The calendar has turned to May, which can mean only one thing—it’s summit season in the Himalaya. Over the past week or so, there have been a number of summits on 8000-meter peaks, including Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Kangchenjunga, and Everest. In fact, a team of Chinese alpinists climbing on the North Side of the mountain managed the rare feat of reaching the top of the world’s highest peak during the month of April. But the big summit push is yet to come, with hundreds of mountaineers currently jocking for position on Everest’s South Side in Nepal.
But one legendary Sherpa has already made his way up and down the mountain and has left Base Camp for the season. The famous Nepali guide Kami Rita Sherpa reached the summit a few days back, breaking his own record for the most successful ascents of Everest. This was his 26th trip to the Roof of the World, but it didn’t quite go as expected despite his strength and experience.
Rope Fixer and Record Breaker
Before anyone the vast majority of the foreign climbers can reach the summit of Everest each year, a team of Sherpas must first pave the way. Typically, this group of alpinists is made up of the top Nepali guides from the largest commercial squads on the mountain. Naturally, Kami Rita Sherpa is a part of that team on an annual basis.
Last Saturday, May 7, the rope-fixing squad finished their work for the 2022 spring climbing season, installing the last set of ropes to the top of the mountain. That clears the way for everyone else to follow, at least once there is a large enough weather window to allow everyone to get up and down safely.
Kami Rita achieved his record-breaking 26th summit working with the rope-fixing team. He was one of the first climbers to stand on top of Everest this year, reaching the top at about 6:55 PM. In doing so, he pushed his already-impressive resume to even higher heights, setting the bar high for anyone who is chasing his record. The question now is, at the age of 52, how much longer will he continue to take risks in the mountains, especially when you consider what happened on the descent.
Evacuation from Everest
After a long day installing the lines up the mountain, the rope-fixing team began its descent back to Camp 4 as the sun was starting to set in the west. By the time they returned to C4, everyone was exhausted from their efforts.
The following day, the Sherpas continued their descent, but partway down the slopes of the mountain Kami Rita began to run into trouble. He was having difficulty seeing where he was going and his eyes were in a great deal of pain. By the time he reached Camp 2 he was experiencing a full-blown case of snowblindness.
Unable to see the path in front of him, Kami Rita made the difficult decision to be airlifted from C2—the highest point on the mountain where an air evacuation is possible. After the helicopter picked him up, it made a quick stop in Base Camp so he could be congratulated by his fellow Sherpa guides. From there, it was on to Kathmandu for some rest and recovery time.
A Dangerous But Minor Affliction
Thankfully, snowblindness is a relatively minor affliction that typically goes away within a matter of a few days. It is caused by an overexposure of the eyes to ultraviolet light—something that is common on Everest where the oxygen is thin, the sun’s rays are powerful, and the snow bounces light in all directions. All of that is recipe for disaster unless climbers keep their goggles on at all times.
Still, one can’t wonder whether or not Kami Rita Sherpa will start to consider retiring. He is 52 years old now and has been climbing Everest since 1994, only missing out on a few summits over all of those years. All of those climbs start to take a toll on the body too and eventually it starts to catch up to you. Does a brush with disaster—such as snowblindness—make him reconsider whether or not it’s a good idea to continue to go back up the mountain?
Hopefully, he’ll think long and hard about whether or not he comes back to continue guiding. Even after all of his previous expeditions, he may be ready for a break. Then again, he might not be ready to hang up his backpack just yet. Nothing Kami Rita Sherpa does can surprise me anymore.
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