Everest Man - Kami Rita Sherpa

Everest Man - Kami Rita Sherpa

Kami Rita Sherpa got into mountaineering to continue the tradition of climbing in the district of Solukhumbu, where the world's tallest mountain, Mt. Everest, stands at 8,848.86 meters (29,031.7 ft). He has broken his own multiple Everest ascent records with his 23rd, 24th, and 25th summits in 2018, 2019, and 2021, respectively. Kami Rita Sherpa hold the record for the most climbs of Mount Everest on May 17th this year, reaching the summit for the 28th time during the Seven Summit Treks Everest Expedition 2023. Previously, Pasang Dawa Sherpa matched Kami Rita's 26th climbs on May 14th, but Kami Rita quickly surpassed him with his 27th ascent the following day. Just three days later, on May 17th, Pasang Dawa equaled Kami Rita's record with his 27th climb. Nevertheless, Kami Rita Sherpa, retained the title of most Everest summits in the world. This was his second ascent of the season, having already conquered the peak on May 17th, 2023.  

Kami Rita Sherpa, 53, comes from a humble ethnic Sherpa community. His father, Mingma Chhiri Sherpa was among the first Sherpa Sardar in the Everest region. He boasts of coming from a record-holding family. His elder brother, Lakpa Sherpa, is also a 17-time Everest summiter. He was born and raised in the mountainous area of Solukhumbu district with extreme climatic conditions. Like most of the people in Khumbu region, his childhood was spent in a very harsh environment where snowstorms and landslides are common. This remote village of Thame (3,750 m), is also home to many world-famous Sherpa mountaineers including Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, the first Sherpa to climb the Everest with New Zealand's Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953. Following the village’s tradition, Kami Rita was introduced to tourism at the young age of 12 when he joined the first trek. He trekked more than a week from his home village Thame to Jiri and began a career as a porter and then kitchen helper for Everest region treks in 1992. "At the time there was no gas nor kerosene fuel, we collected firewood available nearby and used it as cooking fuel in the campsite," he says, recalling his early trekking days experience some 30 years ago.

For many days, he walked in the trekking area of the Everest region, carrying a heavy load that comprises camping equipments and food supplies. He remembers wearing yak fur cloths and walking barefoot along the Everest trekking route. There were no tea-houses and lodges those days, and only camping treks were prevalent at that time. When there was no porter job he also spent his early life as a yak driver - leading yak caravans for the transport of goods and tourist loads. After a few years, he was promoted to assistant guide and eventually to a trekking guide. At the age of 18, he got an opportunity to join the Mera Peak (6,476 m) and Island Peak (6160 m) expeditions. Unlike others getting that job, according to him, was easier for him because of his family connection. His brother-in-law was already working as a guide, which helped him his quick promotion.

Porter to record-breaking Mountaineer

Kami Rita got his first chance to go on an Everest expedition at age of 22, but due to a lack of high altitude work experience, he could only reach up to 8000 meters. Later in 1994, Kami Rita was successful to stand atop Everest for the first time while he was working for an American expedition team. Since then, he has been a frequent climber to Everest. He has climbed Everest in every spring season, unless the expedition was called off by deadly mountain disasters - avalanches, earthquakes and snowstorms. By 2017, he had already ascended Everest 21 times, sharing the record with veteran and senior climbers, Apa Sherpa and Phurpa Tashi Sherpa. In 2018, he made the 22nd ascent to the summit of Everest, breaking his own record for most ascents to the summit. Subsequently, he broke his own records one by one—the 23rd and 24th in 2019. In 2020, he had a planned to celebrate the Silver Jubilee with the 25th climb, but was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Then celebrations were further delayed as he led the 16-member team of Bahrain Royal Guard, including Prince Sheikh Mohammed Hamad Mohammed Al Khalifa. Nevertheless, he made his 25th summit in May 11, 2021 along with the team whereas most expedition groups cancelled their expedition bids. 

The following year, on May 7, 2022, he reached his 26th summit. Over the course of his mountaineering career, which spanned three decades, he accomplished this astounding feat, and the count continues. Today, he is one of the best and most accomplished mountaineers in the world and is sought-after among mountaineers internationally as a knowledgeable and trustworthy guide. In addition, Kami Rita Sherpa has scaled numerous more formidable mountains in Nepal and on other continents. His other 8,000-meter summits include Cho Oyu (8 times), K2, and Lhotse (once each). He has made the 8000-peak record 39 times in total. He is also an expert ice climber and has scaled many challenging icefalls in the Khumbu area and beyond. With this, he has earned the title of The Everest man. His enthusiasm for the Everest trek is still strong. This spring, Kami Rita will re-climb Everest as part of his duty of accompanying foreign climbers to the top. 

