5 Questions: Sherpa builds community
One man from Carlisle met a man from Nepal on a mountain in South America forming a friendship that has traveled continents.
Rick Rovegno met Tendi Sherpa during a climb on Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America. Rovegno has visited Tendi in Nepal, and Tendi has visited Carlisle.
In 2014, the two took a group of five Shippensburg University students to trek the Manaslu circuit in the Himalayas. Two of those students were married last weekend, giving Tendi the chance to make the trip to Carlisle again before heading out with Rovegno for a trip on the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range this week.
Tendi has summited Everest 11 times since his first time up the mountain as a 13-year-old, barefoot boy carrying 100-pounds of gear over a 17,000-foot mountain pass in the snow. He co-owns a trekking company, TAGnepal, and holds guide certifications from the government of Nepal that he earned after 10 years of training that included classes in rock and ice climbing, mountain rescue and avalanche training, among others.
Q. How do you train for the work that you do?
A. In my first expedition summit of Everest, I didn’t even have a guide in the team. I was just hired as a high-altitude porter, and I had to take one of the clients to the top of Everest. I didn’t know how to use the oxygen. I didn’t know [about] oxygen sickness. I didn’t know how to set up tents in the high altitude. I didn’t know how to deal with the altitude problem. So I had to copy from other people. … I looked at how people worked there and I just did the same thing as they did. That is how I learned.
I did the first summit with my client, and on the way down my client ran out of oxygen. I didn’t know what to do for a little bit. He kept slowing down …. People can get killed on the way down because they will be very tired, they will run out of oxygen, and so many things. As soon as I saw that my client was getting slow, I started to feel very nervous. …
[Tendi realized that he could breathe without his oxygen mask so he removed his mask and bottle and gave it to his client. The client recovered and was able to move more quickly down the mountain to their camp. Tendi said that had he not done that they might both still be on the mountain.]
The next day my client woke me up, and he asked me, “Tendi, do you know what you did yesterday?”
I didn’t know what he was going to say. I was just worried. I thought he was going to complain because I forgot to cook food last night because we just fell asleep.
He said, “No. It’s not food. It’s because you saved the father of four kids.”
And then I started to realize how important life up there is … that was my first time that I realized that the real summit of the mountain is not the summit of the mountain, really. The real summit of the mountain is once you make it back to your home and see your family. … If you summit a mountain and you don’t come back to the home, that would not be a complete summit. But when you do the summit and come back to home and see your family, give them a hug and tell your stories about Everest and the summit, that’s a really, really good summit.
Q. In what ways does a climber rely on the experience and training of a guide like Tendi?
A. Rovegno: You have to put your safety in others’ hands. So, there’s only one way that you do that, and that is to have complete faith and complete trust in the person that you’re placing your safety with. I will tell you that when I was on Aconcagua … I saw the easygoing and cheerful nature that Tendi had, his willingness to always put a good face on things and pick up more than his fair share of the work. And I watched the deference that the other guides gave him in their interactions, and I could see that he was someone who was very well liked but, more importantly, very well respected amongst his colleagues — all of whom by their own right who are very accomplished people in the mountains. I couldn’t think of anybody better when I wanted to have someone plan the logistics of the Manaslu circuit and bring these students there. Now candidly, we weren’t attempting to summit, but still there was a time we went through a narrow valley where you hear this rumbling and a small landslide of rocks started down and you just depend on the guides being there and taking you properly through areas. Everybody got back. Everybody was safe. Everybody had a good time.
Q. What concerns do you have as interest in climbing Everest grows?
For me, I feel very sorry about them because they put a lot of money [in] to climb Everest. They think that it’s very easy, but it’s not easy. It takes a lot … of energy and focus and concentration. That’s why, as a guide for me, whenever I receive email from my clients asking for climbing Everest … I have a check list and I say, “OK, what mountains have you climbed? What training have you done?”
I have told many clients who wanted to climb Everest without any training … to do the training first, and spend two more years or three climbing other mountains and see how they feel, how they enjoy the mountains. Once they get really into the mountains, then at the end you challenge for the Everest. Of course, those who don’t have much experience about mountaineering still make it to the top of Everest, but it’s a big challenge and is a big risk — risks for their lives, risks for their money that they put for climbing, and their time and everything. …
When I work and organize and lead a client myself, I always make sure that my clients have enough training, and I make sure that my Sherpa has experience in the mountains. … Definitely as I hired experienced Sherpas, definitely the cost will be pretty high. What you pay for Everest is what you get there.
Q. There’s been speculation on the Hillary Step and whether or not it was destroyed in the 2015 earthquake. What have you seen since the earthquake?
A. For me, what I will say is, yes, it got changed. There is one piece of rock that has gone away. We don’t see that rock there. I’ve been nine years on that side, and I know it pretty clear. …
That has made climbing much easier. Many people suspect maybe that it became more difficult and dangerous, but that is not true. It became easier and safer. On the Hillary Step there was two rocks … and this is the point where people were getting stopped most of the time, and that is why we have a lot of traffic jams there because we don’t have any other options to move around. And now since this rock has gone away, it has opened a bigger space. It has been covered with snow and people just climb on the top of that snow. … Now, it’s very, very good steps every year, and we just walk over that.
Q. What interests you in the world outside of mountain climbing?
A. After I summited Everest, I had the chance to travel outside of Nepal and see different cultures and different people and different countries. With that opportunity, I got an idea in my heart and my mind. Now I want to help a little bit in my village.
My first priority and my first interest was to help with the education of the children because the condition of the children is still the same as when I was a child. I wanted to bring changes so that way the children don’t have to face the same problem as me. They don’t have to carry the load at the age of 13 years. …
I love going back to my village, seeing the kids, being with them, and tell them my stories — how I carried loads and how important education is. So they’ve been doing very well. With the help of my friends from everywhere, I’ve been able to help the children in my village financially as a scholarship. Now I have 23 kids that are receiving this. …
I always tell them my stories and I say, “You guys can do much better than me.”
You can not just learn. You need to put effort. You need to have an interest. You need to be dedicated to learn something. There’s nothing you can’t do. There’s many things you can do as long as you try. I always tell them to be honest and dedicated to their job and education. …
They always say, “Tendi, what should we give you back for all your help?”
I say, “I don’t need anything. All I want is I want you guys to become educated, and I want you guys to be helping like this in the future to the other generations — and be involved, just to look a little bit to the community.”