Looking back and looking up

April 29, 2013 , by Shreya Thapa, Leave your thoughts
Looking back and looking up » My Dreams Mag
Photo: Shreya Thapa

In 2001, at the age of 16, Temba Tsheri Sherpa became the youngest person to have climbed Mt. Everest then. Over a decade since his summit, Dreams caught up with him to learn about the transition from a young boy who won national and international fame, to a young business owner full of life. 

Imagine being cold. Imagine being so cold that your throat closes up and you can barely talk. Imagine being blinded by snow. Imagine pain all over your body. Imagine the tip of Everest being only 22 metres away. Imagine being forced to turn back. Now imagine having the courage and will power to endure the weather and difficulties all over again.

For many of us, that’s such a scenario, but for Temba Tsheri Sherpa, that’s his past.

Today, the 27 year old native from Dolakha district, laughs and says, “Why did I do, it why did I do it? I don’t exactly know why I did it.” 

He thinks for a moment and adds, “It’s been many years since I climbed Everest…maybe I did it because I’m a Sherpa—it’s my background, it’s in my family, it’s what practically everyone in my village was involved in.”

Mesmerized by the tourism industry and the tales of other mountaineers, Temba thought to himself, “Oh it’d be nice if I could climb too.” From there, his plans snowballed.

“In 1999 I climbed Island Peak,” he pauses and smiles, “before that I did smaller peaks but who counts those?”

Temba explains that through his uncle’s trekking agency he was able to take small trips, meet people, and in doing so, he mentioned his desire to make the big climb.

“I met some reporters and spoke about it, and after talking to people I had to do it! 

In 2000, Temba celebrated his 15th birthday en route to the top of the world, but instead of making it to the 8,848m, harsh conditions compelled him to give up a mere 22 meters from his destination.  The trip cost him five fingers as a result of frostbite – three on the right and two on the left.  But it did little to dampen his spirits.

“The second time, I had more experience – if I got cold, I knew how to take care of it. The first time around I didn’t even know what frostbite was or what to do about it.”

At the age of 16, he was back on the mountain and this time, he stood on top of the world.

Of course, it’s impossible to make accomplishments as such without a few great stories and Temba has many 

“I remember I had a burst of energy right before reaching the peak and I walked fast, and then after reaching the summit I took a few photos and headed down,” Temba says as a beginning to one of his most memorable moments. 

Even though the story is a terrifying one, he never loses his sense of humour.

“I was wearing gloves but they were big for me. I have little hands, and that too on one hand I only have two fingers. But I was coming down and almost slipped and somehow my hand grabbed on to the rope. At that point I remember thinking, ‘Lah, Temba, you’re finished!’ If I had fallen there, there’s no way they would have found my body.”

But in reality, he was far from the end, “After that, I got many opportunities—I used to go to a government school but then a private school (Siddhartha Vanasthali Institute) took me in. I earned respect, people knew who I was. At that point I felt like I could do anything.”

And an inkling of that sentiment remains, Temba may be years older but he retains a jovial almost kid-like spirit that is infectious.

“I don’t think I’ve changed that much. I mean, I started dressing better and my life became more ‘high-fi’ but on the inside I think I’m still the same.”

After his climb, Temba completed his schooling and went on to Wuhan University in China to pursue bachelors in Business Administration. After spending five years in China, he returned to Nepal with the plan of starting his own business but was deterred by what he saw.

“Since I had studied business I wanted to come back and get into business, but seeing the mess everywhere…in China it’s so developed and I thought Nepal might have changed. But as soon as I got off the plane, even at the airport things looked worse than before. I thought there would be shining lights and it would be sparkly, but there was loadshedding. And when I went home things weren’t any better! So when I thought about what business I wanted to get into, I began to think that doing business here wouldn’t be a possibility.”

Assessing his options, Temba did consider returning to the mountains but he says, “Even if I wanted to get back into mountaineering there’d been a long gap in between so I thought I’d head in another direction. 

Besides, for him, it’s not enough just to climb, “I still want to climb, if someone told me to go back on Everest I’d leave tomorrow!” he exclaims, but for once his demeanor turns serious as he adds, “ But what would that accomplish? But what would be the reason for it? What would it accomplish? I’d fulfill a desire but that doesn’t do anything. I’d want to get something new out of it, just climbing doesn’t accomplish anything—even if you climb for a cause, there has to be results.”

On top of that, making large-scale ascents are costly and Temba feels there are other places where those sources could be invested. In his case, his experiences have brought him full circle back into the tourism industry and with fellow climber friends Temba has opened the travel agency Dreamers Destination Treks and Expedition.

“Right now I’m promoting tourism,” he says, “and I think about how different my life would be if I hadn’t climbed Everest. Now I get to pay people, but I could have been one of the Sherpas just taking money to follow a foreigner and carry their bags. I still work with foreigners, but the conditions are different.”

On top of the travel agency, Temba and his friends are working towards establishing an NGO that would work with the environment.

“If I were to climb again, I’d do it for the environment,” he says.

But for the now, he is planning to make a different with small steps, “I go outside of Kathmandu Valley a lot, and near Sundarijal there is this place that is full of plastic and trash, I’d like to start a project to clean that up. Of course, everything has to fall into place, I’d need the right support, I’d need people to help, but if that is a success then I’d like to also clean Shivapuri. “

Besides staying occupied with his business and the upcoming NGO, Temba’s life is filled with hobbies.

“I really enjoy photography, I’d like to do portraits but maybe I don’t take good pictures because they don’t come out well…so I do mostly landscape photography.”

Additionally, he’s always exploring the outskirts of Kathmandu, and he even goes rock climbing.

“Sure, I don’t have five fingers, but honestly I can’t usually feel the difference. Sure sometimes when there are things you must have five fingers for I feel a little bit of regret, but I can’t think of any examples! Everything that other people do, I do it as well – I’ve never let that stop me from doing anything I want to do.”

Even then, sometimes the weight of his early accomplishment is heavy on him.

“People say, ‘Oh Temba, you’ve climbed Everest, what are you doing now?’ and I say I’m not doing anything! Just because people ask me what my plans are I have to make some sort of plans,” he says as he laughs.

But when asked if he still feels like he’s a success, he hesitates if only for a moment, “A success? Yes I’d say I’m still successful. In some places people still recognise me and it makes me happy, but others don’t know that I climbed Everest so it makes no difference.”

“I’m very happy with my life, I’ve very satisfied. It’s not just about making money, if you’re happy – that’s enough. I still want to do something to make a difference for my society and country, so let’s see what else there is that I can do.” 

(Inline photos courtesy: Temba Tsheri Sherpa)

  • temba2
  • Temba3
  • Temba base camp kitchen tent 2000 copy
  • sherpa_banner

Tags: , , ,

Categorised in: Features

Leave a Reply

Connect with:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Related Articles