ANG NORBU SHERPA, 70, holds his Himalayan Club recommendation book open to the page devoted to his first Everest expedition as a climbing Sherpa, an unsuccessful Swiss attempt in the spring of 1952. He lost seven fingers to frostbite on his final mountaineering trip, a 1971 Japanese attempt on 24, 455-foot Gangapurna.
At 84, Gyalzen Sherpa is the oldest of the four surviving climbing Sherpas from Hillary's 1953 expedition, and reportedly the wealthiest man in Namche Bazaar. In 1953, eager to earn a bonus offered to the Sherpa who climbed the highest, he twice carried gear to Everest's 26,200-foot South Col. "Going on a mountain is like going to war," he recalls. "You don't know whether you'll come back or not." He has since switched to a safer, more lucrative job: trading Nepalese butter and rice paper for Tibetan rock salt, wool, and yaks.
Pemba Tenzing Sherpa, 72, is a veteran of 19 expeditionsincluding several climbs on Everest and trips up 27,824-foot Makalu and 26,750-foot Cho Oyu. He was also a member of the 1963 expedition that made Jim Whittaker the first American to summit Everest. He called it quits in 1973, when a divination from a Buddhist lama warned that his future on the mountain looked bleak. He lives in Khumjung, Nepal, and has worked as a trekking guide for the past three decades. He was photographed with a group of guests at Khumjung's Everest View Hotel.
Nawang Gombu Sherpa, a nephew of Tenzing Norgay, first went to Everest in 1953 at the age of 17. "With his plump figure, [Nawang] looked a most improbable starter for high work on the mountains," Sir John Hunt, leader of the British expedition, later wrote. Ten years passed before he finally stood on the top of the world on May 1, 1963. In 1965, as part of an Indian expedition, he became the first person to summit Everest twice. He's shown here wearing the original clothing and gear that he used during his first Everest summit.
Pemba Tharké, 67, began mountaineering in 1961 on 27,824-foot Makalu as a member of a Sir Edmund Hillary-led expedition. He later climbed with Hillary on Cholatse, Thamserku, and Tawoche. He reached the South Col seven times with the 1962 Indian Everest Expedition, after which he was awarded the Himalayan ClubÔøΩs coveted Tiger Medal. He went on to serve as the head of expedition management and logistics for Sir Christian Bonington during his 1972 assault on Everest's southwest face. In 1990, after 22 expeditions, he retired.
Pemba Doma Sherpa (center), 32, is the first Nepalese woman to conquer Everest from the north side and one of only six women who have scaled the mountain twice, most recently as part of the 2002 Nepalese Woman Expedition. Raised by her grandparents, she was educated at the Khumjung School, one of 26 schools that Sir Edmund Hillary has established in the Solu-Khumbu region. She speaks nine languages and travels the world raising money for her nonprofit, Save the Himalayan Kingdom, which educates Nepalese children. She now splits her time between Namche Bazaar and Kathmandu.
Pasang Tendi Sherpa (right), 62, here with his wife and one of eight grandchildren, was 18 when he trekked to Everest with the 1963 expedition that put the first American on the summit. Three weeks after Jim WhittakerÔøΩs success, Pasang Tendi and four other Sherpas carried loads to 27,250 feet as part of Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein's first ascent of Everest's West Ridge. His career ended in 1973 when his wife, who had already lost four relatives to Everest, confiscated his duffel bag and dragged it from Pheriche to their home in Khumjung.
In 1971, Ang Norbu Sherpa barely survived a storm on Gangapurna that took eight lives. "I started down from the high camp," he recalls. "I only had a thin pair of gloves on, and the snow was so deep I had trouble pulling out the ropes. I was alone, and I thought I was going to die." He lost seven fingers to frostbite and never climbed again. During his 20-year career, he climbed with the 1952 Swiss Everest expeditions, the 1953 Japanese Manaslu expedition, and the 1963 American expedition. Now 70, he has three sons who have summited Everest. He now lives in Pangboche.
During his first trip to Everest, in 1952, Nawang Topgay Sherpa was struck by an avalanche that ripped down the Lhotse Face and killed his climbing partner. "We were tied together," he recalls. "Mingma looked up to see where it was coming from and he was hit in the face that instant. The same person I shared a tent with was no more." He returned to Everest the next year to help put his uncle, Tenzing Norgay, on the summit. In 1965, he became a climbing instructor at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, where he taught for 26 years before retiring in Darjeeling.
In May 1963, on the American Everest expedition, Nawang Dorje Sherpa (center) was trapped in a storm on the mountainÔøΩs flank. "When I finally freed myself from the tent, I realized that I had blown 100 feet down the West Ridge," the 74-year-old recalls. With his ice ax and crampons stuck on a ledge above, he crawled to Camp 3W using the only gear he had: two forks and a knife. In 1965, he retired from climbing and began working as a trekking guide for legendary expedition leader Colonel Jimmy Roberts. He now lives in Khumjung.
At 19, Kancha Sherpa left Namche Bazaar to search for work in Darjeeling. He clinched a Sherpa slot on the 1953 British Expedition, even though he didn't know how to use crampons. "I tore a lot of trousers with those crampons at first," he says. The 70-year-old veteran of four Everest climbs now owns a trekking lodge in Namche and recalls the days of healthier land there. "The forest was so thick that the whole village would go down to the spring together to fetch the water because they were afraid of bears," he says. Deforestation has since transformed the land.
Jamling Tenzing Norgay, 37, is the closest thing to Sherpa royalty. His father, Tenzing Norgay, who died in 1986, achieved the first ascent of Everest in 1953 with Sir Edmund Hillary. "The Sherpas look at my father as one of their idols," he says. Escaping the shadow of the world's most famous Sherpa has not been easy, but in 1996 he fulfilled his dream, summiting the mountain for the first time. He has since written a memoir, Touching My Father's Soul, and currently runs Tenzing Norgay Adventures. He lives in Darjeeling with his wife and their three daughters.