Climbing to the top of the world is an amazing feat. Three men have done so 21 times! All are Sherpa mountain guides who grew up in the shadow of Mount Everest, Earth’s highest mountain.
Kami Rita is one of these guides. The other two recordholders have retired. But this spring, Rita broke the record with his 22nd climb. And he’s not finished. “My goal is to reach the summit of Everest at least 25 times,” Rita says. Challenging oneself is a worthy endeavor. But Christians have a calling higher than Everest: to “press on toward the goal” of eternity with Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)
Rita earns about $10,000 for each Everest climb. But money isn’t the reason he keeps climbing. He does so “not just for myself but for my family, the Sherpa people, and for my country.”
Sherpas are an ethnic group. Many live in the mountains of China, India, and Nepal. Sherpas’ knowledge of the mountains and stamina for hiking high-altitude trails makes them superior climbers. So, when scaling a peak like Everest, mountaineers often hire Sherpa guides. Sherpas prepare routes, place guide ropes, and carry supplies.
It’s not easy. “There are many risks in climbing, which is always unpredictable and dangerous,” Rita says. “But I have had to keep doing this because I don’t know anything else.”
Climbing is a family tradition. Rita’s father was among the first professional guides in Nepal in the 1950s. His brother has scaled Everest 17 times. Most of Rita’s male relatives have reached the top least once. As a child, Rita decided to become a guide. “I envied the good clothes and things that people in the village brought back after expeditions,” he says. He first scaled the 29,029-foot Everest in 1994. He’s made the trip almost every year since. He has also climbed many other peaks, including K-2, Cho-Oyu, Manaslu, and Lhotse.
Rita has lost friends in mountaineering accidents. One year, an avalanche killed 16 Sherpa guides, including five from Rita’s team. The next year, another avalanche killed 19 people. Thankfully, guides today have better equipment and improved weather forecasting. But Rita says, “The dangers are still there: The crevasses are deep and the slopes are unpredictable.”
Still, Rita’s climbing worries his family. His wife, Lakpa Jangmu, dreads his expeditions. “I keep telling him we could look for other jobs,” she says. “He does not listen.”
But Rita and Jangmu agree on this: Their children won’t be mountain guides.