Prettyman: Everest's most prolific conqueror never ceases to astound me

Published March 16, 2011 2:47 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Mount Everest and Apa Sherpa.

These are names that will be uttered by historians and elementary students alike for decades, perhaps centuries, to come.

My first recollection of hearing about the tallest point on the planet was as a young boy flipping through the channels on a Saturday afternoon trying to recover from a Little League football game.

Something about the program captured my interest and I witnessed Everest for the first time. On the screen was an image of the snow-covered and wind-blown top of the mountain. I vaguely recall seeing a line of brightly colored prayer flags blowing stiff in the wind.

I've seen countless similar images since. The difference is that I now know the man who appears in many of the pictures.

I first interviewed Apa late in 2004. He was preparing to come to Utah for the Outdoor Retailer Winter Show. Apa was in Kathmandu and I was in Salt Lake. Because Apa's English was a little rough then, we had an interpreter via Seattle for the conference call.

Apa was gearing up for his 14th summit of Everest at the time and had owned the world record for trips to the top for only two years.

Apa recently announced he is heading back to Nepal from his home in Draper to try for No. 21.

I was hoping he would stop at 20. Spring is crazy enough as it is, but I've spent the past seven years worrying about him roughly from the first of April when Apa heads to Kathmandu through the end of May and into June when he returns to Utah. Apa has lived in Utah since 2006, having moved to the United States to seek a solid education for his three children.

Through the years I've done numerous stories on Apa, including reports after each successful climb. I've managed a blog the Tribune has run from base camp during his attempts and I've greeted him at the airport upon his return.

But I haven't merely stayed in touch with Apa during his attempts.

Through the years our families have grown close. Barbecues, New Year parties, dinners and one time, my father-in-law and I took Apa fishing. Fly fishing with a Buddhist — what a hoot.

We remain in contact with Apa, Yangjin, Tenzing, Pemba and Dawa, at least as much as busy families from Salt Lake and Draper do.

My son first met Apa about five years ago. Like me, he was immediately drawn to the quiet, sincere, funny and honorable Apa.

My daughter and wife have also developed a friendship with Apa, Yangjin, Tenzing, and Dawa; one I feel will last a lifetime.

I feel lucky to have been able to not only introduce my family to Apa, but to have them eat a meal and share a discussion with the humble man who has climbed to 29,035-feet more times than I have made it up Mount Olympus.

My son, now 9, idolizes Apa, and I couldn't have picked a better role model. In a world of mostly selfish, cocky, foul-mouthed and tattoo-ridden professional athletes, I'll take a poster of Apa any day.

Some people may consider Apa's decision to continue returning to Everest as a need to continue to feed an ego you would expect from a world-record holder.

No such ego exists. Apa started working on Everest expeditions to take care of his family. The majority of his summits came while trying to get others to the top.

The record didn't exactly happen by accident, but Apa never set out to own it. Once he did own it, Apa felt a responsibility to represent the Sherpa people of the Himalayan Highlands who made it possible for all the people who have made it to the top.

He continues to climb because Apa cares about his people and Chomolungma — the Sherpa word for Everest, which translates to Great Mother Goddess of the World — not to feed his ego.

So, come early May, I'll be on the edge of my office chair waiting for e-mails or a call to let me know he is making the push for No. 21.

And I'll be behind him every step of the way — figuratively, of course.

Brett Prettymanis an outdoors columnist. Reach him at brettp@sltrib.com



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