Climbing Mt. Everest just once is a lifetime achievement in itself, considering that the journey to the highest summit is not only costly but also dangerous. However, Kami Rita Sherpa, a professional guide and a mountaineer, went against all the odds and has climbed the world’s highest summit more times than anyone else in the world.
On May 21, 2019, Kami Rita Sherpa climbed Mt. Everest and took a gaze from the summit at 29,035 feet above sea level for the 24th time, while beating his record that he had made before a week on May 15, 2019.
Kami Rita Sherpa was born on January 17, 1970. He comes from a family of second-generation mountaineers who make a living through mountaineering tourism.
Apart from conquering the world’s highest peak, Kami Rita Sherpa has also scaled K2, Cho-Oyu, Manaslu, Annapurna, and Lhotse, which are also higher than 8,000 meters.
Kami Rita Sherpa: Childhood
Kami Rita Sherpa was born and raised in Thame, a small village situated in Solukhumbu district. The town is also the home for several other Sherpa mountaineers, including Tenzing Norgay, one of the first two individuals to reach Mt. Everest in 1953.
During his earlier days, Kami Rita lived in a small one-room house in Thame with his large family.
Before considering a career as a mountaineer, young Kami Rita used to go to school, which required him to trek for at least four hours before reaching his destination. However, he dropped out of school when he was only ten years old and began hiking with his elders to the peaks that ranged around 3000m.
Kami’s original plan was to be a monk by training for five years in Thame Dechen Chokhorling monastery. But he revealed to the Independent that, growing up, he envied the quality clothes and things that people in the village brought back after the expedition.
Besides, his parents were also having difficulty raising their large family during that time, so he had no choice but to pursue a career as a guide, just like his other family members.
Thus, Kami later decided to go against the idea of being a monk, and he started getting more interested and involved in his father’s work.
Kami’s father worked as a hired guide for mountain expeditions since the 1950s, when the idea of climbing the summit was still new. However, his father’s career ended when he suffered from severe frostbite during one of his expeditions.
While talking to the Kathmandu Post, Kami Rita said, “My father is the one who drives me forward and always pushes me to do great things. As he never climbed Everest, I wanted to do it for him.”
By keeping his father as his inspiration, Kami first worked as a porter by transporting gear to the Everest base camp when he was 22 years old.
Kami Rita Sherpa: Family
As mentioned before, Kami Rita Sherpa’s father was one of the first professional Sherpa guide hired by the mountaineers after the Nepal government had opened Everest to foreigners in 1950.
Kami Rita also has two brothers, Lakpa Rita Sherpa and Pasang Sherpa.
Like him, Kami’s elder brother Lakpa Rita Sherpa is also a mountaineer and a professional guide. He is the first Sherpa who has climbed the highest peaks on each of Nepal’s seven continents.
Lakpa has summited Mt. Everest 17 times, Cho Oyu 12 times, Pumori twice, as well as Shisapangma and Ama Dablam. Furthermore, he also climbed Mt. Vinson, Denali, Aconcagua and has tried to climb mountains like K2 and the south face of Annapurna.
Today, Lakpa Sherpa mainly works for a guide service named Alpine Ascents International and resides in Shoreline, Washington, USA, with his wife and three children.
On the other hand, Kami Rita’s other brother, Pasang Sherpa, resides in Vashon Island, Washington, with his family. Both Pasang Sherpa and his wife Lok Sherpa are members of the Northwest Sherpa Association, an organization based in Seattle, Washington that strives to promote cultural and ethnic heritage.
Likewise, just like his brothers, Kami Rita too has a family of his own. He is married to Lakpa Jangmu, with whom he shares two children. The family resides in Kathmandu, where their children are receiving their education in a private school.
Kami stated that he climbed the dangerous mountain to make a living since he is illiterate. However, he does not want the same for his children, so he has made sure they receive a quality education to choose an occupation that is less dangerous than his own.
While speaking to the Independent, Kami’s wife Lakpa Jangmu revealed that she dreads when her husband leaves for expeditions. She said, “I keep telling him we could look for other jobs, start a small business. But he does not listen to me at all.”
