The Current

Why two climbers ignored their parents and climbed the tallest mountain in the world

Lhakpa Sherpa was never supposed to be a climber. Her mother wanted her to become a housewife. But that didn’t stop Sherpa. Now she’s the first woman to climb the world’s tallest peak, not just once, but 10 times. She made her latest trip up the mountain in May.

Lhakpa Sherpa and James Kagambi were able to climb over obstacles and reach the top of Mount Everest

This handout photo taken on May 22, 2019 and released by @nimsdai Project Possible shows heavy traffic of mountain climbers lining up to stand at the summit of Mount Everest. (@nimsdai, Project Possible/AFP)

Read Story Transcript

Lhakpa Sherpa was never supposed to be a climber. Her mother certainly didn't want her to; she'd rather her daughter become a housewife. But that didn't stop Sherpa. 

"I broke the rule. [I didn't] listen to my mom," Sherpa told Matt Galloway on The Current.

She's one of a pair of mountaineers who broke new mountaineering barriers in May. Last month Sherpa became the first woman to climb the world's tallest peak not just once, but 10 times. 

"It was very exciting because it's the top of the mountain."

Lhakpa Sherpa is the first woman to climb Mount Everest 10 times. (Lhakpa Sherpa/Facebook)

Sherpa was born in a cave in Nepal, in the shadow of the great summit, and always looked on it with wonder. It was her father who encouraged her to reach for that peak, even when her mother didn't want her to. 

"My dad says, OK, let go. You know, this is my dad. This is my hero. I believe my dad," said Sherpa. 

And Sherpa proved her father right. At the age of 48, despite having no formal education, Sherpa is the most accomplished woman to climb Everest. 

For the love of snow

James Kagambi decided he wanted to climb mountains when he was a teenager. One night, his father pulled him out of bed and showed him that someone was setting off fireworks from Mount Kenya, to commemorate Kenyan independence. As Kagambi stared at the display, he was inspired to climb the mountain. 

Ten years later he would realize that goal. He struggled at first, but eventually stumbled on something that completely changed his mind about the experience. 

"I hated that mountain. I had a headache. I wasn't feeling well. I couldn't eat because I was ill prepared. But when I had snow … when I got to the top, I just loved it. And that's what took me back to the mountain," said Kagambi.

"Even now people know … as soon as I touch snow, my emotions change. I am the happiest person. I just am jumping up and down, dancing. If you want to see me at my best, put me on snow."

Kagambi fell in love with mountaineering, and much to the disappointment of his parents, he quit his job as teacher and starting mountaineering full time. 

"My family was not happy. My dad and mom, you know, kept saying, 'no… you cannot quit teaching,'" said Kagambi.

"Eventually I said, 'you know, this is my life and this is where I am.'"

That's what led Kagambi, at the age of 62, to be part of the first all-Black climbing team to make it up Mount Everest in May, and the first Kenyan to summit the peak.

Why climb?

For Kagambi, climbing Everest helps him improve as a person.

"It gives me a lot of challenge, a lot of hope. It gives me a lot of learning," said Kagambi. "I also find that it allows me to be myself. When I go out in the nature, that's when I feel that I can do anything I want."

For Sherpa, it isn't just a grand accomplishment. She said the mountain has a profound effect on her well-being. 

Mount Everest, the world's highest peak, and other peaks of the Himalayan range are seen through an aircraft window during a mountain flight from Kathmandu, Nepal. (Monika Deupala/Reuters)

"I think the mountains heal me … mountains make me happy," said Sherpa. 

She said she hopes her story can be an inspiration for young girls around the world. Sherpa said it's important not to give up on your dreams, and not to let your parents' dreams become yours. 

"My mom maybe say, 'oh, my daughter, I wanted housewife'... but I had a different kind of dream. I followed my dreams. Slowly, slowly. But [I didn't] give up. I reached it 10 times."


Written by Philip Drost. Produced by Kate Cornick and Meli Gumus.

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