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A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon

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Adventurers & Explorers

Jun 04, 2018

Exclusive: Interview with Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa, of The Ultimate Descent

“People always asked me if I was scared.

WRITTEN BY

Marc Lambert

If I’m scared, maybe that means I don’t have confidence. And I need confidence for this adventure”. Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa certainly spoke these words like a man who knew what he was talking about. And he should, after all; this is a man who knew a thing or two about confidence.

In 2012, Lakpa and his companion Sano Babu Sunuwar cemented themselves in both Nepalese and expedition history. They stunned the adventure community when they did something no one had ever done before. They climbed Mount Everest, before paragliding from the summit, flying over the Himalayas, landing in Nepal and then kayaking 500km to the mouth of the mighty Ganges River, all the way to the Indian Ocean.

If this adventure wasn’t already epic enough, one of them wasn’t a climber, and the other couldn’t swim. Oh, and they did the whole thing without any sponsors or expedition support. Their exploits were documented in the movie The Ultimate Descent, and once their story caught the attention of the international community, they soon found themselves crowned the the National Geographic Adventurers of the year.

I remember seeing the movie at an adventure evening in London in 2012, and loving the story. Hard to believe that 6 years later, I’d be sitting having a coffee with Lakpa, both with our own Everest tales to tell.

We were sat in a small lakeside cafe in Lakpa’s now hometown of Pokhara, in Eastern Nepal. His status as perhaps the towns most famous name was clear, certainly amongst the locals, with every other person giving him a nod or a welcome embrace. The cafe owner was no different, a big backslap and a grin was served. For my part, a strong and meaningful handshake. It seemed I was in good company.

I had travelled to Pokhara after a chance meeting back in Kathmandu. I had just returned from Mount Everest a broken man, after an unsuccessful attempt to climb the famous peak, and during my recovery in Nepal’s bustling capital city, had met an old friend of Lakpa’s. I had mentioned my interest in the movie, and the adventure behind it. “Lakpa is my friend”, remarked Passang. “Travel to Pokhara, and he will meet you”. I booked my flight that day.

For me, The Ultimate Descent is the epitome of an adventure; doing something new, something a bit crazy; planning it – but not too much. Where did the idea of this ultimate adventure come from?

I’m a climber, my first Everest summit was in 2003. I was standing on the top, and started thinking that it would be amazing to fly from the summit of the mountain. It took me until 2009 to learn to paraglide, it was a British man who taught me actually. I bought a glider from Italy, and took 9 days of lessons, and ended up crashing into a tree! I didn’t have enough experience for high altitude flying, but i met Sunuwar here in Pokhara, and he had the same idea as me, to fly a paraglide from the summit! But he wasn’t a climber, he was a kayaker. We made a plan to use non motorised transport to travel Summit to sea.

By the time of the expedition, i had climbed Everest 3 times, but had actually been on the mountain 11 times, working as a Sherpa, a cameraman, sometimes as crew. But still, I am not a kayaker, Sunuwar is not a mountaineer.

In the movie and all of the international media attention that followed, much is made of the fact that you didn’t have permits to climb Everest; you had no commercial expedition, no equipment, and no support. You slept in other teams tents and used their logistical support. What was your reaction to this negativity?

Well, we are explorers, you know? We are doing something original. In 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary summited Everest, did he need a permit, permission? No. A long time ago the Wright brothers made an aeroplane, did they get put in jail? We wanted to show people we could do this. We were the first. Now people try and copy us, but we were the first.

So together, carrying all of your flying gear, you make a successful summit on Everest. How did you manage on the climb, and how the hell did you run off the summit?!

It was very difficult! I promised his wife that i would get him up Everest safely! He had no experience at high altitude, it was not easy. I gave him my oxygen on the summit. We flew off the summit with all of our mountaineering gear, including our crampons, we landed in our expedition suits.

There was no running space, we got lift in the glider and just stepped off! We had a lightweight glider, that would work at high altitude. We saw beneath us all the other climbers. We flew for around 45 minutes, and then we landed in Namche Bazzar.

You flew off Everest, landed, while still wearing your high altitude gear, and then entered the kayaking leg of the journey, which was the most dangerous part of the whole adventure right? You even got robbed along the way?

We crossed Grade 5 rapids, big drops, I had no training. And I couldn’t swim! I trusted Sunuwar like he trusted me on Everest. We kayaked non stop for 28 days. We took a little bit of food and supplies with us, but we would take it in turns to find more food, one of us would stay with the kayaks while one went into local villages in secret, so we didn’t draw any attention.

