In what there is of her spare time, Lhakpa Sherpa climbs Mount Everest.
Lhakpa, a 44-year-old native of Nepal who lives in Connecticut, is raising two daughters and working as a dishwasher at a Whole Foods in West Hartford. And climbing Everest is no one-off lark. She completed her ninth trek up the mountain Wednesday, breaking her own women’s world record.
“My body knows that I have already been this high. It’s like a computer. It figures it out very quickly,” she explained in an Associated Press interview last month. “My body knows the high altitude. It remembers.”
She makes it sound so simple.
Lhakpa moved to Connecticut with her now ex-husband George Dijmarescu, also an Everest climber, in 2002. A single mom who does not drive, she usually rises around 6 a.m. to walk daughters Sunny, 16, and Shiny, 11, to school. She also has an adult son from a previous relationship. She’ll often walk two miles to her job, where her duties include washing dishes in the prepared foods section and taking out garbage. (Whole Foods is owned by Amazon, whose founder, Jeffrey P. Bezos, also owns the Washington Post.)
Lhakpa, who has no formal education because girls were not allowed to attend school in her Sherpa ethnic community, has also worked at a 7-Eleven and as a housekeeper to help her children get the education she was denied. “My rent is expensive here,” she said, “but this is where the best schools are.”
Somehow, she manages to save enough to fly home each spring. This year, she climbed the 29,029-foot mountain from the Chinese side, according to the AP, with the expedition company run by her brother, Mingma Gelu Sherpa. She previously became the first Nepali woman to summit and return alive (Pasang Lhamu Sherpa died on her way down the mountain in 1993), a journey that began with convincing the government to give her and four other women a permit in 2000.
During an ill-fated climb in 2004, Lhakpa was left unconscious after a physical confrontation with her then-husband, according to the AP. And then there are the dangers that come from climbing an inhospitable mountain, along with worries about what would happen to her daughters if she died. She was at a camp in 2015 when an earthquake triggered avalanches that killed 19 people on Everest, and she was unable to reach her children for a week.
What comes next for Lhakpa? More climbing, of course. Next year, she plans to climb the world’s second-tallest peak: K2 (28,251 feet) on the Pakistan/China border. Maybe she’ll pursue the record set Wednesday by Kami Rita Sherpa, who completed his 22nd climb of Everest.
“I don’t need to be famous,” she told the AP. “I want to keep doing my sport. If I don’t do my sport, I feel tired. I want to push my limits.”
And maybe more women will follow her. American Melissa Arnot Reid is the next closest woman to Lhakpa’s record with six climbs to the Everest summit. With mostly favorable weather so far this month, more than 340 climbers and their guides will attempt to make the climb from the side that rests on the border of Nepal and Tibet.
“I wanted to show that a woman can do men’s jobs. There is no difference in climbing a mountain,” Lhakpa told the AP. “I climb for all women.”
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