An Icefall Doctor Makes his Move

Geljen Sherpa, on the summit of Nanga Parbat last July.

He was there when Alex Txikon fought with the hellish cold of winter K2. He ventured in the menacing Khumbu Icefall, finding his way among giant seracs and endless crevasses to fix a safe route before western teams dared to set a boot above Base Camp. He ploughed through deep snow on the nerve-wracking, superhuman challenge set by Nirmal Purja on his pursuit of all 14 8,000’ers in seven months, which, for Purja, was “like a game.” He has summited nine 8,000’ers just this year. It’s about time that Geljen Sherpa steps out of the shade and receives some applause for, at least, his amazing work performance.

In an interview conducted by Alex Txikon, Geljen reveals the difficulties and extreme conditions faced by Purja and his team. “We had forecasts of 70 to 80kmph winds, yet we climbed on,” he said. He describes Purja as “a very strong guy and a good person, too,” with a project “that no one believed in, but then he made it.”

Geljen Sherpa on the summit of Everest in 2018.

Geljen Sherpa was no newbie when he joined Nirmal Purja. He has been an Icefall doctor — the Sherpa group in charge of finding and fixing the route through Everest’s Khumbu Icefall each spring — for five years. He joined Spain’s Alex Txikon on his two winter attempts to Everest and, earlier this year, on winter K2.

“When I met him, he was an Icefall doctor with Seven Summit Treks,” Alex Txikon told ExplorersWeb. “He is strong, reliable and, basically, a super nice guy. After that first expedition, I strongly recommended to SST’s CEO Mingma Sherpa to hire Geljen not as an Icefall doctor but as an altitude climber, which he did.”

Txikon was delighted with the outcome. “Working on the Khumbu Icefall is just insane,” he explained. “So many people die there, and Geljen was so young, and so good at climbing.”

Geljen Sherpa (second from the right) with Alex Txikon’s Winter K2 team earlier this year. Photo: Geljen Sherpa

Geljen is also nurturing his own project: to snatch Mingma (David) Sherpa’s record as the youngest to summit all 14 8,000m peaks. Mingma David was 30 years and 5 months old when he reached the top of Shishapangma with Nirmal Purja last month. Geljen Sherpa has just turned 28, so has two full years left to climb the five remaining on his list: K2, Broad Peak, Lhotse, Kangchenjunga and Cho Oyu. “I would like to summit all remaining peaks next year,” Geljen said. “If not, I’ll still have another year left to try.”

Geljen Sherpa, left, and Nirmal Purja, second from left, pose with the rest of the Project Possible team in Base Camp at Shishapangma. Photo: Nirmal Purja

About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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2 Comments on "An Icefall Doctor Makes his Move"

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delwyne trefz

Thanks for the insights and a bit of background on a remarkably gifted young climber!

Damien Francois

Dere dere ramro ho, Geljen!
This is something the msm and most people don’t get: The younger high altitude workers’ generation (Sherpas, but also Bhote, Tamang, …) climb because they like it, and not because they have to, to feed their family. This is simply not true anymore. As Lisa Choegyal writes in her new book on Everest: “Nowadays all have the choice of alternative job options”. I know many Sherpas who wouldn’t want to do another job!