Journey from the ‘roof of the world’

Restauranteur reaches new heights from humble beginnings

Legendary climber and explorer Sir Edmund Hillary was famous for the first ascent of Mt. Everest, but he was also a compassionate world citizen who left an admirable legacy of humanitarian deeds, particularly in Nepal.

Hillary and his Himalayan Trust constructed many airstrips, hospitals and schools in the Solo Khumbu (Everest) region. One such school is Shree Jana Sewa Ngi Ma Bhi Chouri Kharka, located in Gumela, Nepal.

Pemba Sherpa, owner of the Sherpa Cafe in Gunnison and Crested Butte, attended the school as a young boy. He met Hillary several times and his lasting image of the man is that he was a friendly giant — or “Bada Saab.”

Pemba sipped on a cup of chai tea at his Gunnison restaurant and reflected on his amazing journey from “the roof of the world” to the Gunnison Valley. He was born in the small Sherpa village of Ghat, along the trail to Everest Base Camp. His father, Ang Dorjee, was a farmer and yak herder and Pemba was required to perform the morning chores each day before he headed to school.

“I had to walk one-and-a-half to two hours through hilly and rocky terrain to reach the school,” he remembered.  “Sometimes I could not go back home because the creek was overflowing.”

Ang Dorjee also worked for several years as a Sherpa climbing guide to Western clients, including the legendary British climber Chris Bonington.

Pemba developed a keen interest in climbing at an early age and began his climbing apprenticeship at 15.

The Sherpas of Nepal are famous for their high altitude prowess but they traditionally were not climbers. The influx of Western trekkers and climbers to Nepal beginning in the 1960s enticed many Sherpas to seek the exponentially higher incomes provided by the climbing profession. Sherpas have become skilled climbers and are considered indispensable to Himalayan excursions.

Pemba initially learned to climb from his father and from fellow Sherpas, but his contact with Western climbers accelerated this learning curve. He began as a climbing porter but eventually ascended to the important role of sirdar, or head Sherpa. Pemba’s climbing resume includes two successful summits of Everest, as well as numerous other Himalayan expeditions.

While climbing Mt. Everest was a significant accomplishment, Pemba prefers climbing lower altitude, less risky peaks, such as his favorite, Mera Peak, at 21,247 feet. It’s the highest “trekking peak” in Nepal.

“Summitting Everest was rewarding but it was more of a job than realizing a dream,” Pemba mused. “It was important to get the clients to the summit but I did not really enjoy it.”

While not known as a technically difficult climb, Everest still presents daunting challenges, namely the Khumbu Icefall and the “yellow band.” The icefall is a shifting glacier with large chunks of ice that must be traversed several times during a typical summit bid. The goal is to get through the icefall as quickly and as safely as possible.

The yellow band is a ring of limestone at 28,000 feet that circles the mountain. While not a technical section, Pemba found it arduous.

“The snow is very slushy and it is hard to get good traction, even with crampons,” he explained. “You are also battling the altitude and the extreme cold and fatigue.”

Pemba no longer climbs 8,000-meter peaks such as Everest, but he continues to guide Western climbers and trekkers through his company, Alpine Adventure International. He specializes in treks to Everest Base Camp that include immersion in the Sherpa culture — sampling Sherpa food and dance and meeting local Sherpas.

“I want to share my Sherpa culture with my Western friends,” he said. He hopes to recruit climbers interested in attempting Mera Peak. Pemba suggests that anyone interested in joining him on a trek or climb contact him for additional details. Most days, he can be found in his Gunnison restaurant, 323 E. Tomichi Ave., which can be reached at 970.641.7480.

source: Gunnison Country Times, 02 Jan 2014

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