Mingma Sherpa with her daughter Samden in front of her lodge, May 2003.
Working on the Mountain
"Nowadays, I shuttle between the U.S., Kathmandu and Tengboche.
I visit the U.S. in summer, I spend the winter in Kathmandu
with my kids, and during the spring and autumn tourist seasons,
I'm up here at the lodge in Tengboche. I just returned from
a 12-day trek with friends in the Everest area. During this
autumn season, I'll probably lead a group from New Zealand on
a trek up to base camp and Kalapathar.
"Business has improved since the 2000 Everest expedition. People
come seeking me and many of my friends, trekking guides send their
groups up here to meet me. Nowadays quite a few people know of
me. When they hear that I was up at 7,400 meters, they are impressed.
Some of them say I was right to return after having a bad dream
-- that it was my mind working. But I regret not going to the
top. If people seek you out, take pictures with you just because
you've been up to Camp III, imagine what it would be like if I
had reached the summit. Many ask me questions about Everest. I
try to answer them even if my English is not that great. Maybe
they're interested because I'm a woman. Probably, there wouldn't
have been much interest if I were a man.
"I would like to guide high-altitude expeditions. But I haven't got a chance yet.
I feel awkward to ask. It's difficult for women to act pushy.
This time I did manage to get my brother-in-law work at camp II.
When he said he was feeling the altitude, I offered to go in his
place, as camp cook or kitchen hand. Whenever I see people going
up to base camp, I have this urge to go. The Indian team has asked
me to come up to base camp to buy their leftover provisions after
the expedition. They were pleased to know that I had been up on
Mingma Sherpa stands near her lodge, with Tengboche Monastery visible in the background.
"I overheard my daughter, who speaks fluent English, telling
some Russian climbers staying at the lodge that both her parents
had been on Everest. She said she didn't want to climb, though.
"I haven't remarried. I don't want to. It will soon be time
for my kids to marry. My son's 19. In a couple of years, he'll
probably get married. People from this region marry early. I
do have a friend, but we have an open relationship, like in
the West, not very Sherpa-like. But I prefer it that way. It
means we have no claims over each other, are free to do what
we want. Minds might change, you may meet someone new. My previous
husband was very controlling. He didn't like it when I socialized
with other people. I enjoy my freedom. I meet and socialize
with who I like, do what I want, explore my interests. There
is no question of my friend telling me if I can or cannot climb.
"I know my kids are not happy with my climbing aspirations.
They get upset whenever I talk to foreigners about climbing.
They fear that I'll go again. I can't talk about climbing at
home or with my kids. But this hasn't affected my interest.
You have to do what you have to do. They're not interested in
climbing -- even if they have to starve. And they don't want
me to climb. My children and most of their cousins study in
Kathmandu. Kids in Kathmandu are not at all interested in climbing.
My nephew, Dawa, who manages the lodge in my absence, says he'll
never go up a mountain. He'd rather run the lodge or do business.
He says hanging onto rocks is no good.
"My sister and mother cried when I went to Everest in 2000;
they were not very happy. If I had got their full support, an
encouraging message even while I was at camp II or III, maybe
I would have gone ahead. But mom would cry, my sister would
cry, my kids were unhappy and kept saying they would be at a
loss if anything happened to me -- that their father wasn't
very supportive. Maybe all this affected my thoughts.
"Now they are maturer. But my family is still not very supportive.
Can't blame them, though. No one in my immediate family has
been to Everest before.
The Recurring Dream
Mingma Sherpa and her mother.
"There's an increasing interest in climbing, especially among
the girls of the Solu, or lower Everest area. Girls in the Khumbu,
or upper Everest area, where I'm from, don't seem to be so keen.
Till 2000 there wasn't much interest in women climbing, but
our women's team changed that. It proved that women could do
it. Currently, there's an advanced-climbing training camp taking
place up at base camp. Four of the trainees are girls. They're
all from the Solu area.
"Previously when I went trekking, I had little experience.
But now I have plenty of firsthand expedition experience. I
can organize groups and guide well. When people learn that you've
been on Everest, they trust you, your experience. Your confidence
"If I got a chance to go again, I'd go much slower. Even if
I had a dream, I wouldn't let it or any superstition influence
my decision. Some friends might say I made a wise decision in
2000, that it was my mind in control. But I feel guilty that
I didn't go all the way. If I go again, I'll be armed with more
experience. I think about Everest every day."
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