Many people were watching us from the side of the river, always asking us to stop, but we never stopped, we were so tired. One day we had to stop in daylight, we decided to make camp and some men came and told us to leave, so immediately we got back on the water and paddled another 5km down river. We stopped again, and slept for a bit. Suddenly, 10 men arrived, and took everything. They were shouting “where is camera, give us money’. Luckily we had hidden the cameras in the kayak. But they took all of our money and told us they would be coming back again. We quickly got back on the river, but they followed us in a motor boat, but we were faster than them on the shallow sections of the river.

We paddled on until it was dark, and made camp using the moonlight to see. We managed to hide until 5am, they found us again. So we left. They followed us for many days, they were hunting us. We had to pick fruit from the trees to survive.

So you kayak for 28 days, and you end up in the middle of the one of the biggest rivers in the world, The Ganges. Two small kayaks on this huge expanse of water, how intimidating was that?

There were huge ships were on the Ganges, sailing from Calcutta, giant boats. But the locals were only interested in us, always asking us where we got the kayaks from. “You sell us your boats” everyone was asking to buy them from us!

We have a GPS, but we know which way to go, we just follow the river to the Indian Ocean. But for me, it was strange, it was very difficult for me to breath. Just like you at altitude, with breathing problems, i had low altitude sickness. I couldn’t sleep, I was very sick. It was very uncomfortable for me, right until we reached the ocean. We were looking at our altimeters, telling us zero meters, but we still had a long way to paddle!

We reached the ocean, but we had to start thinking about how we got ourselves, and our kayaks, back to Nepal. We are two Nepali guys, and the border guards are asking many questions. It’s hard to explain how we have come all the way from Everest!

This expedition was the first time that a truly Nepalese team had done something so ground breaking; it didn’t involve Western climbers or an international team. Do you think this fact has helped to inspire other Nepalese to seek out adventure, to push boundaries?

Many people have now wanted to do something like this, many people have been inspired, we see people bicycling, rock climbing, mountaineering, without the need for international support. It is very positive.

But i’m not finished, I would like to climb another high altitude peak and fly from the summit, a commercial flight. Maybe in the future, I would like to introduce future climbers to the idea also, maybe take some clients with me, give them the opportunity to fly.

The conversation then turns back to Everest; this year there have been a record number of summits, the mountain is more accessible than ever, many of his friends are Everest Sherpas, and Lakpa is happy to see the high level of training, the good quality of gear that ultimately prevent deaths on Everest. He is keen to give me advice, to let me know that my recent attempt on the mountain shouldn’t be seen as success vs failure. 

The number of people climbing is not a problem, if things are safe. I would like to climb the mountain again, and you should too. You need to be prepared, mentally and physically. People will always tell you it is impossible, but wait and see, one day these things can happen. One year, you did not make it, next year, you might do. But always think positively.

You don’t have the story of the summit, but you have to make the stories happen. I didn’t have the story of the expedition, but finally i made it happen. You only need time, and a positive mind, to have an adventure.

We finished our lakeside lunch, and it was Lakpa’s turn to ask the questions; “What is your plan for the rest of the day”, “nothing” I replied. “Great”, he said, “then let’s go fly!”

Marc and Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa

Make sure you read more about Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa’s companion in a previous article, The Flying Prince of the Himalaya, Sano Babu.

You can find your own adventure at outdoorvoyage.com

Marc Lambert is a UK based mountaineer, skydiver and aspiring adventurer with a passion for expeditions and challenges, the more remote the better. Keen photographer and story teller through a lens. Instagram: atlas_diaries

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Expeditions

May 08, 2019

The Dream of Everest: Four Arab Women Challenge Social Expectations

Pushing back against social norms, some with family resistance, some with support, these women from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Oman are proving that social expectations do not count for anything.

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WRITTEN BY

Sean Verity

Most recent update: May 1st 2019 | The Khumbu Icefall

This article will update with every video dispatch that we receive from the expedition. All of the despatches are courtesy of award-winning filmmaker Elia Saikaly, and are a build up to a feature-length documentary due to be released towards the end of 2019.

Why can’t a little girl from the Arab world, who’s always wanted to go to the moon, have that dream and believe that she can actually pursue it? We want Arab women to toss all those excuses out the window; I can’t, I don’t want to, nobody is going to support me. We’re here, we’re standing on the roof of the world, one hand, one heart. If we can do it, you can do it.

Nadhirah al Harthy from Oman, Mona Sharab from Saudi Arabia, Joyce Azzam and Nelly Attar from Lebanon have set themselves the ultimate challenge.  During the Spring of 2019, these four Arab women will attempt to climb to the summit of Everest, something that has never been achieved before.

With the prominence of the #MeToo, and wider female independence movement, there has never been a better time to tell the story of these four women who intend to break down barriers that some expect to confine them. For some, they will be the first to summit Everest, for others, they’re climbing for cause, but they all share the same goal of empowering Arab women. “If we can do it, you can do it.”

