I am sitting in a coffee shop talking to a Sherpa. He invites me to join him on his expedition-fundraiser to the summit of Mt Rainier. I have considered this summit before. Last time I really looked into the eye of the mountain and stood on its shoulder, I contemplated the effort involved in reaching the summit. So I think about it again, not really sure I can conceive of such an effort from the seat of a coffee shop. Stories trade, mostly from him to me, and I ask the obvious interview style questions. He invites me to be the designated photographer on his expedition to the base camp of Mt Everest for a function he is performing there. I pause, chuckle and brush it off. It was a courtesy, not an actual invitation, right?

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Ang Chhiring Sherpa (AC for short) is a man on a mission. At 14 years old, he moved to Mercer Island, WA from  the high Sherpa village of Tapting, Nepal to follow the American Dream. He graduated from Mercer Island High School and has done well for himself, currently running his mountaineering company, Himalayan Sherpa. In his words, he has lived the life of royalty here. As a Nepalese citizen, he is revered by his country, decorated and was given the honor of Nepalese Goodwill Ambassador of 2011 by the Minister of Tourism of Nepal. He is celebrated; he could continue the life of royalty, but he compares that against his memories of the childhood he had in Nepal. “I have lived two lives, one very rich and one very poor, and I prefer 3 simple meals a day and helping my people over living the life of royalty.” His mission is to raise funds for the children of Nepal’s high villages. Those remote villages are often two days from any medical facilities and lack schools. The villages in the area where he grew up had one shared hospital that was about a two day trek away, and it was the hospital that Ed Hillary built in 1966. His goal is to improve on that.

His first order of business was to put in a dental clinic and provide basic dental care for his home village. But before he could do that, as dental offices require electricity to simply run the instruments, he had to regroup and figure out how to get electricity to such a remote location. He funded a hydroelectric project there, which then allowed the dental clinic to be built. He says “Let’s end the attitude of waiting for governments and leaders to do things for us. Let’s ourselves work to develop our community.” And as a native of that area, he has the will and understanding to empower the people to do just that.

He is a Sherpa, a climber and has seen the summit of Rainier 11 times, and summitted McKinley and Kilimanjaro. He climbed with Sir Edmund Hillary once, even. And through his climbing he has brought much to the people of Nepal.

Between June of 2009 and May of 2010, he summitted each of the 7 continents’ highest peaks; Mt Everest on May 23 2010 was the last of his Seven Summit goal. Not only did he complete it, he is now the speed record holder for the Seven Summits. It took him only 42 climbing days to reach all the summits of each of the seven continents:

Everest  (29,029 ft)- Asia

Aconcagua (22,840 ft) – S America

McKinley (20,320 ft) – N America

Kilimanjaro (19340 ft) – Africa

Elburs (18,481 ft) -Europe

Vinson Massif (16,067 ft) – Antarctica

Kosciuszko (7,310 ft) – Australia

AC Sherpa completed the 7 summits in 42 days of total climbing time. Just because I love statistics like this, I went to the trouble to figure his  approximate elevation gain. From base camp to summit of each of the 7 summits, when all added together comes to almost 52,000 vertical feet or 15746 meters. Thats just the up part, not the distance. Wait, I need another moment  just to think about that….

I contemplate the grandeur of his accomplishment. The sheer vertical feet alone is something I cannot comprehend. The days, the depths the freezing cold. I asked him about Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America and he said “That mountain is the coldest, windiest mountain I ever tasted.” I marvel, since he has the experience to give the sentiment due gravity. Then I listen to the rest of the tale of how he summitted while two full teams, one American and one British were turned back for wind and weather.

As he and I sit in the coffee shop, a white haired, very fit older lady recognizes him and stops, “Oh, AC, my boy, how are you? Are you going up again soon?” He nods and indicates that March is fast approaching. “Are you taking oxygen this time, dear?” He grins and nods again. “Oh, good boy…make us proud!” She pats him on the shoulder and totes her latte to a nearby table.

In March he will lead an expedition to the Base Camp of Mt Everest for a series of 3 music concerts. This expedition will raise funds and awareness of the challenges that face the people of the Himalayas due to global warming.

Following that event, his next climbing goal is to reach the summit of Everest 3 times in one season. He will begin that challenge in April.

AC Sherpa is the founder of Seven Summits Foundation.org and the owner of Himalayan Sherpa.com

For more on his upcoming Mt Everest Base Camp Concert Expedition or his summer Rainier summit fundraisers visit HimalayanSherpa.com

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