I had the opportunity of once meeting Junko Tabei, the Japanese woman who, on May 16, 1975, at the age of 35, inscribed her name in the history books as the first woman to conquer Everest (8,848 m), the highest mountain in the world. From her, I came to know that on June 28, 1992, she also became the first lady to successfully achieve the ‘seven summit’ feat by climbing seven of the highest peaks in all the seven continents. That aside, she also disclosed that she had already climbed the highest peaks of 61 countries, and that her lifelong goal was to climb the tallest mountains of all the countries around the globe!
Around the same time, I also had the opportunity of meeting Churrim Sherpa, a courageous Nepali lady who was awarded the Guinness World Record Certificate on February 25, 2013, for becoming the first woman to summit Everest twice within a single season (May 12 and 19, 2012). Born in Gusan village of Taplejung district in eastern Nepal, her feat gains even more significance when one realizes that, in 2012, 12 climbers perished while attempting to climb the highest point on earth. As for her getting the certificate only a year later, she admits that it was due to her own ignorance in not having the faintest idea about how to go about laying her claim to one. Anyway, this year too, despite the large number of expeditions attempting Everest, she is again in the limelight for being chosen to carry some equipment of recently deceased Australian cricketer Paul Hughes to the summit. It is a high honor, indeed.
Reminiscing on her double feat in May 2012, she revealed that the first summit had been more difficult due to the bad weather; still, she managed to reach the top at 7:00 a.m. after starting out at 9:00 p.m. from camp 4, despite the “traffic jams” on the route (there were some 150 climbers crowding it at one point!). Concerned about the eager-beaver hordes, and the resulting accidents, she advises that they acclimatize themselves really well before attempting Everest, because even though the so-called “death zone” starts at 8,000 m, the effects of high altitude begin to be felt acutely even after 7,000 meters. She readily confessed that her plan had been to do two climbs, as she wanted to do something different. After the first summit, she returned to base camp for some rest before starting off once more on May 17 for the top.
While Churrim is again earning accolades today, a certain Nepali lady named Pemba Doma Sherpa earned her place in the sun in 2000 for becoming the first Nepali woman to climb Everest via its north face. Her historic climb was as the leader of the Millennium Everest Expedition, and later on, having climbed to the top again via the south face, she became only the second woman to summit via both the faces. She went on to achieve her sixth ascent in 2007, which makes her the record-holder for most successful attempts on Everest by a woman anywhere in the world. Sadly, while climbing the world’s fourth highest peak, Lhotse, she fell from a height of 8,000 m and perished in the mountains she so loved.
Fifteen-year-old Ming Kipa Sherpa became the world’s youngest woman to conquer Everest when she made a successful ascent on May 24, 2003. She had to climb from the Tibetan side since the Nepal government didn’t allow those under 16 years of age to attempt Everest! Ming had company during the attempt in the form of her sister Lhakpa Chiri, 31, and brother Mingma Gyalu. Lhakpa had already conquered Everest in 2001, and she later went on to climb Everest once more from the Tibetan side.
On May 30, 2005, Moni Mulepati, 24, laid her claim to fame by becoming the first non-Sherpa Nepali woman to climb Everest. She was part of the Rotary Centennial Everest Expedition. While at the summit, she achieved another feat by exchanging marriage vows with her climbing partner and beau, 23-year-old Pemba Dorje Sherpa! Although Moni holds the distinction of being the first non-Sherpa Nepali woman to summit Everest, she is no more the only one. In 2008, a group of Nepali women from different ethnicities were assembled to make a team for the ‘First Inclusive Women Sagarmatha Expedition 2008 Spring’ (FIWSE). Its members, ranging in age from 17 to 30, were Sushmita Maskey (team leader), Chunu Shrestha, Asha Kumari Singh Chaudhary, Shailee Basnet, Maya Gurung, Usha Bisht, Pemadiki Sherpa, Nawang Phutti Sherpa, and Nimdoma Sherpa. All of them succeeded in reaching the summit in May, 2008.
However, as expected, it is the Sherpa women climbers who are the achievers of remarkable feats of climbing. For example, Maya Sherpa, who has conquered Everest from both the north and south faces, has also climbed Ama Dablam 6,812 m, Pumori 7,112 m, Cho Oyu 8,211 m, and Khan Tengri 7,010 m, all very challenging peaks, and all for the first time by any Nepali woman climber. Having said all this, it’s now time to recall the most historic day of all in the annals of mountaineering and Nepali women climbers.
Yes, the very first summit of Everest by any Nepali woman. Yes, I am referring to the redoubtable Pasang Lhamu Sherpa (born Dec 10, 1961) and her remarkable achievement on April 22, 1993, the date when this brave lady reached the pinnacle of Everest to become the 17th woman in the world, and the very first Nepali woman, to do so. Her story did not have a happy ending. A nasty turn in the weather on the way down resulted in her death on the south summit. It was only 21 days later that her frozen body was found just 72 meters below the summit—a tragic ending, but not one that was for nothing. Her momentous accomplishment provided the groundwork for more Nepali women climbers to attempt Everest, and she will forever remain an inspiration to all.