Ang Rita Sherpa – The mountaineer who was famously known as the ‘Snow Leopard’
Ang Rita Sherpa was a well-known Nepali mountaineer who entered the Guinness Book of World Records for climbing Mount Everest ten times without using supplementary oxygen. To date, no one has been able to break his record. Due to his incomparable abilities, Ang Rita Sherpa was nicknamed ‘Snow Leopard’ by his peers.
Ang Rita Sherpa was born on July 27, 1948, in a remote Yillajung village in Solkhumbu district in eastern Nepal.
Ang Rita Sherpa successfully climbed Mt. Everest for the first time in 1983. His tenth and last ascent to the summit was in 1996, after which he retired from his mountaineering career due to his deteriorating health.
Ang Rita Sherpa earlier days
Ang Rita Sherpa was born into a poor mountain family where his father, Ayala Sherpa, and mother Chhokki Sherpa, raised yaks to earn a living. As a yak herder’s son, Ang Rita mainly spent his earlier days driving yaks, taking care of his family’s potato farming, carrying daily commodities, and trading them in Tibet’s market.
Ang Rita never received any formal education as no educational institutions existed in the Everest region until 1961. However, despite the lack of education, Ang Rita learned the Nepali alphabets by himself and could hardly write his name.
After being orphaned at the age of 15, Ang Rita entered the mountaineering profession by working as a porter to support his family. He continued to work as a porter for 15 years before leading and working with international teams to guide them to Everest and other high-altitude mountains.
During 15 years of working as a porter, Ang Rita gained a reputation for being full of endurance, quick and agile while carrying heavy loads for trekkers and mountaineers.
Ang Rita Sherpa family
Ang Rita Sherpa was a family man who had shared three sons and one daughter with his wife, Nima Chokki.
Ang Rita’s eldest son Karsang Namgyal Sherpa died in 2012 due to altitude sickness during an Everest expedition. Karsang Namgyal Sherpa, who was only 40 years old at the time of his death, was an experienced mountaineer who had successfully climbed the summit several times. According to the sources, Karsang had informed his group about his health problems but had sadly collapsed at the Everest base camp soon after.
Ang Rita Sherpa’s grief extended further when he lost his wife the following year after his elder son’s death.
Today, Ang Rita is survived by his two sons named Tshewang Dorje and Furunuru Sherpa, and one daughter named Dolma Sherpa. His second son Tshewang Dorje is also a mountaineer like his father and has summitted Everest five times.
Ang Rita Sherpa career
As mentioned before, Ang Rita Sherpa started his career in mountaineering by working as a porter for 15 years. Ang Rita was still in his teenage years when he began his career as he had no choice but to work as a porter because he was uneducated.
He mainly worked as a low-altitude porter and was not given much opportunity. He primarily worked for trips limited to smaller peaks like Island peak, Lobuche, and Tukche. However, there were several chances for him to work as a high-altitude porter, but the leader of the trips used to discriminate against Ang Rita by not allowing him to go above camp II.
However, once, Ang Rita impressed his clients during a Dhaulagiri expedition, carrying loads up to camp III without any shoes or mountaineering equipment. Although he only worked as a low-altitude porter, the mountaineer was compelled to walk and carry the load an extra mile due to some circumstances.
After the incident, the climbing team recognized Ang Rita’s capability and mountaineering skills, leading them to praise him and even supply him with mountain boots and other warm clothes.
The incident increased Ang Rita’s faith in his mountaineering career, and he ultimately received an opportunity to work as a high-altitude porter for a Swiss expedition in Dhaulagiri. At that time, Ang Rita successfully guided a Swiss team and reached the top of Dhaulagiri.
Ang Rita slowly started working as a low-altitude porter for higher peaks like Everest as time went by. His major accomplishment as a porter was when he had carried the load to Camp IV for the British Army expedition in Everest. And he finally fulfilled his dream and upgraded his career as a mountain guide on May 7, 1983, by assisting German- American group to the top of Everest.
Ang Rita Sherpa never looked back after successfully guiding and summiting Everest in 1983. Furthermore, the mountaineer had confidently summited Everest without bottled oxygen on his first attempt.
After a year, Ang Rita guided a Slovak team to the summit in autumn in 1984. During that time, he had sadly lost his colleague Josef Demzan while descending from the peak.
