Born in the Khumbu Valley (the Everest region) of Nepal and now based in Seattle, WA, Lakpa Rita Sherpa is an impressive athlete behind a good natured smile and an easy going presence. Known as the “Best Sirdar in the Khumbu” (Sirdar is an Indian terms for military leader) he’s summited Everest 17 times and as a guide he’s lead a record 253 climbers to the summit. While he’s climbed and guided many of the world’s tallest peaks, he’s returned year after year to the Khumbu Valley in Nepal where he was born and to Mt. Everest, the mountain that inspired him to climb at an early age.
Amidst all of his impressive accomplishments, Lakpa Rita is also known for his selflessness during trying times. He was named one of Outside Magazine’s Adventurers of the Year in 2013 and has received praise for years for not only his athletic prowess, but his quick and competent response to accidents on the mountain. Outside Magazine writes “During every major Everest event of the past 20 years… Lakpa Rita has been aiding and rescuing the injured and incompetent alike.”
While Lakpa Rita has had many successes climbing Everest, he’s witnessed many tragedies. Lakpa Rita lost 5 of his team’s Sherpas on April 18th, 2014, (out of 16 total deaths) when an avalanche broke loose above the Khumbu Icefall, killing the hardworking Sherpas, also known as “icefall doctors,” who were setting the route through a treacherous section of seracs. Despite the relative frequency of tragedies on a Everest, this particular accident was particularly hard on Lakpa Rita and the tightly woven Sherpa community. Many of the dead were from Lakpa Rita's home valley and were childhood neighbors or family friends. “It was a very sad event for my community which we will never forget” he reflects.
That particular accident impacted he and his family so greatly, that despite his continued love of guiding and his devotion to Everest, he explains, “I made promise to my family not to climb Everest any more in 2014 after the accident.” And while he’s occasionally tempted to get back on the mountain which he loves, he’s that much more focused on keeping his promise to stay safe.
Instead of walking away from Everest completely, Lakpa Rita pivoted into a new role as the base camp manager for Alpine Ascents International, who he's worked with for almost two decades. Now, as base camp manager, he’s taking on new challenges and responsibilities. He explains that this new role is no easier than his experience as a guide on the mountain, “managing expedition is not easy at all - it's more mental work. There are lots of logistic to deal with, from the start to end.” In this new role, Lakpa Rita is able to impact the safety of the climbing literally from the ground up, specifically focusing on the rights of the Sherpas who do much of the hard work and preparation for every expedition. After the accident, Lakpa Rita was motivated to “make changes, such as using a helicopter to drop most of the route setting gear to high camps, minimizing the number of Sherpas going through the dangerous sections of the icefall and to increase the Sherpas gear allowance, salary and bonus.”
This May, 2017, Lakpa Rita is on his third expedition as basecamp manager for Alpine Ascents. His team has just completed their second rotation up to the higher camps to acclimatize and will be making their summit attempt in the coming weeks. Get to know Lakpa Rita Sherpa and get a glimpse into Everest basecamp life in this video by Alpine Ascents lead guide Ben Jones. And follow Lakpa Rita on Facebook and Instagram to see more of his Everest life.