[UPDATE, 5/16/18] At roughly 8:30 am, on May 16, 2018, Kami Rita Sherpa reached the summit of Mount Everest for a world-record setting twenty-second time. Congrats Kami Rita!
On May 13, 1994, Kami Rita Sherpa stood atop Mount Everest for the first time in his life. In the next 22 years, he would go on to stand at the top of the world another 20 times—a world record he shares with just two other individuals. His 21st summit came on May 27, 2017. This year Kami Rita is going back to Chomolunga—as the Sherpa call Mount Everest—and if he reaches the summit again, he’ll be the first and only person ever to have done so on 22 separate occasions.
Kami Rita is 48 years old and hails from Thame, Nepal, a village that also produced one of his two co-record holders, Apa Sherpa. (Kami Rita and Apa’s other co-record holder is Phurba Tashi Sherpa). Kami Rita tells Rock and Ice, “I started climbing in 1992. I was a trekking porter. From there it has been step by step.” By 1994 he had become a guide on the mountain, and, as mentioned above, achieved his first summit that year. For much of his career Kami Rita worked for Alpine Ascents International, and in addition to Everest, summited K2, Lhoste, Manaslu and Cho Oyu—the latter mountain eight separate times, no less.
For the better part of three decades now, Kami Rita has returned to the foot of Everest each spring when the punishing winter storm systems begin to dissipate. Asked if each of his trips to the summit has been special in its own way, he demurs: “Not special. Just normal.” Though it might seem somewhat perplexing to the layperson, this humble, no-frills mindset about standing on the top of the world is indelibly related to the fact that, for Kami Rita, guiding on Everest is ultimately a job. “Sherpa are the ones that take people to the high peaks,” he said, “so I just continue my job.”
Yet amid his more utilitarian relation to the mountain, there is a distinct pride he takes in his summits—a pride not so much of a personal nature, as for his people: “Sherpa are the heroes of the mountains. Without Sherpa nobody is successful.”
This year, Kami Rita has switched guiding outfits and will be working with Seven Summits Treks. He doesn’t make any predictions about his odds of summiting, but one would have to assume his chances are pretty good—no one knows the mountain better than him.
And if he does manage to get that 22nd summit, will he hang up his crampons and call it good? “I’m a climbing guide,” he says, “so I’ll continue working more years.”