He then guided Arne Naess, a leader of the first Norwegian expedition to Everest’s top, on April 29, 1985.
After a few successful expeditions, Ang Rita started to get hired to guide several international celebrities’ trips to the summit. In 1987 he assisted a Korean group during the winter season.
During that time, he and a Korean individual had lost their way, leading them to perform aerobics exercises to keep them active and warm so that they could survive the extreme weather.
Ten months after the Korean expedition, Ang Rita helped a Catalan team to the summit on October 10, 1988.
Ang Rita conducted his sixth ascent to the summit two years after his Catalan expedition in 1990. During the two-year gap, rumors had circulated in the base camp that he had murdered a Buddhist monk at a festival in his home village, leading him to be arrested and jailed for the crime.
Regardless of the rumors, Ang Rita continued his career by guiding the first Nepal army expedition to the summit during his sixth time.
He then led the first Chilean expedition in 1992 and a Spanish one in 1993. And in 1995, the professional guide helped a Russian-Ingosethian trip through the north in Tibet for the first time.
Apart from working on expeditions at Everest, Ang Rita has also climbed Cho You, Kanchenjunga, and Makalu II with American, Spanish, German, Chilean expedition teams.
Ang Rita made his last and tenth ascent to the summit on May 23, 1996, when he helped the first Swedish expedition to the mountain. The trip had taken place 12 days after the 1996 Everest Disaster, which had killed eight climbers.
There was even a local myth before his record-breaking tenth ascent took place, where a doubter had sworn that he would eat a dog’s penis if Ang Rita successfully makes it to the top of the summit. To the doubter’s dismay, Ang Rita successfully conquered the summit leading him to eat the organ.
Although most climbers rely on supplemental oxygen while seeking to reach the top of the higher altitude mountain, Ang Rita completed all 10 of his ascents without using any bottled oxygen.
Furthermore, his tenth ascent to the top of the summit had led him to be recognized by the Guinness World Records in 2017 as he was and has been the only person in the world who has climbed Mt. Everest without any supplementary oxygen.
After his tenth climb, Ang Rita’s health started to deteriorate due to a liver ailment. Although Ang Rita did not want to retire even after the illness, he finally stepped down when King Birendra had specially sent Crown Prince Dipendra to relay his request to retire from his mountaineering career as his condition worsened.
Ang Rita Sherpa alcohol problems
Despite the number of accomplishments, Ang Rita Sherpa was an alcoholic. When not guiding through expeditions, Ang Rita used to drink from early morning to the end of the day while walking around the city. He even stated that he would not apologize for his drinking habit but will not touch any alcohol on a mountain.
His drinking problems played a significant part in his deteriorating health.
Life after retirement
After he retired from his mountaineering career, Ang Rita turned his attention to environmental protection. Due to his contribution to the mountain ecosystem’s safety, he received the Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy award in 2011.
Furthermore, Nepal’s government awarded him with the country’s highest civilian honors, called Gorkha Dakshin Bahu First Class and Tri Shakti Patta First Class.
He was also given some land in Kathmandu by the government. He even received a small stipend salary of 15,000 per month from the Nepal Mountaineering Association as a ceremonial director of the organization.
However, despite the accomplishment, Ang Rita never retired from his alcoholic habits leading him to suffer financially. A few business ventures were established, such as a trekking agency called ‘Ang Rita Trek & Expedition Pvt. Ltd,’ and an attempt to develop a consumer brand in his name. However, such attempts sadly failed as he was unable to stay sober.
Ang Rita Sherpa illness
Ang Rita Sherpa’s health problems started to worsen when he lost his son and wife one after the other in 2012 and 2013. He also suffered from a stroke in 2015-16.
And in 2017, the doctors in Neuro Hospital-based Kathmandu reported that he had developed hydrocephalus, a condition where water gets collected in the brain. The doctors suspected that he had developed the disease because of his prolonged exposure to high altitude without oxygen.
After his hospitalization, the public had expressed their grievances towards the Nepal government for only providing little support to the retired mountaineer.
And on September 23, 2020, 72-year-old Ang Rita took his last breath at his daughter’s residence in Kathmandu. His funeral was held in Teku Dobhan with national honors according to Buddhist customs.