Apa is often referred to as Nepal’s Michael Jordan. Not only is he a superstar mountain athlete recognized all over his home country, he continues to break his own records. Last year, in May, the 51-year-old reached Everest’s summit for a record 21st time. Apa has climbed the mountain every year except 1996 and 2001, summiting twice in ’92. It’s been a bright career, and he’s become a deserving icon for the Sherpa people, without whom so many of the achievements on Everest never would have been possible.
In 2009, the native climber started leveraging his celebrity by way of the Apa Sherpa Foundation, a nonprofit helping to build schools and create jobs in Nepal. He’s also championed causes like climate change, hauling trash off of the mountain on his own back. Apa now resides in Utah, with his family, where he works at a precision machining company. Still, he’s back in the Khumbu every spring. “Everest is like the family business,” he said in an interview in 2008.