The signs of spring in the northern hemisphere are everywhere. Snow is melting, flowers are appearing and Apa Sherpa is preparing to climb Mount Everest.
It is a ritual Apa has undertaken and completed 18 times over the past 19 years, including the last seven years.
No one has been to the top of the world more often than Apa. The 49-year-old from Thame, Nepal, who has been living in Draper since December 2006, will again attempt to break his own record, peaking out at 29,035 feet sometime in May.
"I never had a plan to make a record. I never had that as a dream. It just keeps happening," Apa told The Salt Lake Tribune last month before leaving for Nepal. After 16 trips to the summit as a guide, Apa has made his past two summits in the name of causes to benefit his people. This time a spiritual leader has asked him to benefit all of humanity.
The fact that Apa Sherpa has summited Everest 18 times makes it seem like climbing the world's highest peak is no big deal. But more than 200 people have died while scaling this treacherous mountain, with its subzero temperatures and risks of avalanche, ice breaks, high altitude sickness, hypothermia and falls.
For somebody like Salt Lake resident Dan Smith, who has attempted to make it to the top of Everest three times but never made it, Apa's record and desire to continue climbing the tallest mountain in the world is unbelievable.
"It is incredible. To have that many summits and so consistently. He just keeps knocking them off," said Smith. "The amount of patience he has to wait for the right weather window and focus that he is able to keep when others are stumbling around because they can't think straight is amazing."
Apa and his wife, Yangji, moved to the United States to provide a better education for their three children. But each spring since his move to North America, Apa has returned to the Himalayan foothills to prepare for what has become an annual sojourn to the top of the world. Apa and Yangji left Salt Lake City for Kathmandu on March 29 to prepare for the trek to a base camp for the Eco Everest Expedition.
Yangji will return home soon to be with the children, but Apa will miss milestones of the success he sought in coming to America: His oldest son Tenzing, 23, will graduate from Salt Lake Community College in business accounting in May, and 18-year-old Pemba will graduate as an honor roll student from Alta High School this spring. Apa will also miss several piano recitals by his accomplished 14-year-old daughter Dawa.
Apa -- all of 5-foot-4 and 120-pounds -- started climbing in the late 1980s because he, like many other Sherpa people, found it was a way to make money to support a family.
Apa made it to the top of Everest for the first time in 1990, leading a group of climbers. He quickly developed a reputation as a strong, wise climber and subsequently led 15 more groups to the top and back safely.
After moving to the Salt Lake Valley in mid-December of 2006, he became part of the SuperSherpas expedition. Teamed with Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa, another Everest record holder for the fastest ascent to the top from base camp, and two Utahns, Apa headed back to his homeland in the spring of 2007. With no clients to manage, Apa and Lhakpa climbed to educate the world about the role of Sherpas in helping everyone else reach the world's highest point.
Apa had not planned on making attempt No. 18 until an invite to join the Eco Everest Expedition 2008 organized by Dawa Steven Sherpa, who has known Apa since Dawa was a boy. Apa became passionate about the message of the Eco Everest Expedition -- the threat global warming poses for the people of the Himalayan highlands.
Apa rejoins Eco Everest with a greater role this spring, but still will be climbing without the direct obligation of getting others up and down safely.
"We will bank on his huge amount of knowledge during our planning," said Dawa Steven. "Having Apa with us is like a huge security blanket for the climbers. So, while he will not be involved in the nitty gritty of the planning, Apa will again be a very important part of our expedition's success in reaching the top and in educating the world about global warming."
Living in Draper at 4,500 feet above sea level and riding in a car or taking TRAX to work -- Apa has a driver license, he just doesn't use it very often -- is nothing like living at 12,500 feet in his home village of Thame, where there are no vehicles.
"I'm not worried about adjusting to the altitude again. I will be there for a long time before the final climb. I am a little worried about these muscles," Apa said with a laugh while tapping his thighs.
After arriving in Kathmandu, Apa was asked by a monk from the famous Tengboche monastery to carry a sacred urn to the top of the mountain. Like other climbers hoping to make it to the top of Everest, Apa stops at the monastery in Tengboche to seek a blessing from the Buddhist monks.
During a special ceremony Friday in Kathmandu, Apa was asked to carry a sacred vessel to the top of Everest by a high-ranking Buddhist monk. The sacred vase, known as a bumpa, contains more than 400 ingredients including holy relics, medicinal plants and other spiritual elements. The Tendrel Nyesel Bumpa, as it will be called, underwent a lengthy blessing ceremony in the monastery in Tengboche before it was delivered to Apa.
"This will help to deal with all the spiritual and environmental negatives of the area," Apa said by telephone from Kathmandu on Sunday of the vase, which he guessed weighs just over 2 pounds. "It doesn't matter how much it weighs. I would have taken it to the top of Everest even if it was much larger. This is a very special thing for me to do."
Rinpoche of Tengboche, Ngawang Tenzin Zangpo, also handed out three other bumpas to be delivered to other special mountain tops on Mount Manaslu, Mount Makalu and Mount Lhotse. The vases are intended to restore the sanctity of the sacred valleys of the Himalayan highlands and spiritually empower the people to cope with negative impacts of rapid environmental and social changes.
1. May 10, 1990
2. May 8, 1991
3. May 12, 1992
4. Oct. 7, 1992
5. May 10, 1993
6. Oct. 10, 1994
7. May 15, 1995
8. April 26, 1997
9. May 20, 1998
10. May 26, 1999
11. May 24, 2000
12. May 16, 2002
13. May 26, 2003
14. May 17, 2004
15. May 31, 2005
16. May 19, 2006
17. May 16, 2007
18. May 22, 2008