Snowball Fight on K2: Interview with Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita
Recollections of the first Nepalese and Sherpa women's ascent of the world's second-highest mountain.
Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita has been named 2016 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. See news story here.
When Dawa Yangzum Sherpa, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita and Maya Sherpa summited K2 on July 26, 2014, they were the
first Sherpa and Nepalese women to climb it. Pasang Lhamu had been named after the first Nepalese woman who climbed Everest. “Unfortunately, she died
on the way back,” she said of her predecessor, but the woman climber became a role model. Before the K2 ascent, Pasang Lhamu, age 31, had also climbed
Everest from the north, Ama Dablam, Yala Peak, Nangpai Gusung and Island Peak, and trained at the Khumbu Climbing Center.
For the First Nepalese Women’s K2 Expedition, the team of women had to overcome cultural, societal and bureaucratic barriers including dismissive government
officials. One common question, according to the Nepali Times, for the women from officials was, “K2? Where is that?” The Nepali Times also quoted Maya Sherpa as saying, “They told us in our faces we won’t make it past Base Camp.”
Pasang Lhamu, in an interview before an honorary reception in the Sherpa Adventure Gear booth at last year’s Outdoor Retailer trade show, recalled the
day. “When we started,” she said, “it was foggy, snowing, windy. We just kept going. In one hour the wind stopped and the stars came out.
“Coming down was a whiteout. It was a very hard time. It was very scary. We were coming down separately.
“When you climb [up], you have energy. At the top we were excited, but it was dangerous to get down. You have less energy.” Theirs was a 21-hour day.
Dawa said, “We were first into camp. For some people it is a 27-hour day.”
Snow conditions were sugary, both recalled, unlike more typical compact mountain snow. Said Pasang, “Like walking on sand. It was really powdery, but when
you dig hard, ice.”
“If you slipped, you cannot brake,” Dawa said. “There is not any good snow to self-arrest.”
They could only concentrate, in the knowledge that deaths on K2 are known to occur on the descent.
In the morning they encountered a crowd of “35 to 40 people,” all on a summit push, on the way up at the famed Bottleneck section, with two Sherpas to
fix line. The women climbed with three Sherpa men, though Pasang, explaining, “We are climbers, we don’t need personal Sherpa,” said they sent two
of the three up with rope and ice screws to help fix.
Dawa said, “We are stuck in Bottleneck for three hours,” starting upon their arrival at 3:00 a.m.
Above the Bottleneck, the women insisted that some rope be fixed for 200 meters further, not for climbing or rappelling but as a guide for descent, since
the weather was deteriorating. “The upper Bottleneck is very hard but looks easy from down [below],” Dawa said.
Having handed over their ropes earlier, they collected more from others, but were alarmed when about 15 people, they said, relied on one anchor that was
only two axes in the snow. Pasang said, “Some of the people were hanging on jumar[s]. I say, ‘Please … Use your feet!’ They are many, we are
so scared. That’s why we started shouting.”
Pasang said, “[The Sherpas] don’t get [a] chance to put in good anchor. Everybody [is] in so [much of a] rush…. They are experienced but more thinking
“We had to shout so many times. I say [to one climber], ‘Hey, don’t climb.’ I make ball of snow”—which she threw—“[and] say, ‘Just get down.’
He stopped jumaring. He say OK.”
Dawa said, “People are so angry with us.”
Pasang said, “They say, ‘You’re shouting too much.’ Some were trying to jumar before [the rope was] anchored. That’s why I had to hit [him] with the snowball
… hit [him in the] back.” When asked where she gained her aim throwing snowballs, she smiled and said, “I have brothers.”
Her goal, she said, was, “If we go [to the] summit, we are getting down. Teamwork is very important. Everybody dream of getting on top. Top is not that
important. Getting home safely is much more important.”
Dawa said, “Somebody is waiting at home for us.”