'Dreams of Chomolongma'
With Sapana Sakya and Ramyata Limbu
Thursday, May 29, 2003; 11 a.m. ET
This month, as the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first successful ascent of Mount Everest, Lapka Sherpa, a Nepalese Sherpa, aims to become the first woman to reach the summit of Everest three times. In "Dreams of Chomolongma," FRONTLINE/World reporter Sapana Sakaya shows Lapka's first successful attempt to climb Everest -- or "Chomolongma" in Sherpa -- in May 2000 as part of an all-female team that set out to do what no Sherpa women had ever done: Reach the summit of the world's highest peak and live to tell about it.
Producers Sapana Sakya and Ramyata Limbu were online Thursday, May 29, to talk about Lapka Sherpa, their experiences on Mt. Everest in their native Nepal, and what it takes to make it to the summit.
The transcript follows.
Limbu, a Nepalese reporter, is currently a feature writer with the English language weekly, The Nepali Times. She has worked as a videographer and producer for an environmental news magazine show in Kathmandu and as a freelance producer for a South Asian television show called Young Asia Television. Sakya is an independent documentary filmmaker, whose most recent piece, "Oklahoma Home" was part of NAATA's (National Asian American Telecommunications Association) new series for PBS called "Searching for Asian America." In 2000, Sakya and Limbu documented the first Nepalese women's Everest expedition. Sakya is currently working on an hour-long documentary on the historic expedition.
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Silver Spring, Md.: Greetings to you both! I understand nearly 200 people have died while attempting to climb Everest. What have been the key causes of their deaths?
Also, what one piece of advice would you give to someone planning the climb?
Sapana Sakya and Ramyata Limbu: I think the more commercial expeditions become, meaning people have money but not a lot of climbing experience and expect sherpas to take them up is dangerous and can be harmful to both climbers and sherpas. High altitude has also caused many death not just among climbers but also among trekkers. so as soon as you know you are suffering from altitude eit's wise to turn back, go down.
While planning a climb make sure you get along with your team members, make sure they are people you can rely on.
Falls Church, Va.: How has Nepal changed since the days of Hillary's climb? Has the country become commercialized because of climbing, or have other factors such as encroachment from China been larger factors?
Sapana Sakya and Ramyata Limbu: Nepal has changed a great deal since Hillary and Tenzing's time. The changes are most remarkable in the Everest region where tourism peaked in the 70s and 80s. The area has transformed from a subsistence farming community of poerters to a bustling tourism destination where the standard of living has shot up. Gyalzen Sherpa, 84,the oldest man in Namche and a climbing Sherpa with the historical 1953 Everest expedition recalls a time when life was so hard and people so poor they had to work as coolies, carry loads for other. Today, these same Sherpas own lodges, have running water, telephones, cyber cafes etc. Health has improved so has education, especially with the help of Hillary's support. I do not think China has encroached on Nepal.
Somewhere, USA: How does a person physically prepare for this? I presume one needs to develop endurance. Do most of the climbers practice by going partially up the mountain, or do they attempt to climb to the top all at once?
Sapana Sakya and Ramyata Limbu: Well, it always helps to be in shape, to build up endurance. But what I've seen with local sherpas is that they are acclimatized to the altitude so have less problems than people from lower down. When people climb Everest, they don't go to the top at once. That's a sure way to kill yourself. You go up a certain height, to camp 1, set up camp, then come down again to Base Camp. The next time you try to go up till Camp 2, set up camp, and then come down to base Camp again. Then again up to camp 3 or higher. That's how teams acclimatize. Once they feel ready and the weather is good, they climb up till camp South Col from where they make the final push to the summit. In an exceptional case, after acclimatization, and in an attempt to set a speed record, Lakpa Gelu, a sherpa climber made it from the Base Camp to summit in 10 hours 56 seconds.
Washington, D.C.: Congratulations! What an incredible story. Thanks so much for bringing this story to us. Did you always know you wanted to do a story like this? Did you both grow up in Nepal? Growing up, what did Everest represent to you?
Sapana Sakya and Ramyata Limbu: Thank you.
I was born in Nepal and my family actually moved to Bangkok, Thailand when I was five, so I grew up there but we always went to Nepal to visit family and I spoke Newari with my parents at home so that's made me feel more Nepali.
Yes, I always wanted to do a story like this, about Nepali women and their tremendous courage in often discouraging circumstances.
Everest has always been something foreign to me, mainly because I am from the Kathmandu valley and had never experienced the mountain for myself except through news articles mostly about foreign expeditions. Having been abroad most of my life, it's also been something I use to cue people on where I'm from -- Nepal, home to the world's highest mountain.
