South Asia - AFP





Four years after losing part of leg, he stands on top of world

Mon May 24, 6:34 AM ET


KATHMANDU (AFP) - Four years after he lost part of a leg in a traffic accident, Nawang Sherpa was standing on the top of the world.


The 30-year-old Nepalese man, who has a prosthetic left leg from the knee down, has conquered Mount Everest (news - web sites). But he said that scaling the highest peak, a feat that has daunted so many experienced climbers before him, was "not so difficult."

When he reached the the 8,848-meter (29,028-foot) summit on May 16, Sherpa said he thought back to July 2000 when he was knocked down by a public bus.

"I just remembered the moment of the accident, and the agony that I experienced after it," Sherpa said. "After reaching the summit, I was dumbfounded for some time as I forgot I was standing on the top of Earth," he told AFP. "With my successful Everest ascent, I realised that people with disabilities should also be given the opportunity to show their skills rather than just be the objects of sympathy."

Sherpa, who brought bottled oxygen, made it to the top of Everest in 11 hours and 15 minutes by climbing up the South Col route. "I did not find it so difficult when I climbed to the summit of Mount Everest from our final camp set up at an elevation of 7,900 meters (25,920 feet)," Sherpa said.

It was faster -- but more demanding -- on the way down. "It took me six hours to descend to the South Col from the summit and I found climbing down with an artificial leg was difficult," he said.

After Sherpa's ascent, a Nepal Mountaineering Association official erroneously said that the 30-year-old had two artificial legs.

Sherpa, as befits his name, is an experienced climber. The Sherpas, a mountain people, have long been the forgotten guides who assist Himalayan climbs -- the most famous being Tenzing Norgay, who with Edmund Hillary first conquered Everest on May 29, 1953. The first physically challenged person to conquer Mount Everest was Tom Whittaker, an American whose foot had been amputated, in May 1998.

It was that same year that Nawang Sherpa, two years before he would be hit by a bus, made an unsuccessful attempt to climb Mount Annapurna with Tom McMillan, an executive from San Francisco. McMillan, learning later that his young guide had been hurt, helped raise funds for his prosthetic leg.

In 2003, amid golden jubilee celebrations for Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa's historic ascent, McMilan and Nawang Sherpa decided to forge their own partnership to conquer Mount Everest. McMillan recalled a moment of fright going up Mount Everest when their expedition, which also included three other climbers, was supported only by a nylon rope.



"The rope was about six milimeters thick and I was very scared of the possibility of the rope snapping and throwing all of us down," McMillan said.

But the team made it up and McMillan credited Nawang Sherpa with being a "courageous climber" -- who conquered Everest as fast as anyone who was not physically challenged.