Exploration

Top Everest Climber Works At 7-Eleven

Lhakpa Sherpa has climbed to the top of Mt. Everest more times than any other woman, and isn't slowing down.

<p>Umberto De Peppo Cocco, Flickr Creative Commons<span></span></p>

Remember her name because Lhakpa Sherpa's mountaineering achievements deserve recognition.

The mountaineer has climbed Everest more times than any other woman on the planet, and is currently attempting a seventh ascent. Lhakpa is also the first Nepali woman to survive a summit. But when at home in Connecticut, she works as a housekeeper and 7-11 cashier.

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Lhakpa's story is remarkable. Originally from the village Balakharka in the Nepalese Himalayas, she started out as a "kitchen boy" for a company that organized expeditions to Makalu, the fifth highest mountain in the world, located southeast of Mt. Everest. At age 15, she began carrying loads and survived a broken femur during one expedition.

In a long article for Outside Magazine, Grayson Schaffer describes how Lhakpa began climbing, summited Everest multiple times, and ended up in West Hartford, Conn., working low-paying jobs. To say her path hasn't been easy would be a massive understatement.

After receiving ice climbing training, Lhakpa was part of the Nepali Women Millennium Everest Expedition in 2000. Determined to reach the summit before the others, she and a male Sherpa climbing partner passed the lead party and made it to the top at dawn on May 18. They were the only two from the group who ended up summiting, and Lhakpa became the first Nepali woman to return alive. Nepali climber Pasang Lhamu went up Everest in 1993, but hit bad weather and died on the way down.

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Soon Lhakpa met George Dijmarescu, an experienced Romanian-American mountaineer she would go on to marry. Their relationship took a drastic turn, though. The two climbed Everest together multiple times from the Tibetan side, but their 2004 trip made headlines. An altercation between them ended with Dijmarescu punching her in the head.

Financial woes followed, stress increased, and the family ended up on food stamps. The two ended up divorced and Lhakpa was given sole legal custody of their two daughters. Later, Dijmarescu was given a six-month suspended sentence and a year of probation for breach of peace, Schaffer reported.

Breaking her years of silence, Lhakpa has started talking to reporters. She returned to Nepal last month, and by early May was acclimatizing. She told Schaffer the challenge on Everest this time will be more mental than physical.

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Now in her early 40s, Lhakpa is learning to read and write in English. "I'm still thinking about the mountain," she told Schaffer when he interviewed her in Connecticut. "You know, my God, I need to go to Nepal."

She comes across as a smart, undaunted, extremely focused, and complex person. Those are all qualities you'd expect of someone who has summited Everest so many times against such great odds.