Three men have climbed to the top of the world 21 times, all of them mountain guides who grew up in the shadow of Mount Everest. Two of these famed Sherpa guides have retired. But 48-year-old Kami Rita says he’ll be summiting Everest for years to come, explains APNews.
“My goal is to reach the summit of Everest at least 25 times,” he told The Associated Press in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, shortly before heading back to the mountain for what he hopes will mark a record-breaking climb. “I want to set a new record not just for myself but for my family, the Sherpa people and for my country, Nepal.”
He first scaled the 29,035ft Everest at 24, and has made the trip almost every year since then. He has also climbed many of the region’s other high peaks, including K-2, Cho-Oyu, Manaslu, and Lhotse. In the autumn, he guides clients to smaller peaks in Nepal.
As a veteran guide, he earns about $10,000 for each Everest climb, an enormous income in a country where most people earn just $700 or so per year.
The other two summit record-holders are also Sherpas. Apa, a 58-year-old guide who uses only one name, retired in 2011 and moved to Utah. Phurba Tashi, 47, retired from high-altitude climbing in 2013 but still works at Everest’s Base Camp, helping organize expeditions.
“There are many risks in climbing, which is always unpredictable and dangerous. But I have had to keep doing this because I don’t know anything else,” Rita said. Some of the hardest moments for him came when he lost friends in mountaineering accidents.
He was at Base Camp when an avalanche struck in 2014, killing 16 Sherpa guides, including five from his team. The next year, an earthquake triggered another avalanche that ripped through Base Camp, killing 19 people. He escaped only because his team’s tents were set up that year on the far side of Base Camp.
In many ways, he says, climbing has become safer in the three decades he’s been working in the mountains, with better equipment and complex weather forecasting to warn of the mountain’s deadly storms.
“The dangers are still there: the crevasses are deep and the slopes are unpredictable. But we are not climbing blind like we used to. We are better informed about weather and other condition on the mountain,” he said. “Even our clients are more aware and they train themselves for at least a year before attempting Everest.”
Mountaineering has been Rita’s professional life. But it still weighs heavily on his family. His wife, Lakpa Jangmu, dreads when he leaves for expeditions.
“I keep telling him we could look for other jobs, start a small business,” she said. “But he does not listen to me at all.”