NADHIRAH ALHARTY – OMAN

The Outdoor Journal had the opportunity to speak with Nadhirah Al Harthy before she left her native Oman. Read the full story here.

Nadhirah will become the first woman from Oman to climb Everest, however, that’s just the beginning of her story. Oman is a country where mountaineering falls outside the traditional gender purview of women, and much of Nadhirah’s training had to be carried out in secret. It was only a few weeks before she left for the Himalaya, that Nadhirah broke the news to her family from fear of their disappointment. Fortunately, their fears lay solely in the risks associated with the ascent, not the gender-defying pursuit.

“Growing up in a conservative environment made me want to break the mould and box Arab women are put into. After a difficult divorce and almost losing myself to the cultural pressures, I found strength amongst the world’s tallest peaks. It seems crazy to others who wear the Hijab like myself, but I learned to believe in my capabilities and to show others that their dreams are possible too.”

MONA SHAHAB – SAUDI ARABIA

Mona co-founded ‘The Empowerment Hub,’ a grassroots initiative that focuses on fitness and health for youth and women in the Kingdom back in 2014. Each event/campaign was for a cause related to well being, be it physical or mental. Driven by change, ‘The Hub’ was the unheard voice that echoed a basic right. Physical Education for females in the public system has come a long way. The Hub’s mission was to revolutionize what females and youth feed their minds, bodies and souls.

“If not for my generation, then for the generations to come. Together we will shift perceptions and shatter stereotypes. Here’s to becoming more accepting and tolerant. To quenching thirsty minds who have been forced to flee for safety. Let’s move some mountains and make some waves.”

JOYCE AZZAM – LEBANON

Joyce Azaam

Joyce begins her pursuit of summiting the world’s tallest mountain with plenty of experience behind her. This 34-year old woman has climbed over 26 mountains around the world on six continents. Everest is the last of her Seven Summits challenge. However, Joyce also has a story that has so much to it. There was pain, doubt, and both cultural and social pressure to battle against along the way. Joyce recently summited the highest peak in Antarctica which garnered her the attention and support of the Lebanese Prime Minister and the President himself.

“Arab women and girls are not given permission to dream. I had a dream that should not be mine: my PhD & my ‘7 Summits’ . I am climbing Everest to complete my dream for all of those women out there who are told they shouldn’t have one.”

NELLY ATTAR – LEBANON

Nelly Attar

Fitness shouldn’t be a problem for Nelly, having recently made a shift from a full-time psychology and life coaching profession, to pursue her passion for fitness and sports. This is supplemented with twelve climbing expeditions, three global marathons, one ultra-trail marathon, and two half Ironman races (triathlons). Nelly is now a recognized fitness ambassador, trainer and healthy living advocate, contributing significantly to the transformation of the sporting landscape across the Middle East.

“Sports was my gateway to create a positive impact for people in Saudi Arabia, and beyond. I’ve switched careers, taken my own athletic activities to another level, and regularly work on numerous initiatives to promote and enable more and more people to get active across the Middle East. Movement is essential for life, and regular physical activity does wonders for our physical and mental health. Let’s MOVE the world!

Dispatch #1: Ready
Date: April 16th 2019

The team of Arab women climbing Everest depart Kathmandu to Lukla where their journey to Mt. Everest and their climb to the top of the world begins.

Dispatch #2: The Memorial Site – Chukpa Lare
Date: April 18th 2019

Before reaching Everest basecamp, the team of Arab women stop through the area known as Chukpa Lare. It is a memorial ground built in honour of both Sherpa and Foreign climbers who lost their lives on Everest.

Dispatch #3: The Puja
Date: April 19th 2019

The team had their Puja ceremony at Everest Basecamp, the spiritual blessing performed by a Lama, a ritual that all who attempt Everest partake in before stepping foot into the Khumbu Icefall.

Dispatch #4: Icefall
Date: April 29th 2019

The team of Arab women sharpen their skills on the ice around Everest basecamp, in preparation for their first rotation through the Khumbu Icefall.

Dispatch #5: The Khumbu Icefall
Date: May 1st 2019

Experience the journey into the Khumbu Icefall with the team of Arab women. We explore their reasons for climbing Everest and their aspirations to inspire change in their societies.

 

Dispatch #6: The Lhotse Face
Date: May 11th 2019

The final video dispatch before the summit rotation. The team of Arab women climbers depart basecamp at 2 am and attempt to reach camp two in a single push. A cyclone is on the way, the Lhotse Face awaits and the stakes are high to acclimatize and touch camp 3. Will they make it?

Edited from 3450m in Namche Bazaar while on an oxygen vacation.

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