KATHMANDU, APRIL 9
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a standstill, shutting down almost all activity; however, the mountaineering journey of three Sherpa brothers – Mingma Sherpa, Chhang Dawa Sherpa and Tashi Lakpa Sherpa – did not stop.
These sons of Wandi Sherpa continued their journey amid the pandemic with the dedication of successfully setting world records – siblings reaching the southernmost point of the world – the South Pole and the highest peak from Antarctica, Mount Vinson (4,892 meters). They are also the first Nepalese expedition team to land at the South Pole.
Born in the village of Makalu in Sankhuwasabha, the trio set themselves a mission – the Grand Slam of Mountaineering Adventurers or Explorers, an adventure goal to reach the North Pole and the South Pole, as well as the completion of the Seven Summits and 14 Summits Expedition.
As part of this mission, the Sherpa brothers achieved their goal of reaching the South Pole on January 2 and Mount Vinson on January 13, after departing for Antarctica from Kathmandu on December 13, 2021.
“There are different levels of mountaineering like Seven Summits, 14 Peaks, North Pole and South Pole Expedition; only when one completes all these levels, one can call the expedition ‘Explorer or Adventurers Grand Slam ‘And in mountaineering, you have a desire to go from climbing the Seven Summits to completing a trip to the North Pole and the South Pole,’ said Tashi, the youngest of the three.
“We had planned this trip to the South Pole before the pandemic, but we couldn’t do it at that time. But even during the pandemic, we were guiding the Royal Bahrain team (in 2021) to climb Mount Everest and other mountains (over 6,000 meters),” he informed and added, “So the pandemic hasn’t created so many obstacles to our mountaineering journey.”
The eldest sibling, Mingma, added saying, “Fortunately, we did not test positive for COVID-19, thanks to which we continued this journey easily.”
They are the second team to climb Mount Vinson and reach the South Pole, Park Young Seok of South Korea having done so in 2005.
Mingma and Chhang Dawa already hold the Guinness World Record for becoming the world’s first siblings to climb all 8000.
South Pole in 8 days
The trio began their journey to the South Pole from the Union Glacier in Antarctica.
They skied for three days after reaching the Union Glacier. Then they went to the 90 degree or the last degree by plane and left for their destination the South Pole. It took them eight days to reach the South Pole on skis.
“There was no schedule on how we were going to travel. Instead, we skied up to 15-20 km per day,” Mingma shared and recalled, “The South Pole presents a ice cap (a climatic condition with temperatures of minus-25 to minus-40 degrees Celsius and no existence of living things). So our trip there was different.”
Mingma explained, “We planned and managed to transport essentials like food and necessary equipment for 10 days, but we completed the expedition in eight days.
Since all the trails looked the same, we navigated while continuing our journey.
Sometimes the navigation was difficult when the battery of the browser stopped due to the cold. We even skied the wrong way. However, since there was an open space, we could rest if we got tired.”
To this, Tashi added, “We skied to the South Pole – covering a distance of 111 km in a straight line in temperatures of minus-30 to minus-45 degrees Celsius. But we covered 140 km in total because of the uneven or bumpy surface of the terrain. , also because we went there without a guide.”
Comparing his Antarctic expedition experience to that of climbing Everest, Tashi said: “Climbing Everest was all climbing work and was like climbing Mount Vinson; but the ski trip there was interesting and adventurous.
“Also, skiing there was different from skiing in other places because this place lacked slopes, which is the characteristic of most places. Fortunately, we managed to adapt to the extreme weather conditions and we also had planes on standby in case of an emergency.”
Saying that the trip to the South Pole was a new experience for them, Chhang Dawa said, “We didn’t have to do vertical climbing, but we had to climb small hills and ski, which made the trip at the different South Pole. “
“The most interesting thing about this trip was that we felt like we were in heaven because the South Pole was so peaceful and silent,” Mingma shared.
Chhang Dawa added, “I completed my 14-peak summit in 2013, which I started in 2000. I climbed five peaks in the Seven Summits Expedition, and I have to climb two more. After finishing 14 summits, the seven summits and the North Pole and the expedition to the South Pole, we will achieve a real grand slam,” he said, comparing their journey to that of a student. “A studious person feels like they have to finish the Masters. So for us too, it’s like finishing a Masters. We are on our way to graduating in mountaineering.”
Challenges along the way
For the three brothers, climbing a mountain is neither new nor difficult. But for them, this journey was adventurous and the only thing they felt challenged was the extreme cold of Antarctica.
Tashi said: “It was a tough trip but I really enjoyed it.
The mountaineering part was not difficult because we are used to climbing and guiding mountaineers to climb the mountains for us, and our mountains are so sharp and steep that you can lose your life in a second. However, Antarctica is an extremely cold place, but no such situation risked our lives. The main challenge in Antarctica was its cold weather.”
He also explained that frostbite posed a serious challenge to them, adding, “Once you have frostbite when the temperature is even minus 5 degrees Celsius, you won’t recover.”
Mingma added to that, “The South Pole is a place in Antarctica that is at an altitude of 2,800 meters, but it feels like it is at an altitude of 3,400 meters.”
Elaborating on another challenge, Tashi said: “It is like a dream for Nepalese to climb the peaks in foreign countries, and no Nepalese had reached Antarctica before us. But it was difficult for us to get the visa because we had to get the visa from Chile to get to the South Pole and Mount Vinson.”
Similarly, Mingma said, “For the Nepalese, it is an expensive trip because you have to spend a lot of money. The three of us spent 45 million rupees on this trip because it is compulsory to spend so much in Antarctica. “
Chhang Dawa said the trip taught them a lot of things that could be used to promote the tourism sector in Nepal. “I learned a lot from our trip to Mount Vinson and the South Pole.
The places were open and peaceful. The only sound was our breathing. Human habitation is rare here. At the same time, the place was so clean. People can’t urinate anywhere like here even if the place is open. Likewise, there was a suitable schedule for the trip and everything was well arranged. I want to implement that kind of arrangement here.”
Sharing that the government is supporting the tourism sector in Nepal, he also highlighted the improvement of some weaknesses in this sector. “A lot of things are missing in the tourism sector here. (When there are teams to climb Everest), the Sherpas have to carry everything to Khumbu base camp on their backs, risking their lives. Reaching the camp II from the base camp is also difficult due to the rough road, which again endangers the lives of the Sherpas, who have to carry heavy loads.
Thus, the government should organize easy transport of goods, perhaps allowing it to be done by helicopter. Another difficulty for mountain guides is that they have to bring everything back after the ascent.
Thus, rather than bringing things back, it would be more conceivable to put certain things necessary during such climbs in each camp. Instead of bringing back other things, it would be better for the climbers to bring back their rubbish on the way down.”
The trip to Antarctica
“We planned to go to Antarctica in order to set an example for the people of Nepal to do such adventures and expand the tourism market in Nepal. We feel lucky to be able to complete this trip as brothers and sisters. sisters, as we have been recognized as the first brothers and sisters from Nepal to walk to the South Pole, so representing Nepal through this success is also a great contribution to our country to promote its tourism,” Mingma said. .
Tashi added, “This success of our trip has been shown to the world. This success has also benefited the whole mountaineering tourism in Nepal. mountaineering tourism in Nepal.But we are getting global attention after our successful expedition.So this success was a good promotion for mountaineering tourism in Nepal.
A version of this article appears in the April 10, 2022 printing of The Himalayan Times.