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Apa Sherpa sits at the summit of Mount Everest in May 2006. He has climbed the mountain a record 18 times.

DRAPER — When Apa Sherpa made his first trip to the top of the world, he did it to support his family in Nepal.

After completing his record 18th summit of Mount Everest, though, his perspective has changed. Now, the Draper resident and record-setting mountaineering star is climbing to save Everest.

"Before, when I lived in Nepal, I did it to support my family," Sherpa said. "Now, we are here and I have my company. When I climb, I do it to support Nepal and help my people, my mountains."

A few years ago Sherpa brought his family to Utah where they live with a friend and business partner — "I want them to have education. Education is number one for us" — but his heart still takes him back to his homeland and the mountain he knows so well.

When he returns now, though, it is not with the sole purpose of guiding wealthy westerners with a thirst for adventure to the top of the world's tallest peak. Now, with a broader perspective, he climbs to restore the mountain to its natural state.

"We need to try to clean it up every year if we can," Sherpa said a couple of weeks ago at a welcome-home gathering. "When I take people up, everything they take, when they come down, they have to bring their own bag (of waste) down."

And that means all waste — water bottles, energy bar wrappers, oxygen canisters and human waste. It all comes back down and nothing is left behind. After one of his recent trips, Sherpa said he brought 632 items down in his effort to clean up the mountain he loves.

"In Nepal," he said, "they didn't know anything about global warming or pollution. Now they are more aware, and the government, they are getting smart. There's nobody messing up the mountain."

Now safely back on flat ground in Utah, Sherpa will turn his attention to education. He has a meeting with the Granite School District this month, where he will try to schedule appearances for assemblies with students. Eventually he would like to take his educational speeches nationwide in an effort to increase awareness of his mountain.

"I hope the younger generation follows (our example) in the future," Sherpa said.

His days climbing Everest as the world's foremost mountaineer may be behind him in some regards. But he hopes his celebrity — no matter how large or small it is — will help preserve his native land.

The mountain is as popular now as it ever has been. Each year, Sherpa said, it seems more and more groups are making expeditions to the top or some other point as westerners seek a new thrill. One thing Sherpa said is important for any climber, no matter how experienced, is to prepare properly.

For most, this takes years of climbing and training. You simply do not show up at base camp and ascend Everest any more than you hop off your couch for the first time in years and run a marathon.

The mountain is challenging in every way. Physical, emotional and mental preparation are as big a part of the climb as having the right boots, ropes and guide.

Despite spending so much time on the mountain, Sherpa said he still gets anxious with each new expedition. Eighteen trips to the top of the world have left him with as much knowledge of the rocks, the trails and the slopes as anyone in the world.

Still, he knows even the best mountaineering experts in the world are not safe if Mother Nature gets nasty.

"It's not easy," Sherpa said. "It's scary. But I've been there so many times I am confident. I know every step. I know every stone."

Sherpa has four children. They are taking advantage of an American education and, he said, will not be encouraged to join their father on Everest's steep slopes.

"Education is first," he said. "When they finish and grow up, they can decide themselves. Maybe one time, but not like me."

A 19th summit of Everest is not in the plans. Sherpa wants to rest, focus on his local business aspirations and educate the world about his mountain with a book or two, visits to schools or businesses for motivational speeches or helping others prepare for the journey.

His focus, though now planted from halfway around the world, will always be squarely on the 29,035-foot peak.

"There is only one Everest."

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