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This Whole Foods worker has an insane side gig: climbing Everest.

Standing among the produce at the Whole Foods Market where she works as a dishwasher, Lhakpa Sherpa could be any other striving immigrant supporting her family on $11.10 an hour — one dollar above Connecticut’s minimum wage. But the 44-year-old mom is exceptional. She’s scaled Mount Everest nine times — more than any other woman....
Time: 20:19     Date: 18.07.2018
US Living News: This Whole Foods worker has an insane side gig: climbing Everest. NY Post 24 - US News

But the 44-year-old mom is exceptional. She’s scaled Mount Everest nine times — more than any other woman.

“I don’t like to draw attention to myself,” the world record holder says matter-of-factly. “It’s an important part of my Buddhist upbringing to be humble.”

Lhakpa spoke to The Post just over two months after her ninth successful summit of the Himalayan mountain — the highest peak on the planet at 29,029 feet — on May 16. She helped guide a group of international tourists who had signed up with an expedition company owned by her younger brother, Mingma Sherpa. For the clients, it was a bucket-list challenge they’d paid $70,000 for, but Lhakpa talks about the climb as if it’s a fairly easy jaunt.

“People think Everest is a killer, but it makes me happy and feel good. It’s a nice hike and nature is always there,” says the single mother-of-three who lives in West Hartford, Conn., and gets paid about $5,000 for guiding expeditions.

Incredibly, Lhakpa doesn’t go to the gym — “it’s too expensive,” she says — and builds up her strength and stamina hauling garbage and handling cooking pots on the job.

“I like to go hiking when I can, but most of my training is done in day-to-day life,” she says.

Sherpa displays her medals at home.Tamara Beckwith

And what a life it has been.

In September 1973 — two decades after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first conquered the world’s tallest peak — Lhakpa was born in the foothills of Makalu mountain in Nepal, a day’s hike from Everest base camp. She was raised on a remote farm, along with six sisters and four brothers.

The family was poor and the girls didn’t receive an education. Lhakpa had to walk her younger brothers to and from school — two hours away on foot — every day. She laughingly describes this period as being “a big yellow school bus,” as one of the boys used to ride on her shoulders.

Their family’s home had no electricity and her parents made a living breeding sheep and selling milk and cheese. But, as climbing Everest became an increasingly popular pursuit for rich foreigners, the tourist trade exploded in Makalu, and her father began supplementing his meager income by guiding travelers on shorter treks. Lhakpa would sometimes assist him.

“It gave me a taste for the outdoors and I was always helping him, carrying people’s supplies, no matter how heavy they were,” she says. “Anything a boy could do, I did just as well, if not better.”

Her mother, Pasang Bhuti, disapproved of Lhakpa’s tomboy behavior and appearance — she was a good 3 inches taller than her sisters — and tried to keep her at home.

“She would say: ‘This is no good, Lhakpa. You will not learn how to cook and get married,’” she recalls. “But I was a free spirit and loved taking off outside.

“Nature was my playground and I liked to play with the snow leopards and sheep. Mami would say: ‘Maybe those snow leopards will eat my little girl.’”

‘People think Everest is a killer, but it makes me happy and feel good.’

For years, she longed to summit Everest. Like many Nepali, she regards it as a female deity and believes that men and women must never sleep together in their tents along the climb, lest they anger the mountain.

“We say Everest is the mother, the Mother Mount, who we really respect,” says Lhakpa. “She can be angry at those who wrong her — like bad men with cheating ways. They’re at risk of her wrath.”

In 2000, at the age of 26 and with a toddler son, she finally got a chance to summit Everest herself. She was among a group of seven Nepalese women who petitioned the Nepalese government to climb the mountain. Her son’s father, Lopsang Sherpa, had died climbing the peak when she was eight months pregnant, but she was undeterred.

“[I believed] Everest will look out for me because I have a good heart,” she says.

Conditions on that first climb were rough; Lhakpa was the only woman in the group to summit.

“There was very bad wind but I kept going with my oxygen mask,” she says. “I reached the top and the moon gave way to the hot morning sun. It was perfect.”

On her second attempt, working as a paid sherpa guiding foreigners on the expedition, Lhakpa met her future husband, George Dijmarescu, a construction worker from Romania who had settled in West Hartford.

She moved to Connecticut to be with him, and the couple went on to climb Everest four more times together and have two daughters — Sunny, now 16, and Shiny, now 11.

On her sixth climb, in 2006, Lhakpa was two months pregnant with Shiny, but her doctors gave her the go-ahead.

“I remember talking to the mountain, saying: ‘Don’t kill me, Everest, because I’m a mother,’” she says.

After that summit, she took a nine-year hiatus from climbing to raise her kids. Sadly, her marriage fell apart around 2011, and she divorced Dijmarescu a few years later.

Sherpa with fellow record holder Kami Rita Sherpa in May.AFP/Getty Images

In 2015, she returned to the mountain, joining her brother’s expedition company for her seventh attempt, but disaster struck. Lhakpa was at Everest base camp when a massive earthquake hit, killing 19.

“I saw the ice crack and the mountain falling,” she says. “I couldn’t stop shaking. I saw my two daughters in front of me and thought I was going to die.”

Still she went on to safely ascend the following season and again in 2017 and this past May. She claims her last ascent was “easy” because of the “great weather.”

Despite all of her success, she says her mother still disapproves of her pursuits.

“She says to me I am putting myself and my children in danger unnecessarily,” says Lhakpa, who believes women are more suited to climbing than men.

“[We] are more strong-minded and, because of childbirth, can endure more pain,” she says.

She hopes to summit Everest one more time, but also has her eyes on other challenges. She’d like to write a book, and, next year, she plans to scale K2, the second highest mountain in the world at 28,250 feet and a more challenging, technical ascent than the tallest peak. She’s also just launched her own business called Cloudscape Climbing, guiding trekkers on any climb in the world.

“The scenery and air of the mountains makes me feel powerful, like I can do anything,” she says. “I believe that if I can fulfill my dreams, from poor beginnings and with no education, then anybody can.”

Additional reporting by Suzy Weiss

Everest by the numbers Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

29,029: Everest’s elevation in feet

1953: The year Everest was first summited by Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand explorer, and his Sherpa companion Tenzing Norgay

536: The number of women to have successfully climbed Everest, as of 2017, according to the Himalayan Database. More than 4,000 men have accomplished the feat

61%: The likelihood of summiting Everest once you make it past base camp, which sits at an elevation of 17,600 feet

6: The number of people who died climbing Everest this year

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