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Climber from Nepal reaches for personal summit in SLC

Published December 20, 2006 12:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

No one has been to the top of the world more than Apa Sherpa.

But, until now, he has not reached his main goal in life - ensuring that his children receive an education.

With a great deal of help from Draper resident Jerry Mika, Apa and his family arrived Tuesday night at Salt Lake City International Airport and today will begin a new life. Apa will help run a new retail store, Karma Outdoor Clothing Co., whose official grand opening tonight will feature the Nepalese climber signing copies of a new National Geographic book about the Himalayas.

Apa's exploits in a record 16 ascents of Mount Everest, and his ability to overcome the heartbreak of losing close friends to the world's highest peaks, are among the tales recounted in the coffee-table volume.

But to Mika, just as compelling is the story of Apa's desire for his three surviving children to be properly educated, an opportunity he was denied as a boy. "My dream is to help him fulfill that dream," Mika said.

Apa had dreams of becoming a doctor while growing up in Thame, a town in mountainous Nepal, 12,500 feet above sea level. But that aspiration evaporated when his father died when Apa was 12. To help support his mother and family, he herded yaks with an uncle, then became a porter for climbing expeditions on Everest and other Himalayan peaks.

He excelled at high-elevation mountaineering, reaching Everest's summit for the first time in 1990.

"For me," Apa wrote recently, "Chomalongma (Mount Everest) has given us much more than food. Fortune has come to us in the form of education, medicine and opportunities to work. She has opened our eyes to a world beyond our valleys."

Enter Mika and a few compatriots.

In 2003, Mika was a vice president for Nebo Sports when he became acquainted with Tashi Sherpa, a friend of Apa's, and they decided to launch Sherpa Adventure Gear.

"I loved the idea of building a brand," said Mika, 42. "I wanted to [portray] Sherpas as unsung heroes. They do all the work for Westerners [in climbing] and don't get the credit. I wanted to shift ideals and give them credit."

In 75 days, they developed a clothing line and introduced it in Salt Lake City at an Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show. Well received there, Mika took Sherpa Adventure Gear to an even larger outdoor sporting goods show in Europe, finishing second among 126 companies from 23 countries in a ranking of moisture-management products.

By the summer of 2004, Mika said, the company had $1.1 million in sales of outerwear and sleeping bags. And Sherpas were benefiting, with 80 percent of the production done in Nepal.

While life in Nepal was improving, Apa still had not realized his goal of educating his children - sons Tenjing, 21, and Pemba, 15, and daughter Dawa, 11.

After the Outdoor Retailer show this summer, he wondered whether Mika could help Apa's family move to Salt Lake.

"I could see an urgency in his eyes," Mika said. "Time was running out. His children were getting older. What could I say?"

Just "yes." But he couldn't do it alone. Mika received help from Roger Kehr, director of Snowbird Expeditions, who helped pay for Apa and his wife, Yangjin, to take an English language class this fall at the University of Utah. And Brian Day O'Connor, son of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, provided financial aid guarantees that helped get Tenjing into the U., small compensation for Apa's guide duties when O'Connor climbed in the Himalayas.

Financial assurances in place, Mika was able to obtain immigration visas for Apa and his family. Now Apa will work at the Karma store and make motivational speeches. And his children will be educated in Jordan District schools - Pemba at Crescent View Middle School, Dawa at Willow Springs Elementary.

For Apa, the move brought to mind an ideal of his region of Nepal. "In the Khumbu," he wrote, "people are not judged by how many times they climbed Mount Everest or by how much money they have in the bank, but rather by how much they help or give to their neighbors."

mikeg@sltrib.com

Apa Sherpa will sign copies of the book

Himalaya: Personal Stories of Grandeur, Challenge and Hope

* WHEN: tonight from 6-8 p.m.

* WHERE: Karma Outdoor Clothing Co., 2981 E. 3300 South

* Some book sale proceeds will go to a Himalayan education fund