The tallest mountain in the world loomed in front of 16-year-old Temba Tsheri Sherpa. He had always dreamed of climbing Mount Everest. Now all Temba could think about was surviving the 29,035-foot (8,850-meter) climb to the top.
One of the youngest people ever to summit Everest, Temba is a Sherpa—a member of an ethnic group that lives mainly in the country of Nepal, in the Himalaya mountains. "Sherpas exhibit almost superhuman strength climbing at high altitudes," says Everest expert Brot Coburn.
Living in mountain villages as high as 14,000 feet (4,267 meters), with no roads or cars, Sherpas hike everywhere and lug everything on their backs—even TVs and refrigerators. Some kids even climb 1,500-foot (457-meter) slopes to get to school. That's equal to 150 stories!
The Sky's the Limit
But those feats are nothing compared with climbing Everest. Temba's expedition braved avalanches, subzero temperatures, and deadly crevasses—cracks in glaciers that can be 100 feet (30 meters) deep.
Temba's courage comes partly from his religious beliefs. As followers of a religion called Tibetan Buddhism, the Sherpa believe in being peaceful, honoring all people, and accepting suffering without complaint.
An Avalanche of Change
Temba's trek continues his people's history of climbing feats. The tradition began nearly a hundred years ago when Sherpas started carrying supplies for visiting mountaineers. In 1953, the Sherpa won fame when Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and explorer Edmund Hillary became the first people to summit Everest. Today many Sherpas run trekking companies and lodges.
Some fear the tourist boom will change Sherpa culture forever. Satellite phones, video games, and Western-style clothes are becoming popular. But Coburn says the culture remains strong. Sherpas still hike everywhere. And many farm and wear traditional clothes.
On Top of the World
Without his heritage, Temba might have given up. As he climbed past 26,000 feet (7925 meters), he had never felt so tired. But finally he took the last step and stood on Everest—the top of the world. "I felt like I had won the World Cup!" Temba says. He knew his success was a triumph for his people.
Learn to Speak Sherpa!
Father: awa (ah-wah)
Mother: ama (ah-mah)
Thanks: thuche (too-chay)
Fun: gha (gah)
Mountain: ka (ka)
Snow: khâ (kah)
Path: lam (lam)