Apa Sherpa shares his experience from the middle of the Great Himalaya Trail
Nepali Times, February 17, 2012
What most people know about me is only that I have climbed Mt Everest 21 times. What they don’t know is that I am also a victim of climate change.
In 1985, when the Dig Tso glacial lake burst because it was swollen with melted ice, the flash flood of muddy water and boulders washed away my potato farm and homestead near Thame. Most of my property and belongings were destroyed, and I could no longer remain a farmer. I was forced to become an expedition porter in the Everest region, carrying loads to higher camps. I climbed to the top of Chomolungma for the first time in 1990.
I have never looked back since. I just kept climbing the world’s highest mountain over and over again. With god’s grace I was successful in climbing the mountain 21 times in 21 years. I never intended it, but I became a world record holder.Â
I was happy and content. But it was only in recent years that I started to ask myself why I was doing this, putting my life on the line in one of the most dangerous places on earth. In 2008, I met Prashant Singh of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) who was a friend of Dawa Steven Sherpa, my long time associate, and someone I love like my younger brother.
Prashant pointed out something that I had not noticed. He said: "Apa Dai, you are famous for climbing Everest multiple times, but you lost everything to climate change and you earned everything back because of mountain tourism." I had never thought of it like that. Prashant was right.
After thinking about it for a bit, I found my goal in life. I decided to dedicate myself to saving the fragile mountains of my motherland from the impact of global warming by building awareness about it in my community and the world. Dawa promised he would help in any way he could.
That is when Prashant, Dawa and I planned to do the Great Himalayan Trail. On my 19th climb on Chomolungma I had unfurled the WWF banner with the message ’Stop Climate Change. Let the Himalaya Live’. It had brought world attention on the effects of climate change on the Himalaya. I picked some rocks from the summit and handed it over to our prime minister, President Barack Obama and several other world leaders.
I had been building awareness by going vertical, now it was time to make a horizontal journey across Nepal from east to west to see the impact of climate change on remote mountain communities. This is why Dawa, me and the team are now on the Great Himalayan Trail. I have come to realise that Nepal is not a small country, it is huge and is facing an immense problem from global warming.
We are just one month into our four-month journey on foot. We are talking to people along the way, sheperds, traders and farmers and hearing local experiences about erratic rains, unseasonal blizzards, receding glaciers and flashfloods. We have in our team photographers, journalists and bloggers who are spreading the word around the world.
The Climate Smart Celebrity Trek at the Nepal-Sikkim border in eastern Nepal at the start of their journey last month.
We are also advocating pro-poor sustainable tourism so that local communities can build resilience against the effects of climate change. The establishment of the Great Himalayan Trail is a part of that plan. My argument is simple, and is based on my own example: climate change will create problems for us in the mountains, we must be prepared for that.
If villagers and communities can promote eco-tourism by linking to the Great Himalayan Trail this will bring the trekkers who will provide employment and help raise living standards. To fight climate change we have to help lift the quality of life so Himalayan communities can cope. Climate change may damage us, but tourism will heal us. Just like it did with me.
On the trip across eastern Nepal I have been greeted by large numbers of local people who have wished us well on our journey. I know I have the blessings of my fellow Nepalis, and I will do my best to return their kindness.
Write your comments
Fields marked with asterisk (*) are mandatory.