Gelje Sherpa, Three 8,000’ers Away from a New Record

A young Sherpa tries to become the youngest to climb all 14 of the 8,000m peaks.

Among those heading for the mountains in the coming weeks, a young Sherpa guide working with Nirmal Purja’s Elite Himalayan Adventures draws special attention.

Twenty-nine-year-old Gelje Sherpa started the year as the youngest of the 10 K2 winter climbers last month. He now aims to become the youngest 14×8,000m summiter in history.

Gelje Sherpa (sometimes written Geljen) started his career as a porter and soon took on one of the riskiest mountain jobs: He became an Ice Fall Doctor, fixing the route up Everest’s unstable Khumbu Icefall every spring. Soon, however, he switched to the comparatively less dangerous task of guiding the big peaks.

He started with Kangchenjunga. Although no one summited on that occasion, he successfully climbed Everest shortly after. Then in winter 2018-19, he joined Alex Txikon to attempt K2. The expedition reached 7,000m, making him the man with the most experience on that mountain in winter among the nearly 40 climbers who showed up in Base Camp this year.

In spring 2019, Gelje’s 8,000m career properly took off, together with Nirmal Purja’s. Following Purja’s pursuit of the fastest 14x8000m record, Gelje summited six of the 14 with him. He suddenly had only four to go and started nurturing the ambition of snatching the “youngest” title from his working partner and companion on the summit of K2, Mingma David Sherpa, also with Elite Expeditions. Mingma David, who completed his own quest at 30 years and 5 months of age, said that he would be delighted to have his bhai (younger brother) Gelje take the record from him.

The current record-holder Mingma David (left) and the aspirant Gelje Sherpa, on the summit of K2 last month. Photo: Gelje Sherpa


Climbing again with Purja’s Elite team, Gelje has the entire year to bag the record. With K2 (in winter!) now squared away, he only has Kangchenjunga, Broad Peak and Cho Oyu to go. The threesome makes a perfect choice for spring, summer, and fall.

The main difficulty will be logistical rather than climbing-related: Cho Oyu’s normal route is accessed from Tibet, and the Chinese government has not opened its borders to foreign climbing expeditions since the pandemic began. Gelje will either have to hope the Tibet-China Mountaineering Association comes through for him or…maybe try to climb it from Nepal? Cho Oyu’s Nepali side, steep and avalanche-prone, is a major challenge but, in this Year of the Sherpa in the Himalaya, it is not out of reach for the talented young star.

In a recent interview, Gelje spoke about his career and dreams. Humble and honest, he spoke about his profession as a mountain guide and the remarkable significance that the recent triumph on K2 has had for the Sherpa climbing community and for Nepal overall.

Yet he hopes that his two children, ages eight and three, will not follow in his footprints.  “I was able to study only till Grade 5, but I want my children to have a good education and a bright future,” he said. “I don’t want them to get into this profession, which is full of hardship. They should do easy jobs.”