Lhakpa Sherpa: Queen of Everest

Lhakpa Sherpa on Mount Everest. Photo: Lhakpa Sherpa

Every spring, Lhakpa Sherpa takes time off from her day job at a Whole Foods store in Hartford, Connecticut to climb the world’s highest peak. Last May 16, she completed her 9th climb of Mount Everest, breaking the record for the most summits by a woman.  

Growing up in the Makalu region of eastern Nepal, she immersed herself in the Sherpa way of life from an early age. But the Nepalese traditions of marrying young, doing housework and caring for children were incompatible with her dream of becoming a professional climber. So at just 15 years old, she became a porter, carrying heavy loads of equipment and supplies from camp to camp. The grueling work gave her experience and prepared her for a future as a mountain guide. She spent the rest of her adolescent years “looking up to Everest” and finding ways in which she could “avoid a boring life of being a housewife.”

Lhakpa Sherpa in her natural habitat. Photo: Lhakpa Sherpa

She describes herself as “addicted to climbing” and says that her body “needs it”. But the legacy of her people still resonates deeply within her, and living her dream did not come easily. She is a single parent who supports her three children by “washing dishes and hauling trash”. She has deliberately chosen a job that is physical enough that she can stay fit for the Himalayan season without compromising her duties as a mother and provider.

She acknowledges the need for balance between her personal life and her sport. The support of her family members and friends has helped her deal with the anxiety of leaving her children periodically and take on the risk of high-altitude climbing. She says “I couldn’t do that [climbing] without them.” Her spirituality has also played a key role in her mental preparation. Before climbing, she always prays to the mountain “…and gives [it] great respect so as not to be killed by it.”

To fund her many expeditions, she has budgeted carefully and hopes that breaking more records will bring in more income. Every year, she tries to save a minimum of $25,000. This year, the equipment company Black Diamond sponsored her climbing gear. Her recent publicity as the queen of Everest has allowed her to start her own expedition company, Cloudscape Climbing, which offers local hikes in New England as well as expeditions to Everest, Manaslu, Makalu, Ama Dablam and others.

An alpine start. Photo: Lhakpa Sherpa

Her long-term goal is to create “a good life” for herself and her children as she continues to break records. She hopes her children can attend university. In 2019, she will tackle both Everest and K2. She climbs with an important message in mind: She wants the world to know that women are capable of anything.