For Kami Rita, reaching the summit of Mount Everest was nothing unusual. Special, yes, but unusual, no.
The Sherpa mountaineer reached the peak of the more than 29,000-foot mountain in the Himalayas for a record 24th time Tuesday, marking his second successful ascent in a week. He previously had summitted May 15 and returned to camp to recover for another attempt that he began three days after his earlier summit. He reached the top early in the morning Tuesday, leading a group of Indian police officers, according to the Kathmandu Post.
Rita, 49, first climbed Everest in 1994 and works as a guide for the myriad companies that organize Everest expeditions. “I never thought about making records,” he told the BBC before his 23rd attempt last week. “I actually never knew that you could make a record. Had I known, I would have made a lot more summits earlier.”
For many foreigners, climbing Everest ranges from being a bucket-list item to one of the ultimate challenges in “the death zone,” the altitude at which there is not enough oxygen to breathe. It’s a place so dangerous that the bodies of most climbers who die on Everest remain there, a ghoulish testament to the idea that some places on Earth are most inhospitable.
Without Sherpas, Everest would be essentially inaccessible. With them, climbing the mountain is within reach each year for hundreds with the financial means and determination. May is the high season for climbing Everest, but first, Sherpas must prepare the mountain, determining a route that changes each year and setting ropes, anchors and makeshift ladder-bridges, as well as delivering supplies and oxygen. That work, so necessary for those who will pay thousands of dollars to have a successful climb, is grueling in weather that is less than ideal.
“Sherpas fix ropes all the way to the top,” Kami Rita, a Nepalese Sherpa, told the BBC, “so the Sherpas make their way fixing the ropes and the foreigners give interviews saying Everest is easier, or talk about their courage. But they forget the contribution of the Sherpa. Sherpas have struggled a lot to make it happen. We suffer.”
And they keep climbing. Rita isn’t done adding to his record, with the three next closest climbers having reached the top 21 times each. Two of those no longer climb. “I can climb for a few more years,” he told the BBC before the 23rd attempt. “I am healthy. I can keep going until I am 60 years old. With oxygen it’s no big deal.”
Forty-one teams, with 378 climbers, have permits to scale Everest during the spring season, with an equal number of Nepalese guides. Reaching the top may be their job, but it’s also a mystical experience for Sherpas, he said.
“In every mountain there is a goddess. It’s our responsibility to keep the goddess happy,” Kami Rita said. “Months before I start an ascent I start worshiping and ask for forgiveness because I will have to put my feet on her body.”