Dawa Yangzum Sherpa has become the first International Federation Mountain Guides Association (IFMGA) female guide in Nepal, with the Nepal National Mountain Guide Association (NNMGA).
At only 27 years old, she’s one of the youngest female guides in the IFMGA and would rank up there as one of the youngest IFMGA guides in Canada.
Dawa encourages more women by saying, “Hopefully my small success will inspire other girls to follow their dreams.”
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Dawa has climbed some of the world’s tallest peaks, including K2, Everest and Ama Dablam. The IFMGA is an elite group of roughly 7,000 other guides worldwide, with just 1.5 per cent being women. She is also the first Asian woman to achieve this certification.
When Dawa Yangzum was young, her teacher asked the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. “I said I wanted to climb Mount Everest,” said Dawa. “Everyone laughed, but I thought it was a good profession at the time.”
Dawa grew up in the Sherpa village of Beding, a tiny town at roughly 4,000 metres in the Rolwaling Valley near Everest.
Earlier this year, Anna Callaghan wrote a piece titled Smashing Guiding’s Glass Ceiling, in which Callaghan said the women of Dawa’s home valley have a reputation for being fiery and strong: “It’s different in the mountain regions. It’s tough. Mountain women are tough.”
In 2011, she attended the Khumbu Climbing Centre and was selected by its co-founder, Conrad Anker, to join a 2012 National Geographic-The North Face Expedition to climb Everest to mark the 50th anniversary of the first American summits.
The number of women climbing in Nepal has been on the rise over the past few years. “When I was climbing, there were only a few girls,” said Dawa of the changes. “Now you go to the gym, you see a lot of girls climbing and Instagramming. So, it’s changing a lot.
“There are a lot of other girls who can’t go to 8,000m. Their bodies can’t do it, and it’s so expensive and takes so much time. But they can be really good at rock climbing or ice climbing and climb something else. Your first ascent, it doesn’t have to be really hard. You don’t need to be really wealthy. You just slowly, slowly, go on.”
The IFMGA certification takes at least five years and over $30,000 to complete. Canada has a number of female IFMGA guides through the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG), including Erica Roles who became an IFMGA guide this year.