Ang Rita Dies at 72

8000ers Everest Himalaya
Ang Rita Sherpa holds his Guinness record certificates after his no-O2 Everest summits, including the first and only winter ascent. without supplementary oxygen.

Ang Rita was the second Sherpa after Tenzing Norgay to become known to mountaineers around the world. But Norgay’s first ascent of Everest with Edmund Hillary is always considered part of Col. Hunt’s expedition. He never took part in another expedition afterward.

Meanwhile, Ang Rita established his own legend through a hectic career spanning the 1980s and 1990s. He climbed Kangchenjunga, Makalu, Cho Oyu four times, Dhaulagiri three times and Everest ten times. The feat won him the nickname of Heem Xhituwa (Nepalese for Snow Leopard), not only because of his 8,000m successes but because he did them all without bottled oxygen. Or almost all: On Ang Rita’s first ascent of Everest in 1983, David Breashears states that he shared a bottle with the Sherpa in their tent at Camp Four, before and after the summit push.

The following year, Ang Rita climbed Everest via a new variation on the South Ridge, with a Slovak team. On December 22, 1987, he stepped on the roof of the world with Korean Heo Young-Ho, who used supplementary O2 while Ang didn’t. While not considered a “winter climb” by contemporary mountaineering standards, since only the final summit push took place after the start of calendar winter, the Guinness World Records judges saw no impediment to crediting him with a winter climb of Everest — still one of the most coveted prizes in Himalayan winter climbing. Ang Rita’s remains the only winter ascent without supplementary oxygen.

On the summit of Everest.

For Ang Rita, climbing was always his work and livelihood. His first job as a high-altitude porter came at age 15. He reached his first 8,000m summit, Dhaulagiri, about 10 years later, in 1979. The last time he stood atop Everest, he accompanied Göran Kropp just one week after the infamous 1996 storm which took the lives of eight people.

In the era when Ang Rita climbed, Sherpas were mostly considered high-altitude porters and their names were rarely mentioned. They were paid to tote loads for a handful of yearly expeditions, and few Sherpas considered it a long-term profession.

Since then, Sherpa climbers have become Everest guides and outfitters. Current climbing Sherpas are required to use O2 when working, in order to improve their performance and ensure their clients’ safety, so Ang Rita’s record of nine Everest summits without bottled oxygen will probably stand. Kami Rita Sherpa, for instance, holds the current record for Everest summits (24 and counting), but all with supplementary O2.

Kami Rita, incidentally, had some bitter words for Nepal’s government when Ang Rita suffered a stroke in 2017 and received no support from authorities. “We are famous around the world, but our government doesn’t care about us,” he said. Ang Rita never fully recovered, and suffering also from liver problems, he finally passed away yesterday in Kathmandu.

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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