Born in Thame village of the mountainous Solukhumbu district of Nepal, Mingma Sherpa was only 18 when he first reached Camp IV of the Everest region as a porter in 1998. The next year, aged 19, he got to the peak of the highest mountain in the world. Then, in the following 17-odd years, Sherpa would become a mountain guide and a climber who has by now conquered Everest 10 times, apart from peaking a host of other famous Nepali peaks.
Sherpa’s glorious mountaineering career came to a halt due to his father’s untimely demise in the 2014 Everest disaster. Sherpa’s father—a cook at Camp II—was among the 16 who died in an ice avalanche at the Khumbu Icefall. “My family was worried for me after that. So I quit climbing in 2016,” Sherpa says. He still makes a livelihood from the mountains though. His entrepreneurial venture Climbalaya that he started with a friend in 2015 takes tourists up to the mountains and helps them ascend Nepali peaks.
But without a proper tourist season for the past two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Sherpa’s life has drastically changed and so have the lives of thousands of people from his region who relied on tourism activities for their livelihood. “Almost 70 percent of the Sherpa people depend on tourism,” he says. “We have suffered heavy losses starting from the 2015 earthquake. We were just recovering when the pandemic hit.”
With no alternative means of survival, the Sherpa community has been suffering from lack of basic resources, Sherpa says. In times like these, he has stepped up to organize relief for his community in the mountains. “I was in the US right after the 2015 earthquake and was planning to settle there. Then I thought I still had a lot to do in the country while I was quite young and came back,” Sherpa says.
Sherpa’s career as a social worker began after that. He has been organizing relief packages as well as scholarship opportunities for the people of his community. Recently, after the climbing season took a hit following the Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020, Sherpa provided six months’ essential ration to around 450 households in wards four and five of the Khumbu Pasanglhamu rural municipality. The relief worth Rs 17 million was supplied with the support of the Tenzin Norgay Sherpa Foundation.
“I come from a very poor background and I know what monsoon or a low climbing season does to people in our region,” says Sherpa. “I have thus set out to help the people of the mountains in whatever way possible.” Sherpa’s support for the community does not end with relief packages. He believes education is most important for the community’s betterment. So he has also organized higher education scholarships in Kathmandu for post-SEE students from his community. There are currently six students under the scholarship and Sherpa plans on further increasing the number.
“Due to my family’s status, I could not study beyond grade nine. Actually, I chose to start working very early in life and educate my three sisters instead,” Sherpa says. “Now I want to educate as many young people from the community as possible.” The scholarships Sherpa offers provide students full funding to complete their Bachelors in the subjects of their choice. While the scholarships are merit-based and completely sponsored, Sherpa also signs a contract with the students where they pledge to go back to their communities after their studies and share their knowledge among their people to inspire another generation of students.
Along with education, Sherpa is also focusing on promoting the Thame village and the surrounding region. “The Thame village has given the world some of the most renowned climbers in history. The likes of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, Ang Rita Sherpa, Kami Rita Sherpa, Apa Sherpa and Pasanga Lhamu Sherpa, all come from our village,” Sherpa explains. “Still I feel the country as well as the world overlooks our legacy. My goal is to let the world know of our village.”
If the Covid-19 does not play spoilsport, Sherpa plans to organize the “Ice and Rock” festival at Thame in January-February 2022. The almost three-week-long festival will have both local and international participation and feature a 14-day climbing training as well as various competitions. The project is currently under discussion with related ministries and Sherpa expects the approval to come soon. “We already have the approval to build the Tenzing Norgay memorial park in Thame. Now if we can go ahead with this festival, I am sure we can bring many more tourists to the region.”