Everest: Life in the Khumbu

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It’s Day Six of Expedition Hanesbrands’ trek to Everest Base Camp. We’ve passed the14,000-foot mark and are spending a relaxing layover day in Pheriche. The view from the window of the Himalayan Hotel is a maze of stone walls, most of which enclose a very large yak. Beyond the beasts is a wall of 8,000-meter peaks, all fully exposed in the brilliant late-afternoon sun.

Our group would never have made it this far without our head sirdar, Ang Temba Sherpa. Nobody knows the Khumbu Valley and Mount Everest as well as 42-year-old Ang Temba. In addition to summiting Everest, he’s led 17 expeditions to the world’s highest peak, worked with many of the world’s climbing superstars and explorers, and is constantly trying to improve life in the Khumbu as a member of the Everest Summitters Association, the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, and the KhumjungMonastery. For insight on what life is like for a true Khumbu Valley local, read on.

Where were you born?
I was born in Khunde, where Sir Edmund Hillary built his hospital. I went to school for ten years in Khumjung, at the Hillary School. My father was a chef for expeditions and trekking. He worked for Hillary.

What’s your greatest memory of Sir Edmund Hillary?
When I was a kid, he came every year to build. We thought he was a big man, just giving orders. But he came with his tools, and I realized that he’s not a big man, he’s a humble man.

How did you get involved in Everest expeditions?
After tenth grade, I got a scholarship from the Hillary Foundation to go to school in Kathmandu, but I wanted to help my parents. I started working on Everest in 1987. I first went as a kitchen helper, then as an assistant Sherpa. Then I worked for Mountain Travel Nepal for ten years, and they gave me a lot of training. I’m so glad they taught me how to be a guide.

You summitted Everest as part of the 1991 Sherpa Youth Everest expedition. What was that like?
I was very proud of that expedition. It was the first Nepaliexpedition. I spent one hour at the top. We were so lucky that day. It was sohot that I took everything off. But then we had no fixed line, so now what? ApaSherpa was with me and we belayed each other and came down.

What are some of your other favorite expeditions?
I worked with Peter Hillary on the National Geographic 50th Anniversary movies about Hillary’s summit. I also organized the 1998 Everest Challenge with Tom Whittaker, the first disabled man to summit Everest. Most of the National Geographic films of Everest have my footage.

You’ve worked on many expeditions other than Mount Everest. Tell us about a few of those.
I worked with Peter Matthiessen when he was doing research on the snow leopard, and I’m currently working with Pete Athans on a National Geographic film about exploring caves in Mustang.

You’re also an entrepreneur. What other businesses do you run?
I have a lodge called Highland Sherpa Lodge in Pangboche at 13,000 feet. My wife, Yanging, runs it. I have a lot of Western mountaineering friends who like staying at our place.

How is life changing in the Khumbu Valley?
It’s changing a lot. We have it much, much easier. The Western culture brings for us amuch easier life. We have new technology and we are growing our own economy.

How will that change Sherpa culture?
My father’s generation had almost 80 percent mountaineering guides. Now my generation has only 50 percent. Many Sherpa mountain guides came from Namche. Now, almost none come from Namche because they have everything there. Now these days people get more education and find a nice job. In 20 years, very few Sherpas from the Khumbu Valley will be working on the mountain.

What’s next?
I’ve never climbed any other big mountains except Everest. I’d like to try to climb Ama Dablam some day.

–Stephanie Pearson

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