Frontline World

NEPAL, Dreams of Chomolongma, May 2003

Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "Dreams of Chomolongma"

Update on the Women Climbers

The Long Climb Up

A Nepali Heroine: Pasang Lhamu

Nepal Country Profile

The Mount Everest Region, Sherpa Life, Nepali Women





Mingma Sherpa with her daughter Samden in front of her lodge, May 2003.
Mingma Sherpa
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.

Mingma stands outside her lodget with Tengboche Monastery visible in background

Mingma Sherpa stands near her lodge, with Tengboche Monastery visible in the background.
"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 Everest.

"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.

Mingma cooking
Changing Families

"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.

Mingma in kitchen
"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 with her mother

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 grows.

"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."

Dawa Sherpa GO

Lhakpa Sherpa GO


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