Six times at the top of the world
EAGLE — If “what do your parents do for a living?” is a competition, Mingma Sherpa wins.
Mingma was speaking with Eagle Valley Elementary School teachers during his son’s parent-teacher conferences when someone asked his son:
“What does your dad do for a living?”
“He climbs Mount Everest,” Sonam answered.
The teacher stopped cold, turned to Mingma and asked, “Have you ever been to the top of Mount Everest?”
“Six times,” Mingma said matter-of-factly.
And that’s how Mingma came to be standing in front of a room full of fourth-graders, talking about how mountain guides earn a living, and occasionally die trying.
Mingma’s first summit, in 2001, was just for him, because he grew up on Phortse, a Nepal village at 14,000 feet above sea level, and in Everest’s shadow. It’s home to the most people who have summited Everest, he said.
“It’s a little easier for us, but you still have to work to do it,” Mingma said.
He summited twice in 2006, once in the spring and once in the fall.
“It’s very rare to summit in the fall,” he said.
That fall summit was a Wyoming crew who wanted to ski down, so they did. Mingma climbed down.
From Phortse, guides can leave at 8:30 a.m. and make Everest base camp by nightfall. It takes tourists four or five days. Some of it’s getting acclimated to the altitude. Most of it’s because they are not mountain guides.
He has been to the summit with his brother and his brothers-in-law, and various clients.
He has lost four or five friends to frostbite, oxygen deprivation and other problems.
“Have you ever seen an avalanche?” asked one fourth-grader.
“Yes, many times, he said.
He told the fourth-graders about the time, two years ago, when huge pieces of the Khumbu Ice Fall — the most technical and dangerous part of climbing Everest — let go and killed some of his friends. Some are still buried in the ice.
Mingma was guiding on a different mountain at the time. He heard the news when he returned that many of his friends were dead.
The Everest climbing season is in full swing, and Mingma won’t be there, but says he won’t really miss it. He now works in Vail Valley Cares Eagle Thrifty Shop.
Some summit, some don’t
Stubbornness can kill you.
Some clients summit, some don’t. It’s up to them and their guides, but mostly their guides, Mingma said.
Everest treks cost between $30,000 and $70,000, depending on the guiding company and the desired level of luxury. For many, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime shot at the summit.
Mingma explained that to make it you need three things: time, oxygen and weather.
“If you don’t have all three, you don’t have any of them,” Mingma said.
They keep clients constantly apprised of the situation.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to convince clients to turn around. Some understand, but some take it hard,” Mingma said.
Mingma’s family emigrated from Nepal to Golden, and made its way to Eagle County less than a year later. His kids arrived last June and are wrapping up their first year in Eagle County schools.
He has been with Seattle-based International Mountain Guides for 10 years.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.