The welcoming party wasn't quite as large as the reception he received in his native Nepal, but Apa Sherpa's return to Utah came as a huge relief for family and friends who anxiously awaited his return from Mount Everest.
On May 21, Apa broke his own record by reaching the summit of the 29,035-foot mountain, the top of the world, for the 19th time.
"This time was different because of what I was delivering to the top, but it was the same: cold and hard," said Apa, who has lived in Draper with his wife and three children since 2006. "For the last two times, I got stuck at the Hillary Step [a congested point on the route]. I spent more than an hour there waiting."
Before his climb, Apa was given a sacred vessel that two high-ranking Buddhist holy men had blessed. They asked him to place the bhumpa and its 400 ingredients on the top of Everest, hoping it would enhance the mountain's power to protect the world.
"I said some prayers and I left it there," Apa said. "The hope is for world peace and also the protection from climate change as well."
Apa, 49, has made it to the summit of Everest 19 of the past 20 years, including the last eight. The 5-foot-4, 120-pound native of Thame in the Himalayan Highlands made his first 16 summits as a guide, but has done the last three to raise awareness about role of the Sherpa people in the history of Everest, to raise money for education in Nepal, and to highlight the effect of climate change on his homeland and across the world.
Apa started climbing at the age of 12 to support his family. He quickly developed a reputation as a strong porter and rose to the rank of sirdar , head climbing guide. Apa and his wife, Yangji, brought their three children to Utah to provide a better education.
While he was away attempting to break his record, Apa's sons Tenzing and Pemba fulfilled their parents' dream and graduated from college and high school, respectively.
"I'm very proud and very happy. They are thriving here," Apa said. "That was our main goal for bringing them here and for climbing. It is so they don't have to climb."
Pemba, who graduated from Alta High School, became emotional while trying to explain how proud he is of his father.
"I'm just glad to make my father happy and do what he dreamed of us doing," Pemba said. "I worry a lot when he is gone. I think he is a hero because of what he does for others. We keep asking 'please, Dad, no more', but he wants to do it."
Pemba, much to his father's relief, has no interest in climbing Everest, but he does aspire to reach similar heights -- in a different manner.
"I want to get into aviation, become a commercial pilot," he said.
The dangers of Everest again struck close to Apa on this summit. On May 6, fellow Sherpa Lhakpa Nuru, also on the Eco Everest Expedition, was caught in an avalanche in the Khumbu Icefall. His body was not recovered.
"I knew him very well. He is from my home village. He was very young with two children," Apa said. "We were very sad, very upset. We looked for his body for four days. The icefall is very dangerous."
Apa did not blame the huge avalanche on climate change.
"It happens every year," he said.
He also announced that he does plan on going back to Nepal in 2010 for an attempt at No. 20.
"If I am healthy, I will be going back," he said. "There is still lots to talk about and more money to raise. I will again team up with Eco Everest."
If he goes, it will be with his boss' blessing.
Terrell Pool was among those gathered to welcome Apa home by placing a kata scarf around his neck. Pool owns Diamond Mold, a precision machining and injecting molding company in Salt Lake where Apa works.
"He is such an inspiration," Pool said. "I have to be here. I worry about him while he is gone."
Pool said he didn't expect his employee back at the business any time soon. "I hopes he takes a week off and sleeps. But look at him, he looks fabulous."
The reward for being so flexible with Apa's schedule, other than great stories at lunch, is a picture of the world-record holder posing with a sign with the company name on top of the world.
1 » May 10, 1990
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19 » May 21, 2009 (May 20 in Utah)
Source » Apa Sherpa