Struggle at Home and Work

Kami Rita was born into a large family of eight siblings. Now, he lives in Kapan, an outskirt of Kathmandu city with his wife, a daughter, and a son. He has studied up to grade 4 in his own village. He then went to Khumjung school for higher grades. His home was a three-hour walk from the village to school—a difficult terrain with a steep and grubby trail. At the age of 10, he visited the village monastery for 3-4 months a year to continue his study when the school remain closed. He regrets not being able to complete his school level education due to the poor quality of village schools, the distance, and his family’s dire situation. That is why, he has done his best to assist and encourage his children’s education. He also struggled a lot in his work.

"Back then, we learned everything by seeing and doing. There were no good trainers in the mountain job," recalls Kami. "When we started in the tourism sector, there was neither a school for tourism training, nor a good trainer." As he painfully learned to climb, he is always one step ahead to share his knowledge with the junior mountaineers. "It is necessary to share our skill and knowledge, and one should never be arrogant," this veteran climber shares. The job of a guide is not only to guide tourists; but medical knowledge is also equally necessary. For him, climbing is just like any other profession; he does not find it difficult at all. 

"It is our job to help foreign tourists climb the mountains," he added, "If we don't climb with them, who will?" But he is also concerned about the fact that half of the Sherpas have left climbing profession these days due to lack of job security, high risk of death and climbing profession getting less attractive. "The government in our country has done nothing for the mountain workers' well-being," he says, looking upset during the conversation. In the 2014 avalanche, 16 Sherpas lost their lives in the Khumbu Icefall. "The incident was very painful and heartbreaking. We have lost innocent Sherpa brothers and promising climbers," he said, emotionally recalling the past. Every time he climbs Everest and reaches the Khumbu Icefall, he is tormented by memories of his fellow climbers. He sheds tears, pays respect to his deceased buddies, and continues to ascend toward Mount Everest. "We must move on because life is a journey," he continued, taking a deep breath.

Thame Village: A Home to Veteran Sherpa Climbers 

Thame is known as a mountaineering village in Solukhumbu district. The village has produced many world class climbers where almost every house in the village has an Everest climber. Some of veteran climbers are; Ang Phurba Sherpa, first Everest through-pass climber (China-Japan-Nepal expedition), Apa Sherpa, a veteran mountaineer with 21 world record along with legendary mountaineers Ang Phurba Sherpa Angdorje Sherpa, and Angrita Sherpa are recipients of the Gorkha Dakshin Bahu Award were also from the Thame village. 3 to 10 time summitters are common in the village. 

Celebrity Climber Among Youngsters 

The extraordinary feats of Kami Rita have inspired many young people to join mountaineering. He has also become a role model among the Sherpa youth. Although he has broken his own record many times, he claims he never climbed the mountain with the intention to set a record. “Climbing mountains is my profession, and I do it for a living. " Kami Rita has a courageous, humble, and outspoken personality. He is confident and has always had high respect for the mountains. He said, "There is a close bond between the mountain and the Sherpa." The mountains are revered as gods by the Sherpas. Without Sherpas, climbing Everest is impossible, he continues.

Social Activities

A well-known name in the world of mountaineering community, Kami Rita has participated in an initiative to advance sustainability and safety in the tourism sector. He is involved in a variety of social activities aside from mountaineering. He is actively associated with Yambu Thami Chho Kiduk, a social organization run by Thame inhabitants living in Kathmandu. The organization works at preserving Sherpa culture, organizing various cultural activities, and creating social awareness.

The organization has constructed a porter shelter in Tashi Lapcha Pass in coordination with NMA in post-earthquake 2015. They also built a community hall and kitchen with financial support of Ken Nokuche from Japan. He helped in distribution of food and relief supplies to COVID's affected districts with UK support. He also individually distributed Jackets and stationary materials for children at Thame school in 2020. Additionally provided jackets to children of remote Tengboche village. His book "How to Climb Everest?" has been published already. Everest Man, a documentary based on his life story, will be released soon on Netflix.

Kami Rita Sherpa’s Achievement and Records 

A world acclaimed Nepali mountaineer holds the record for the most number of successful Mount Everest summits.He broke his own records summited Everest 26 times as of 2022. His other notable achievements are:

• He has summited other 8,000-meter peaks like K2, Lhotse, and Cho Oyu, totaling 39 8000-meter peak climbing record
• Climbed Everest from both the south and north sides, and climbed mountains without supplemental oxygen several times.
• In 2019, he summited Everest twice in six days, an extremely rare feat. In May 2021 and 2022 leading rope fixing and leading team to Everest.    
• He was awarded with the Guinness World Record for the most summits of  Everest by a male in 2022.
• Received numerous awards and honors, including recognition from the Nepalese government for his contributions to the country's mountaineering industry.

In order to improve sustainability and safety in the climbing industry in Nepal, Kami Rita has been working tirelessly. He has been fighting for Sherpa porters and guides to receive better pay and working conditions. He is also working to raise awareness of how the Himalayas are being impacted by climate change. His manifold successes on Everest is proof of his talent, persistence, and resolve, and his work to enhance safety and sustainability in the mountaineering community has had a significant impact on the lives of many people in Nepal and around the world.