Sweet 16 | VailDaily.com

Sweet 16

Da Nuru Sherpa helps a client across a crevasse during a climbing expedition. He was in Eagle County for a vacation with relatives that involved, what else, climbing.
Special to the Daily

Most people feel like they’re on top of the world when they turn 16. Da Nuru Sherpa actually was.

Da Nuru first summited Mount Everest when he was 16 years old, and he has now done it 16 times total. He’s now 37.

“The first time I was relaxed and proud. I didn’t believe it, but seeing is believing. I could see all the mountains under my arms,” he said.

Da Nuru is passionate about climbing, which explains why he and his brother-in-law Mingma Sherpa climbed a couple 14ers while he was vacationing in Eagle County, then drove to Boulder to climb some more. He squeezed in one day at the beach in California, which was nice, except there’s not much climbing at the beach.

“He’s a legend,” said Sam Elias, also a climbing legend. “He belongs in the mountains, like a bird belongs in the air. You’d never know it by hanging around him. He’s soft spoken and gentle, and always seems to have a smile on his face.”

Da Nuru says the taller the mountain, the more comfortable and healthy he feels.

In 2003 he climbed Everest twice in one week, May 20 and 23. He never felt better.

“It was my clients’ idea,” he said.

The first summit was with his clients. Three days later he was back on top with a different group. They asked nicely and he had the time, so up he went.

“Wonderful guy, genuine and a great ambassador for the village of Phortse, where he’s from. It’s good to see he’s doing well in the world and represent Sherpas in a positive light,” said fellow climbing legend Conrad Anker. “He loves to climb and it’s great to see him do well in his avocation and his vocation.”

Family matters

Da Nuru is one of eight children: seven brothers and one sister. Four of his brothers are also climbing guides. Two died in climbing accidents, one in an avalanche and the other on Everest.

Besides Da Nuru’s 16 summits, one of his brothers has summited Everest 10 times. The family has 55 Everest summits to their credit. Mingma has summited Everest five times.

Mingma and Da Nuru were both born and raised in Phortse, a village high in the Nepal Himalayas. You can see Everest just outside the front doors of their family homes. In fact, Da Nuru is married to Mingma’s sister, and is the proud father of two daughters and a son.

“This climbing is a wonderful living,” he said.

If his daughters and son want to be climbing guides, he said he’ll support them.

“It’s up to them,” he said.

Still, he has had more near death experiences than almost anyone still among the living. He has been in several avalanches and was in some serious trouble in Everest’s Khumbu Ice Fall a couple times, and on other mountains.

The thoughts are always the same.

“What if I am killed? What happens to my family?” he said.

Climbing season

This year’s spring Everest climbing season is winding down, the first in two years. It’s been good, but not as busy as some years, Da Nuru said.

Da Nuru was in Base Camp two years ago when a massive icefall killed several Sherpa guides, and expeditions were canceled for safety concerns.

Luckily, he was on his way to climb a 7,000-meter peak when last year’s earthquake-triggered avalanche leveled Base Camp, and the second straight climbing season was called off.

That created some financial problems for Da Nuru and other guides. They made up some of it by leading treks and guiding on some 6,000-meter peaks.

“If there’s not climbing, we have to figure out some other way to make a living,” he said.

When he’s not climbing, his family runs a small lodge and he leads treks.

“If you’re not a mountain guide, you might run a tea shop or a lodge. If not those, you get a yak and haul things,” Da Nuru said.

By the way, the latest count had five people dead on Everest this season. Da Nuru was part of a 1999 expedition to find George Mallory’s body. They did.

Happy customers

“If the clients are strong enough to climb, I try to make the trip successful,” Da Nuru said.

If they’re not, he will try to convince them to go down. If he can’t, he’ll call the expedition leader.

A Korean team had to turn around and go down. They were not happy about it, Da Nuru said.

He has had no complaints so far, he said, except for that Korean crew, and they’re alive to complain.

Some clients are easier than others. For some he just points out which way is up and sends them on their way. Others don’t know how to tie a knot or put on the gear.

“They learn in Base Camp,” Da Nuru said.

There’s plenty of time. They’ll be there 30 or 40 days while their bodies get used to the altitude.

Sometimes even he doesn’t make it. If clients run out of oxygen, guides give them theirs to make the summit. “Why” is easy.

“People can die, and sometimes do,” he said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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