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Legendary Climber Ang Rita Sherpa Dies at 72

He was one of the world's leading Himalayan climbers of his generation

Legendary Everest climber, Ang Rita Sherpa, has passed away at 72 years old. Nicknamed “Himchituwa” (Snow Leopard), The Nepalese mountaineer climbed Everest 10 times without supplementary oxygen between 1983 and 1996.

Eight of his Everest ascents were up the South Ridge, once was up the South Pillar on the Nepalese side and once was up the North Ridge from Tibet. The above image is of Rita Sherpa outside his Thame home after his 10th time up Everest in 1996.

Rita Sherpa also climbed climbed Kangchenjunga in 1985 (the third highest mountain in the world at 8,586 metres) Cho Oyu (the sixth highest mountain at 8,188 metres) four times between 1984 and 1995, and Dhaulagiri I (the seventh highest mountain at 8,167 metres) four times between 1979 and 1982. All without the use of supplementary oxygen.

He also holds the record for the first winter climb of Everest without supplementary oxygen, back in December 1987.

He was born inthe village of Yillajung in 1948 in the village Yillajung. His passion for Himalayan climbing started at 20 whe he worked as a porter on Cho Oyu. He would go on to receive the Order of Gorkha Dakshina Bahu and the Order of Tri Shakti Patta for his services in the mountain.

In a 1996 story about Rita Sherpa called Upwardly Mobile Ang Rita, Deepak Thapa said, “Ang Rita Sherpa would have been an international celebrity if he spoke English, had fair skin, and concentrated on selling himself rather than grazing his yaks.”

Commenting on Rita Sherpa’s reputation for being slightly recluse, Thapa said, “Shuttling as he does between Kathmandu and his home village of Thame in the Sherpa-country of Khumbu, it takes considerable patience to track down Ang Rita. And even if he is finally located, having him sit down for a chat is another ordeal. An Austrian radio journalist who was in Thame trying to meet Ang Rita for Himal South Asia faxed in an exasperated note: ‘He always agreed but never came to our appointments. Nobody has seen him for several days.’ It turned out that the ageing climber was up in the high pastures grazing yaks.”

Government officials, mountaineers, Sherpa guides and supporters gathered in Nepal on this week to mourn Rita Sherpa. Wrapped in flowers and the Buddhist flag, his body was cremated Wednesday according to Buddhist rituals two days after he died. He whad been ill with liver and brain diseases for the past few months.

“This is an irreplaceable loss to not just Nepal but also for the entire mountaineering community. He has been the reason for Nepalese mountaineers getting recognition around the world,” said Tika Ram Gurung of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, the umbrella body of Nepalese climbers and guides.

“Ang Rita himself does not claim to be a great climber,” Thapa said. “He is content to attribute his mountaineering success to the deep veneration he feels for the mountains. He explains, gesticulating to make up for his not-so-perfect Nepali:

“‘Foreigners are contemptuous of the very mountain they hope to climb, they see them as no more than rock and snow. That is why so many of them die. As for me, I never set out from base camp without a prayer to the gods and I always wait for an auspicious moment. Until such a time comes, I refuse to budge even if the expedition leader tells me to.’”

Ang Rita Sherpa is survived by a daughter and two sons.