However, Kami stated that he must continue his profession regardless of the danger because he does not know anything else.
Kami Rita Sherpa: Career
Kami already started his career in and around the mountaineering site when he was 22. Before he ascended Mt. Everest for the first time, Kami worked and trained under his elder brother Lakpa. His brother pushed him and made him work with small groups out on short trips to familiarize them with the surroundings.
After gaining some knowledge and training, Kami scaled Mt. Everest in 1992 for the first time when he was only 24 years old. Since then, Kami has never looked back and has made a trip to the summit once every year. Today Kami Rita is the world record holder for summiting Everest, as he has notched up his ascent to the summit 24 times.
Regardless of his skill, Kami can only work and guide mountaineers to the summit once a year when the weather is good, mainly around May. During other months, Kami is mostly seen guiding his clients around the country’s smaller peaks.
Today, the professional guide is an employee under Seven Summit Treks, a Nepal-based company that provides trekking and expedition services.
Currently, as a veteran guide who has years of experience and a world record of climbing the summit, Kami Rita earns about $10,000 (£7,043) each time he leads mountaineers to the top of Everest.
Kami makes sure that he worships Mt. Everest months before his ascent. The Sherpa’s believe that Mt. Everest, or Chomolungma as they call it, is a sacred mountain where Buddhist goddess Miyolangsangma resides. So, Kami worships and asks forgiveness to the goddess for putting his feet on her body.
He said, “Before the final steps to the summit, others run and take photos, but I bow down my head again and ask for the goddess’s forgiveness.” He added, “No matter how strong you are, how good you prepare, you have to be blessed by God to reach the top.”
Apart from his mountaineering profession, Kami Rita is also a brand ambassador for several companies based in Nepal. He is a brand ambassador and the Chief Adventure Consultant of Himalayan Glacier Adventure and Travel Company.
Furthermore, he is also the brand ambassador for Brij Super Premium OPC cement produced by a Nepal based company called Brij Cement Industries Pvt. Ltd.
Together with the company, Kami worked on a project called ‘Everest Story Trek 2019,’ where he traveled to collect stories about Himalayan settlements around Mt. Everest. The stories mainly focused on the cultural, economic, social, and fundamental aspects of the Sherpa community living around Everest.
Through the project, Kami’s main goal was to contribute to the Sherpa community’s upliftment in the Everest region by promoting their culture and traditions to tourists worldwide.
Kami Rita Sherpa: Controversy
It is not an unknown fact that Nepal’s economy depends mostly on the Everest expedition. The Nepal government earns around $3.25 million as a royalty fee from mountaineers every season. The government charges each person $11,000 for climbing the peak.
However, despite the revenue, Kami Rita Sherpa revealed that the government does not support the Sherpas, who play a massive role in bringing such payments. The expeditions are mainly possible due to the Sherpa’s knowledge of the mountain and their stamina built throughout the years of walking high-altitude.
Kami’s frustration towards the government mainly grew due to the incident he went through on April 18, 2014, when an avalanche caused by Khumbu Icefalls killed 16 Sherpas. Following the tragedy, the Nepal government introduced medical and life insurance for the Sherpas who mainly work in the mountains and even compensated $400 to every family affected by the incident.
However, Kami, who had lost his uncle and two close friends in the incident, stated that such actions were not enough as he felt the money provided by the government was all their lives were worth.
In 2018, Kami Rita again brought the lack of government support to the Sherpa community in the limelight when they failed to support Ang Rita Sherpa while he suffered from a brain hemorrhage.
Regardless of such issues, Kami Rita Sherpa insists on continuing his career as a professional guide. He revealed that his goal is to reach the summit of Everest at least 25 times.
Furthermore, during an interview with the BBC, he said,
“I can climb for a few more years. I am healthy. I can go until I am 60 years old. With oxygen, it is no big deal. We were born in the Himalayas.”
Thus, he plans to keep his profession until he can physically handle climbing.