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Apa Sherpa featured in Salt Lake OR Show

Apa on top: Man who climbed Everest 14 times will speak at avalanche fund-raiser

Apa Sherpa stood in front of the large London audience, trying to figure out what they were asking.

It was 2003 and the then-42-year-old Apa, who lives in Nepal, had been asked to speak about his recent 13th summit of the world's tallest mountain.

"I did not understand what unlucky 13 was. It was just a number to me, but they said it was bad luck to stop on 13," Apa said. "I asked my Western friends what it meant, and I started to think about it more and more."

A year earlier, Apa had set the record for Mount Everest summits with his 12th climb and decided he had pushed his mountain karma to its limits. He would not climb again.

"All my friends told me that I had done it enough and that I should not test the gods," said Apa, in Salt Lake City for last weekend's Outdoor Retailer show and to speak at the Backcountry Awareness fund-raiser dinner Friday at Snowbird. "And then along came the 50th anniversary of the first summit."

Succumbing to the pressure of being the best-known Sherpa, Apa joined the expedition commemorating the first successful journey to the top of the world.

"I decided to do it one more time to honor Tenzing," he said, referring to the first Sherpa to reach the summit, Tenzing Norgay Sherpa.

Soon after that 13th summit, one of Apa's four children died of spinal meningitis.

"I do feel there is something to what they were saying [about 13 being unlucky] and I decided to go again," Apa said.

On May 17, 2004, Apa made his 14th summit. While it has been reported that Apa will participate in another summit attempt this spring, he said nothing is confirmed and seems reluctant to venture again to the cold, windy and thin-air world at the top of Chomolungma - the Sherpa word for Everest, which translates to Great Mother Goddess of the World.

Apa's 14 summits in as many years is a feat he performed in an effort to care for his kin, not something he dreamed about and spent money to do. He feels no pride at being the only human to climb Everest 14 times - four of them without supplemental oxygen - just appreciation that he has survived.

"The way Sherpas are brought up is grounded in sincerity and honesty. We are always trying to help others. We do not consider it a matter of pride that we have helped so many Westerners. They asked us to help, and we did," he said.

Everest has taken the lives of many climbers for reasons not entirely understood by Apa and other native people.

"The fact we Sherpa live so close to the mountain means it is nothing novel to us," Apa said. "Perhaps it is the fact that Westerners live so far away. [Coming] to Everest is a sense of adventure and they are wanting to conquer all the time. Maybe because we live so close, we do not see it as a challenge and something we need to do."

For centuries, Everest was something to be admired and respected from afar. But in the early 1920s, the mountain became a way for Sherpa people to provide for their families. Expeditions from around the world descended on Nepal and needed help getting to the summit.

Like other young Sherpa men, Apa began hauling gear to support his family. He made his first summit in 1990. Word of Apa's great strength, despite his small stature, and remarkable wisdom about climbing soon spread, and expedition organizers began requesting him as their head Sherpa.

In the next five years, Apa summited Everest seven times. He was being courted by his friend Rob Hall from New Zealand to join an expedition in 1996, but his wife, Yang Chi, asked him to stay home with the family.

Apa told his good friend he would not be joining the expedition. On May 10, 1996, a blizzard hit Everest and killed eight climbers, including Hall.

Hall had made it to the top that infamous day, but that is when Apa said the mountain is most dangerous.

"Coming down is the worst. People are tired, physically and mentally. That is when the mistakes happen," he said.

More than 1,200 people have reached the top of Everest; more than 175, including 50 Sherpa people, have died trying.

Apa has been invited to participate in the Climb for the Cure expedition this spring, but he said he needs to talk to his family before deciding whether to go for his 15th summit.

Speaking for backcountry awareness
Apa Sherpa will be joined by countryman Lhakpa Rita Sherpa and filmmaker, author and mountaineer David Breashears as speakers at the Backcountry Awareness Week fund-raiser dinner Friday at Snowbird Ski Resort. Proceeds from the evening will benefit Friends of the Utah Avalanche Center. Tickets are $45. The event begins at 6 p.m. at Snowbird's Cliff Lodge Ballroom. Call the Snowbird Activity Center at 801-933-2147 for more information.

Q & A with Apa Sherpa

Do you rely on experience or instinct when climbing?
"More than anything instinctual or intuitive, I believe the reason I have been successful and had no life-threatening situations is a positive attitude. Whenever I have met fellow climbers, I have always wished them the best. Perhaps it is better described as good karma."

What do you fear the most during a Mount Everest summit attempt?
"Whenever I start an expedition, I worry the most about the change in the weather. You have no control over nature; it can change in an instant and creates other major problems. It can be calm and clear and in the next second the winds and clouds come in and cover you and you are engulfed in a blizzard."

What is your hope for the future?
"That Sherpa children, through education, will be able to find opportunities other than climbing and trekking. I'm not against Sherpa people picking climbing as a way to support their families, but I want them to have choices."

Apa Sherpa Mount Everest Summit Timeline

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