Dishwasher gears up for return to summit
WEST HARTFORD, Connecticut — Between raising two daughters and working as a dishwasher at a supermarket, Lhakpa Sherpa just doesn’t have time for training to climb Qomolangma, known in the West as Mount Everest. Even so, she has done it a record eight times and hopes to outdo herself yet again.
The 44-year-old native of Nepal holds the world record for summits of Everest by a woman and plans to return this month for what has become an annual expedition to the top of the world.
“My body knows that I have already been this high. It’s like a computer. It figures it out very quickly. My body knows the high altitude. It remembers.”
Lhakpa is recognized by Guinness World Records and is well known in mountaineering circles, but she spends most of the year living a modest life in obscurity in Connecticut, where she moved with her now ex-husband, another well-known climber, in 2002.
She gets up most days at 6 am to walk her two daughters, 16-year-old Sunny and 11-yearold Shiny, to school. Then, because she does not know how to drive, often walks the 3 kilometers to her job, where she washes dishes and takes out the garbage.
“You would never know she hiked Everest unless you knew her and talked to her about it,” said Dan Furtado, the manager who hired Lhakpa at Whole Foods. “She’s the most humble person I know, and her work ethic is astounding.”
Lhakpa says that she would have liked to be a doctor or an airplane pilot, but that as a girl growing up in the Sherpa ethnic community with her four brothers and seven sisters, she wasn’t allowed to attend school.
Without a formal education, she has taken jobs in Connecticut cleaning houses, as a clerk at a local convenience store and as a dishwasher to give her daughters and nowgrown son a chance at a better life in the United States, she said.
“My rent is expensive here,” she said, “but this is where the best schools are.”
Lhakpa said she is used to overcoming adversity. Sherpa girls were discouraged from climbing, but she was a tomboy and would not be deterred from helping the men in her family, serving as a porter to bring gear to Qomolangma base camps.
Becoming a climber was harder, she said, especially after the first Nepali woman to reach the summit, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, died on her way down the mountain in 1993.
Lhakpa joined an expedition of five women in 2000 who convinced the government to give them a permit. She was the first Nepali woman to reach the summit and return alive.
Despite being known as “the Queen of Everest”, to many of her co-workers she’s just Lhakpa.
“I don’t need to be famous,” she said. “I want to keep doing my sport. If I don’t do my sport, I feel tired. I want to push my limits.”
Lhakpa Sherpa displays a flag from the town of West Hartford on the summit of Qomolangma in May 2017.
Lhakpa Sherpa at work in the supermarket