Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
Tenzing Jangbu, left, Yangzin, Dawa Yangjee, Apa and Pemba Nuru (all last name Sherpa) attend farewell barbecue Sunday in Draper.

DRAPER — It's never easy for Yangzin Sherpa to say goodbye to her husband, knowing he's going to undertake a treacherous expedition up Mount Everest.

Apa Sherpa, a guide and porter, has reached the summit of the world's tallest mountain a record 16 times, and every time he starts climbing, Yangzin worries.

Apa leaves again on Wednesday to co-lead a May Everest expedition consisting exclusively of Sherpas to help raise awareness about the Sherpa ethnic group and money for education and health care in Nepal.

Yangzin is excited about the expedition's cause. But, she says this climb will be even harder for her, because she'll be halfway across the world in Utah, a place where she doesn't speak the language and thousands of miles from her native Nepal, where she normally would attend Buddhist ceremonies at monasteries to help bring her husband home safely.

But Yangzin bravely puts her hand to her chest, saying she'll be praying in her heart for her husband's safe return.

She also has a friend from Nepal here, Fhuli Sherpa, whose husband, Lhapka Gelu Sherpa, is also a leader of the "Super Sherpa" expedition.

Using Yangzin's son, Denjinz, 21, as an interpreter, Yangzin and Fhuli speak mostly in Sherpa, saying they don't like their husbands' high-risk occupation. There's roughly one death on Everest for every 10 successful attempts at reaching the 29,035-foot summit.

However, the two say their husbands have always returned all right. And they're enthusiastic about this particular expedition because it will bring attention to the Sherpa people through a documentary and book, and at least 25 percent of the proceeds will go to help people in Nepal. That money is needed, they say, particularly for education.

"They don't have education. They'd like for all children to have an education and a good life," Denzing said. In English, Yangzin adds, there is "no money, no school" in Nepal.

The two women say they never received a formal education in Nepal, where just over half the population is illiterate and nearly one-third of the population lives below poverty, according to the CIA's World Factbook.

Their husbands also have little education. Yangzin says her husband has about a fifth-grade education, and Apa dropped out at age 12 to start working as a porter. He briefly returned to middle school, which was in a different town, a three-hour walk from his home.

Being a mountain guide and porter is considered a good occupation in Nepal, allowing those with little education to earn a middle-class lifestyle, the women say.

"There is no other job, they don't have an education," Denjinz said for Fhuli. "However, she is worried about the expedition because they have to climb."

The two families have been able to provide their own children with the education they lack. Their children were able to attend boarding school, which is expensive, but better than public school, they say.

The families moved to Utah recently so their children could have even more education. Denjinz is studying business at the University of Utah, and Yangzin's other two children are in high school and elementary school. Lhapka and Fhuli are still working on paperwork to bring their children, ages 9, 11, and 15, to Utah. They're currently attending a boarding school in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu.

In Nepal, their husbands are well known. Apa holds the world record for number of climbs, and Lhapka has reached the summit in just under 11 hours, the world's fastest time.

However, the women are hoping the documentary that is being created will help Westerners understand that the Sherpa culture extends beyond climbing Everest. The ceremonies through which guides and porters seek blessing before climbing Everest are part of the culture, they say. And, equally vibrant is the "Losar," new year's celebration, based on a lunar calendar.

The Sherpas, who migrated from Tibet nearly 600 years ago, are among several ethnic groups living in Nepal, each with their own language and culture. Members of the ethnic group also use "Sherpa" as their last name.

Each spring and fall, Fhuli and Yangzin say goodbye to their husbands for about two months.

"They listen to the radio for news, they are always waiting for news," said Denjinz. In Nepal it takes the Sherpas about two days to walk to the Everest base camp.

Apa says he also worries for his family while he's on the mountain and it's never easy to leave his family behind.

"It takes almost two months," he said. "We all worry for each other."

This time though, he says, he'll be leading an expedition that will hopefully help others in Nepal to receive the education that he never did.

"This time I am a little more excited to go," he said. "We will try to raise money to help the Sherpas."

Still, Fhuli and Yangzin say they're hopeful that after this expedition, their husbands will retire from the trekking business. Yangzin smiles, as she says in English, she hopes her husband will summit, come back and climb Everest "no more."

Farewell Tuesday

Apa and Lhapka will be at the REI store at 3285 E. 3300 South in Salt Lake on Tuesday at 7 p.m. for a farewell party. They'll be available to answer questions about climbing Mount Everest and the Sherpa culture. Check the Deseret Morning News Web site, deseretnews.com, for periodic updates from the Sherpas and base camp managers as early as this week.


E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com