Toiling in shadows for decades, the Sherpa story needs a change, feels Nima Rinji Sherpa

Humble, shy and almost always smiling, Sherpas have toiled in the background while aiding myriad climbers to fulfil their dreams of scaling the world's tallest peaks for decades.
Toiling in shadows for decades, the Sherpa story needs a change, feels Nima Rinji Sherpa
Toiling in shadows for decades, the Sherpa story needs a change, feels Nima Rinji Sherpa

Mumbai | Humble, shy and almost always smiling, Sherpas have toiled in the background while aiding myriad climbers to fulfil their dreams of scaling the world's tallest peaks for decades.

But 18-year-old Nepali climber Nima Rinji Sherpa is out to change that as he believes his community deserves a story of its own.

At a tender age when most are still charting out career paths, Nima is in pursuit of a record to become the youngest ever to scale each of the world's 14 tallest mountains (over 8,000 metres).

"Most of them (Sherpas) that I know, they are very humble, in a way that, I've never seen a Sherpa say 'I've climbed these many mountains or I'm this strong'," Nima, who scaled both the Mt Everest and Lhotse in a mere 10 hours, told PTI in an exclusive interview.

"They are always very shy, never talk about how strong (they are) or what the experience is. It's very humbling (in a) way." "Most of the climbers that I see, there's always a lot (they have) to say. But when I see my Sherpa, I know how strong he is," said Nima, who has already scaled 12 of those 14 peaks, a certification acknowledged by the Government of Nepal.

Born in a family of accomplished trekkers, Nima wanted to capture and share mesmerising views while trekking, but little did he know that his passion for photography would soon turn into climbing for a purpose.

"Slowly, I realised, the Sherpas, my community, we have always been in the shadows and all the international athletes that you see, no one is from Sherpa community (in the front), but we are always the ones backing them up," he said.

"We're always carrying their equipment, carrying their food, the load, fixing the ropes, looking after the weather condition, looking after their safety, looking for the rescue things." "All those things are being looked after by us, but our names are always somewhere down the line. That's when I decided (that) I want to climb more for this, for my community more, rather than for myself," said Nima, who prefers to go without oxygen support for the first 7,000 metres.

Nima said committing himself to climbing also brought him face to face with the many challenges that the mighty mountains and the Sherpas face.

"(Now) once I started climbing, I realised there are so many problems. The gap between payment of a Western guide or a Sherpa guide, the problems with porters not having proper sleepers and still carrying 30-50kg in altitude like 3,000-5,000 metres…," he pointed out.

"The whole Khumbu Valley (on the Nepalese side of Mt Everest) — the mountain valley suffering from all the debris left behind and nothing being regulated — that's where I got my mindset shifted from capturing all that and being conscious about my surroundings, while thinking about what's happening in the industry," he said.

Nima said Sherpas have showed unwavering commitment to the cause but they deserve more. He believes the Sherpas' trait of pushing through pain barriers without complaining sets them apart.

"...they complain (about) nothing. I've seen many Sherpas who have clients and they (still) climb with a broken hand, with a headache or sometimes with broken feet," he said.

"Still, the fact that they know (that) they have to climb because they (also) have a family to look after and earn the money — (perhaps) that's why they don't complain." Nima, who began scaling gargantuan peaks shortly after turning 16, aims to scale Kanchenjunga as well as Shishapangma this year.

He witnessed the cruel side of climbing when at Shishapangma, he lost his fellow climber Tenjen Sherpa in an avalanche.

Tenjen was the guide to Norway's Kristin Harila and the pair had created the world record for scaling each of the 14 peaks in just 92 days in the summer of 2023.

By October, he was back guiding another climber, which is when Tenjen lost his life.

"After climbing my 11th peak in China, Cho Oyu, I was supposed to come to Shishapangma, but we had a big incident and four people passed away in that avalanche," he said.

"One of them was very close to me, we had climbed five mountains together in Pakistan. He was like a hero to me and a very strong Sherpa. But to know that he got caught in the avalanche and passed away, that was very tough for me," he shared.

"I took a long five-six months of break from the mountains just to get back the energy and to know why I'm climbing, after seeing that happen to the guy who had been with me every time." Nima, on his maiden tour of India and down to the sea-level on the western coast, is thrilled to meet legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar after watching IPL side Mumbai Indians train on Thursday.

"Being around someone like him, that's going to give me a very kind of energy and boost the motivation to do something more," said Nima, who shares the distinction with the Little Master of being a prodigy at a young age.

"For my next climb, maybe I need it, especially because right now I'm at sea level and I have to go 8,586 metres. I need some energy to go once I go back," he added.

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