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Reaching High…Again

KATHMANDU, Nepal (Achieve3000, July 14, 2009). A Sherpa guide from Nepal has once again eclipsed his own record, reaching the top of Mount Everest for the 19th time. Apa, who like many Sherpas goes by only one name, arrived at the summit of the world's highest mountain at 8 a.m. on May 21, 2009.

"Apa has done it. He conquered Mount Everest for the 19th time," said Sanjaya Baral, expedition officer at Asian Trekking, which organized Apa's latest climb.

Apa told his organizers by radio, "I am at the top.… I am the last of our group to get to the top today as I was delayed… , because there are so many people here. I arrived here at 8 a.m. and have been here for 30 minutes. It's very cold, so I am heading down."

More than just an endeavor at breaking his own record, Apa's expedition, named Eco Everest Expedition 2009, was a victorious environmental campaign to clean up the slopes of Everest. Apa and the other climbers on the grueling excursion amassed trash left behind by participants in other expeditions and carried more than 10,000 pounds (4,535 kilograms) of garbage down the mountain as an example to others. Their message: Leave nature as pure as you found it.

It was a felicitousfelicitous expedition, because protecting the environment, and Everest in particular, is a cause that is close to Apa's heart. Born in the village of Thame, in the foothills of Everest, Apa is a Sherpa, a member of the ethnic group that is indigenousindigenous to the region. The majority of Sherpas were yak herders and traders living in the Himalayas until Nepal opened its borders to tourism in 1950. Thereafter, many Sherpas became guides for foreign climbers because of their exhaustive knowledge of the mountain and the relative adroitnessadroitness with which they dealt with high altitudes, having grown up in the mountains. Apa began carrying equipment and supplies for trekkers and mountaineers at an early age, and like other Sherpas, he developed a deep reverence for Everest as he began to understand its unpredictability and its majesty.

In 1988, when he was in his 20s, Apa embarked upon an attempt to summit Everest. He made three unsuccessful tries before making it to the top in May 1990 and has been climbing to the summit nearly every year since. Having climbed to the top of Everest 19 times—4 more times than his closest rival, fellow Sherpa guide Chhewang Nima—Apa has earned the reputation of being the world's best high-altitude climbing expert.

Observers are astounded by Apa's unsurpassed success. At 29,035 feet (8,850 meters), Everest, which sits on the border between China and Nepal, is the world's highest mountain, and climbing it presents an array of harrowing challenges—adventurers must contend with frigid temperatures, the possibility of avalanches, and the perils of high altitudes, including a low level of oxygen. No one ever surmounted the challenges of Everest until 1953, when New Zealand explorer Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay became the first to reach the summit. For decades before this, even the most resilientresilient and experienced adventurers had tried and failed to climb Everest—some were turned back by illness or bad weather, and others lost their lives. As of 2009, more than 1,400 people had reached the summit of Everest, but no one had done so as many times as Apa.

Apa's judicious self-assuredness was evident just before he set out on the recent expedition.

"Everest is not easy to climb, but after scaling the summit so many times, I am more confident and experienced," Apa said, adding, "It should not be too difficult, but I have to always be careful."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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