At 5:40 a.m. on May 16, Lhakpa Sherpa reached the summit of Mount Everest for the ninth time. In doing so she broke the record—her own record—for the most summits of the world’s tallest peak by a woman. The next closest woman to the record is American Melissa Arnot Reid, who’s climbed Everest six times.
Lhakpa, 45, is from the Makalu region of Nepal, and now lives in Hartford, Connecticut, with her three kids. After an abusive relationship with her ex-husband, fellow Everest climber George Dijmarescu, a court granted her full custody of their two daughters (Lhakpa's son is from a different relationship and was not a part of the custody battle). She’s a single mom, and works as a dishwasher at a Whole Foods in West Hartford. Before that she worked as a housekeeper and a cashier at a 7-Eleven.
Lhakpa lives modestly, and saves up to purchase a plane ticket back to Nepal each spring to climb Everest with her brother Mingma Gelus’ expedition company, Seven Summits Club. This year, Black Diamond sponsored her, providing gear and monetary support. According to the Associated Press, she wants “to show that a woman can do men’s jobs. There is no difference in climbing a mountain. I climb for all women.”
Lhakpa has been making quiet history for decades. In 2000, she became the first Nepali woman to climb Everest and make it down alive (Pasang Lhamu Sherpa summited in 1993, but died on the descent). Lhakpa’s proven to be a particularly strong climber, despite ostensibly climbing Mount Everest off-the-couch every year (she credits her fitness to work that keeps her on her feet all day). She grew up above 13,000 feet and started working as a porter for an outfitter when she was 15. She’s become accustomed to pushing through hard times, both emotional and physical. One year she climbed Everest just eight months after giving birth, and another when she was two months pregnant.
Lhakpa told the Associated Press that she plans on climbing Pakistan’s K2 (28,251 feet), the world’s second tallest peak, next year. “I don’t need to be famous,” she told them. “I want to keep doing my sport. If I don’t do my sport, I feel tired. I want to push my limits.”