Guinness World Records - Officially Amazing

Meeting Apa Sherpa: The greatest ever conqueror of Mount Everest

 
 
 
 
 
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Guinness World Records Editor-in-Chief Craig Glenday travels to the remote Nepalese village of Gyalthumto meet a personal hero.

Mount Everest is a monument to achievement, a symbol of the challenges facing us in life. For Guinness World Records, its exalted position as the world's highest peak - at 8,848 m (29,029 ft) - places it at the forefront of everything we stand for. (Indeed, the first ever colour plate in the first edition of The Guinness Book of Records was a photograph of the mountain, and its first ever successful summit in 1953 undoubtedly inspired the founding editors, Norris and Ross McWhirter, to produce the ultimate book of superlatives the following year.)

So it was with tremendous excitement that I found myself traveling recently to the foothills of the Himalayas on the Nepalese border with Tibet.

According to my hosts - Dawa Sherpa and Ang Tshering Sherpa from Asian Trekking (http://www.asian-trekking.com/) - we could see Sagarmatha, as Everest is known locally (it's Nepali for "Head of the World"; its other name, Chomolungma, is Tibetan for "Goddess Mother of the Snows"), as we crested a valley about four hours' drive from Kathmandu.

The skyline was breath-taking, almost literally, and one could see why this spectacular mountain range is treated with an almost religious reverence.

I wasn't there to climb the "Abode of Snow", but I was hoping to meet a true hero of the mountains - Apa Sherpa.

I've met many great record holders during my ten-year tenure at Guinness World Records, including movie stars, pop stars (have I bored you with my Michael Jackson and Beyoncé stories enough?), athletes and politicians, but few can hold a candle to this humble mountain porter .

Why? Well this is the man who has climbed Everest not just once or twice, but an incredible 21 times - more than any other person on Earth.

Apa is considered a living legend, and not just by the Nepalese - who rightly consider him a superstar, if not a god - but to climbers and adventurers around the world.

Born about 50 years ago (age does not appear to be an issue for the Sherpa people) as Lhakpa Tenzing Sherpa in the mountainous village of Thame, he abandoned school following the death of father in order to look after his family, and took to kitchen duties on various trekking expeditions to earn money.

Soon, he was making his first attempts at climbing Everest, although didn't succeed in reaching the summit until his fourth attempt in May 1990.

Since then, he has summited every year - except for 1996 and 2001 - and made his record-breaking 21st ascent on 11 May 2011 as part of the Eco Everest Expedition: his fourth such trip to clean up the mountain and raise awareness of climate change.

With Apa's official GWR certificate in hand, I made the perilous - and bone-shaking - trip to the village of Gyalthum in the Sindhupalchowk district, where I hoped to meet the man they call "Super Sherpa".

I was in Nepal to measure Chandra Bahadur Dangi, who would prove to be the shortest living man in the world (and the shortest ever measured in history) but couldn't miss out on the chance of meeting Apa, who I'd heard was traversing the 1,700-km (1,056-mile) stretch of the Great Himalayan Trail that runs along the backbone of Nepal.

Timing was tight - I had to fly home in the morning, and Apa had to divert off his expedition to meet me.

My four-hour Jeep ride soon paled into significance when I realized that Apa's diversion to Gyalthum took two days out of his schedule - and that he'd had to walk all that time to meet me.

Apa Sherpa.jpg

But the mountains were clearly looking after us both, and late into the afternoon we finally made contact at the Shree Saraswati Higher Secondary School.

Everyone from the village seemed to have come to greet us, and the pupils, teachers and village elders welcomed us with countless golden katas (scarves) and flowers.

I picked out Apa's generous, glowing smile from the crowd immediately and we exchanged the traditional Namaste greeting before heading into the school to sign the guestbook.

After the formalities of an introduction from the school's headmaster - and a press conference for the handful of journalists who had also made the long and winding trip to Gyalthum - Apa and I found a few precious minutes to chat about his current project, the Climate Smart Celebrity Trek.

He and fellow team members Dawa Stephen Sherpa, Saurabh Dhakal and Sameer Jung Thapa, were walking the Great Himalaya Trail to highlight the impact of climate change, he explained, as well as to promote responsible tourism in the area.

"I lost my own home because of a change in the climate, my family's potato farm in Thame was washed away by a tsunami of glacial meltwater - I was lucky to survive", Apa revealed.

Today, melting glaciers continue to fill mountain lakes, which can burst their banks at any time and cause devastation or even wipe out entire communities.

Meltwater floods like the one that isolated his village in 1985 have killed dozens of Nepalis, Apa explained, adding soberly, "it will happen more and more unless we can do something about it."

Educating and empowering villagers is the key to survival, according to Apa, and tourism helps to bring much-needed funds into the more remote areas.

So for the conqueror of Everest, there will be no more trips up the world's most famous mountains - instead, he will be focusing his efforts on highlighting his country's need - and indeed the world's need - to tackle climate change. And there can be no greater a poster boy for the campaign than this heavenly country's most famous son.

As the sun started to set, and I readied myself to leave this beautiful part of the world, Apa slipped a white silk kata round my neck, gave me a big bear hug and said what an honour it had been to make contact today.

At this point, I started to well up - for the first time in my GWR life, I was moved to tears by a record holder - and scalded him for his humility.

This gentle, humble man embodies the spirit of Guinness World Records more than any other person I've met, and I reassured him that the honour had been all mine.

Find out more:

The Great Himalaya Trail(GHT) is one of the longest and highest alpine trekking trails in the world. This 4,500-km route stretches across the five Asian countries of Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan, winding beneath the world's highest peaks and connecting some of the most remote communities on Earth. Inside Nepal, the Great Himalaya Trail stretches for some 1,700 km.

Unlike most trekking routes in Nepal that are of North-South orientation, the Great Himalaya Trail traverses literally the entire length of Nepal, East to West. It is divided into 10 sections with a network of upper and lower routes, each presenting a unique experience to the visitors. It encourages avid trekkers to make repeated visits to Nepal to complete the entire trail. GHT is a potential game-changer for Nepal's tourism. For details, visit http://www.greathimalayatrail.org/

The GHT Climate Smart Celebrity Trek is intended as an outreach and publicity event to raise awareness for the effects of Climate Change on the Himalayan ecosystem and people, to promote pro-poor sustainable tourism as a potential Climate adaptation tool and position the Great Himalaya Trail as Nepal's new sustainable tourism product, contributing both to poverty alleviation and economic and climate resilience of local communities. Find out more about the Climate Smart Celebrity Trek at http://www.climatesmarttrek.org.np/index.php

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