for preserving Everest.

Pemba showing the banner of his sponsor on the 'Top of the World.'
©2005 Pemba
Have you had any unforgettable moments while climbing in a mountainous zone?

In October 2001 we went to climb Mount Shishapangma and we were at 7,500 meters. When we were there heavy snow started to fall and it continued for five days. Our stock of food was finished and we were all in the tent. We thought it was our last stage of life.

After five days, the snow stopped. Our tent was covered with snow and we tore the tent and went out. Nobody was lost. It was a really horrible moment in my mountain life.

Can you describe yourself?

I am one of seven brothers and my four elder brothers have climbed Everest. My elder brother has climbed Everest twice. My village is Beding, Dolakha. Do you know the name of this village? The interesting thing about this village is that in every home you can find someone who has climbed Mount Everest.

This environment sparked my interest in climbing Everest. After finishing the fifth grade I joined the mountaineering field, and at the age of 18 I started to climb mountains. Now I have one five-year-old daughter, Tashi Doma, a four-year-old son, Cheeten Sherpa, and a wife, Nima Sherpa.

You are always eager to set a new record in the mountains. What will be your next world record?

I am planning to make a different world record on Mount Everest. To climb Everest was very expensive for us so I am searching for a sponsor. If I get a sponsor, I will climb Mount Everest and Lotse (8,516 meters) in one day.

In 2004, I broke the record of Babu Chiri Sherpa, who climbed Everest twice in 10 days. But I have to climb Mount Everest twice in five days. After this success my next world record will be to spend 24 hours at the top of Everest. The record of staying at the top of Everest is held by Babu Chiri Sherpa. He spent 21 hours at the top of the world in1999.
©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Mukunda Bogati

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