Now Everest to me is about the Sherpa people. Although many have heard of them, they are still only identified with their role as porters, that's why we wanted to do this piece that portrayed Sherpa women and their personalities, expanding on their lives. We are actually working on a longer film about the women which we hope to finish by this fall.
Fairfax, Va.: Hi, welcome!
I'm always amazed at the climbers and sherpas when I hear about Everest, but what about the reporters and people filming? They must have to go through exactly the same training as do the people whose lives they are documenting. We as viewers never really see that angle. I was wondering if you'd care to comment on that?
Sapana Sakya and Ramyata Limbu: Ramyata and I did not scale Everest like the Sherpa women, we only went up to the beginning of the Khumbu Icefall. Ramyata is actually an amateur climber so she does have some mountaineering training but this was my first time at this altitude and I did have many problems along the way. Mostly with altitude sickness.
Other documentarians like the David Breashears who shot and directed the IMAX "Everest" film is himself an accomplished mountaineer, who had scaled Everest before making the film.
I think most reporters or film makers who document mountaineering expeditions are either trained or have lots of experience and are themselves interested in the sport, otherwise it would be way too difficult to work on a story and work at keeping up physically.
Washington, D.C.: How are you connected to the Internet, and where exactly are you right now?
Sapana Sakya and Ramyata Limbu: I'm in El Cerrito, California and Ramyata's in Kathmandu, Nepal. We've both been off Everest for a while now. But, having said that, there is Internet access at Nepal's Everest base camp, via satellite phones. With so many wealthy expeditions, there is quite a bit of high tech equipment these days at EBC.
Metuchen, N.J.: Congratulations to all of you, who made this 50th anniversary a grand success. I was very lucky to meet Late Tenging Norge in Darjeeling during the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute Basic course closing ceremony in 1981, I guess.
Does government take any interest to conduct such trekking courses in Nepal? Or are there any private companies have plans for such courses for Nepalese and International participants?
Don't you think we need to have a Mountaineering Museum in Nepal?
Friends of Nepal, New Jersey
Sapana Sakya and Ramyata Limbu: Namaste. There is the Nepal Mountaineering Association which offers several mountaineering training courses to Nepalis, some specifically for women too and I believe some trekking companies do these courses as well.
I'm not sure but I think their is a Mountaineering Museum in Pokhara - Ramyata will probably have a better idea. - S
Spokane, Wash.: I understand the oxygen bottles finally have been cleared from the South Col. But what about trash along the rest of the route and at base camp? Has the climbing community embraced cleanup efforts throughout the region?
Sapana Sakya and Ramyata Limbu: While we were at Everest in Spring 2000, there was a cleaning expedition on the mountain as well and I believe they had cleared most of the oxygen canisters, I'm not sure if they've all been cleared.
I don't know if the climbing community's embraced cleanup efforts but a few climbers certainly have and they've spear-headed such "clean-up expeditions".
There is the "Sagarmatha Park Cleaning Commitee" which a Nepali organization which handles all wastes along the Everest trail and on the mountain -- I think they do a fairly good job. I think it is really up to the expeditions and the climbers to keep tabs on the waste they produce and leave behind.
Washington, D.C.: Has Tibetan Buddhism retained its preeminence in Sherpa culture now that Tibet is dominated by China?
Sapana Sakya and Ramyata Limbu: Most Sherpas are still Buddhist, I don't think Tibet's situation has really affected their faith.
Baltimore, Md.: Has your film been shown in Nepal? How do the Nepalese feel about the litter that has been left on the mountain with so many groups making their ascension bids?
Sapana Sakya and Ramyata Limbu: No, our film has not yet been shown in Nepal. We are hoping to complete the longer film to show in Nepal by this fall.
I think it's a pity that such a rich industry has not been able to clean up after itself. Tourism is the most lucrative industry in Nepal, especially mountaineering -- there were 21 expeditions at Everest when we were there, so there's definitely money being made.
The environmental impact of so many people in such a fragile place has slowly been accumulating and there are issues of water contamination, litter, among others.
Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: What can you say about the political climate? Haven't there been Maoist uprisings nearby?
Sapana Sakya and Ramyata Limbu: The political climate in Nepal is still very fragile, although there is a ceasefire and talks are going on between the Maoists and the government.
The Everest region has also been affected by "Maoist" bombings and skimishes. Tourism has definitely taken a huge blow, if this wasn't the 50th anniversary, most people would still be staying away from Everest.
These fluctuations in political climates have a direct effect on the communities who rely on tourism for their living, and they have been suffering.
Sapana Sakya and Ramyata Limbu: Thank you so much for your interest in the story!
I hope you'll be able to catch the longer version when it's completed.
Sorry we didn't get to all the questions.
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