In late 2020, the 5,725-meter summit of Luza Peak in the Khumbu region of Nepal saw its first ascent by three young Sherpa: Pemba Sharwa Sherpa, Urken Sherpa, and Lhakpa Gyaljen Sherpa.
The three climbers hail from the village of Phorste in Nepal. Eighty-three of the residents of Phorste have summited Mount Everest, the highest concentration of people who have stood atop the world. This number is steadily increasing as the main source of income for the people of Phorste is mountaineering: guiding and portering westerners up Himalayan peaks.
Though mountaineering as a pastime was introduced to the native peoples of the Himalaya by westerners, climbing has become an important part of Sherpa and Nepalese culture. Many are driven not just by their work, but by their love for the mountains and the bonds that it forges between partners—a refrain that rings true for climbers throughout an array of different cultures.
Pemba Sharwa Sherpa wrote of his teammates in an article for Planet Mountain: “Together we have created a strong bond of brotherhood, which comes from working together on Everest, from ice climbing in the winter to rock climbing and slacklining in the summer. And from sharing and pursuing our dreams together.”
All three Sherpa work as guides, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of international expeditions were put on hold over the last year. This allowed the team to focus on their individual goals, and they set their sights on Luza Peak, a craggy pyramidal mountain in their home region that had yet to be climbed.
They first attempted the northeast face, but were turned back due to dangerous rock conditions.
“As we climbed we began to face more brittle and unstable slabs and at a certain point we decided to go back, descending from spikes of rock,” Pemba wrote.
The team then mounted an attempt on the southeast face. They climbed moderate scree to a rock face, which led to the main southeast ridge that they then followed to the summit. The vertical rock proved more difficult than they had anticipated, as did the crumbling ridgeline. However, the three Sherpa managed to reach the summit unscathed by 11:30 a.m. They then followed a tenuous and unstable descent down the southwest ridge, taking just as much time to get down as it did to get up.
“Our initial objectives were: to practice and promote ecological expeditions and sustainable climbing, leaving no trace of our passage; and deliver a positive message to the climbing community and the rest of the world that we, Sherpa, don't climb just to make a living,” Pemba wrote. “We also climb for ourselves for passion, fun, hobby, and personal growth; raise awareness of sustainable climbing, global warming, and climate change; promoting Nepal's unexplored mountains and winter tourism by following the necessary protocols; motivate the new generation of young Sherpas to explore new paths and new heights.”