One of the world’s top mountaineers is on an expedition to Mount Everest, where he will scatter the ashes of Edmund Hillary, the first man to stand on the summit.
Apa Sherpa, who has scaled Everest a record 19 times, said he wanted to honour Hillary’s contribution to the Sherpa communities that inhabit Nepal’s eastern Himalayas, where the world’s highest mountain is located.
He plans to hold a small Buddhist ceremony at the top of Everest, which the Sherpa people regard as sacred, to pray for the celebrated New Zealand mountaineer.
“Edmund Hillary is a very important person in Nepal. That’s why I’m very happy to be taking his ashes to the top of Everest,” Apa told AFP in Kathmandu before he left.
“I will place his ashes on the top and then I’m going to pray for Edmund Hillary. He was the guy who showed us the route, the first one to get to the top.”
Hillary and Sherpa Norgay Tenzing made history on May 29, 1953, when they became the first men to stand on the summit of the 8,848-metre (29,028-foot) peak.
Most of Hillary’s ashes were scattered in the sea off Auckland in his native New Zealand after his death in 2008 aged 88, in accordance with a wish expressed in his book, “View from the Summit”.
But Apa says some were given to the Sherpa community to be taken to the Everest region, where they were placed in the care of small Buddhist monastery in the village of Kunde.
Hillary’s pioneering Everest expedition left him with an enduring admiration for the Sherpa people who inhabit the Solokhumbu region on Nepal’s border with Tibet, where Everest lies.
He later opened a foundation to build schools and clinics in Solokhumbu, transforming the lives of people living in the harsh and inaccessible mountain region.
Apa said he had met Hillary many times and had huge affection for the former bee-keeper from New Zealand.
“He was a wonderful man who helped so many local people. Without him we would have no clinics, and we would have no schools,” said the 50-year-old, who is aiming to break his own record by climbing Everest for the 20th time.
Thousands of people have climbed Everest since Hillary’s historic ascent and Apa’s latest expedition is dedicated to cleaning up the mountain, which activists say is littered with the detritus of past climbs.
Apa, who hopes to reach the summit in mid-May, now has his own charitable foundation, and spends much of his time in the United States raising funds to improve education and economic development in Nepal.
The record-breaking mountaineer said he did not know whether this would be his last Everest ascent, but admitted that living away from the mountains had left him “spoiled” because he travelled everywhere by car.
“Everest is never easy, it doesn’t matter how old you are,” he said. “I will see how it goes.”