Mingma Gyalje Sherpa (b.1986), universally known as Mingma G, bagged more than ten 8000m summits without supplemental oxygen.
On 16th January, he awaited just 10 meters away from a historic ascent with his three Sherpa-mates – Mingma David, Mingma Tenzi, and Sona Sherpa. His six other teammates joined them from Camp-3. All ten of them, holding hands, stepped on to the summit of K2 together, culminating an effort which began 33 year ego.
They raised the Nepalese National Flag, sang the National Anthem, reaffirming the ‘Brotherhood of the Rope’ and the esprit de corps of a community.
The adherence of the No-Oxygen school of mountaineering raised critical eyebrows but this ascent was solely theirs and could not be hijacked by foreigners.
“Sherpas are the backbone in the history of 8000m expeditions. If we had lost K2 from our hand, we would have lost all 14 8000ers and the new generation of climbers from Nepal would have never found any Nepalese with a first Winter ascent.” said Mingma G in an exclusive interview with Dream Wanderlust.
The founder of Imagine Nepal, Mingma G is also an IFMGA/UIAGM-certified mountain guide. He first climbed K2 in 2014, again in 2017, as a high-altitude worker. In 2015, he was a member of the first Sherpa-only team that climbed three virgin 6000ers in Nepal, including Cheki-Go (6257m) and Bamongo (6400m). His solo-ascent to Chobuje (6685m) through its West Face garnered a widespread recognition in November, 2015.
Growing up in Nepal’s Rolwaling Valley, Mingma G saw both his father and grandfather working as mountain guides. In 2006, fresh out of school, he joined his first 8000er expedition with the Japanese Manaslu Team. While learning the nitty-gritty on the go, he managed to reach 7300m in his first attempt. The very next year, he bagged his first 8000er, Everest, by the NE route as a high-altitude worker. Since then, he has summited thirteen 8000ers with only Sishapangma left.
The long sought-after last ‘Big Prize’ was made possible when Mingma G and three other climbers from his Sherpa-only team joined forces with Nirmal Purja and his team, consisting six members, and another one from Seven Summit Treks.
The rest is history. Mingma G talked at length in exclusive interviews with Dream Wanderlust from Base Camp and from Skardu.
The interview is as follows:
Interview with Mingma Gyalje Sherpa
DW: Congratulations to you and your team for this historic achievement. How did you first react when you scaled K2 this time?
Mingma G: I was just proud. We made it, yay! Something like that, not that much.
DW: You must be!
Mingma G: I was proud of my nation. We climbed K2 for the first time in Winter for our nation and our future generations to come. I was happy, I called my friends from summit that we made it.
DW: Is it that the Winter ascent of K2 is big because it’s the last big prize left in the Himalayas? Do you think it is historic because of this or because the Sherpas have reclaimed their independent identity?
Mingma G: It is not about claiming our independent identity; it is about giving justice to our future generations. Sherpas are the backbone in the history of 8000m expeditions.
If we had lost K2 from our hand, we would have lost all 14 8000ers and the new generation of climbers from Nepal would have never found any Nepalese with a first Winter ascent.
Possibly, we would have lost our face in front of our youth. At this point, it was necessary to bring justice to the Nepalese climbing community that we, at least, have one first winter ascent.
DW: Coming back to your expedition, you came to the Base Camp on 18th December with a 3-member team. What happened until the bad weather kicked in?
Mingma G: We started climbing on 21st December. There was an argument about which season to follow – astronomical or meteorological Winter. We did not want to participate in such discussions and we started from 21st December and we went to Camp-1.
On 22nd December, we fixed ropes up to Camp-2 and came back to Base Camp. The weather was not good for next few days.
So, on 28th December, we went to Camp-1.
On 29th December to Camp-2, and on 30th, we fixed ropes all the way to Camp-3. There, it was a little risky due to avalanche, so we left the ropes just below the Camp-3. We couldn’t trust the ice. Just before reaching Camp-3, we had a chance to fix the lines with Nims Dai and his team.
DW: Mingma Tenzi was also there, supposedly.
Mingma G: Yes, he was.
DW: On 30th December, you fixed ropes up to Camp-3. What happened next?
Mingma G: Then, we met Nims Dai (Nirmal Purja) there. They came to help us with fixing the rope. Then we all descended back to Camp-2. It was quite late. So, we stayed at Camp-2 itself. On 31st December, we returned to the Base Camp. It was the New Year’s Eve and there was a big party at the K2 Base Camp. After that, the weather was bad. We stayed inside the tent for almost seven days. On 13th January, we started climbing again. At that time, Nims Dai joined our mission. We eyed on a common goal and merged both of our teams.
Then, on 14th January, we went to Camp-3. Since Nims Dai and his team – they started earlier than us as they wanted to spend another day above the Black Pyramid. So, they reached Camp-3 early and tried to fix the line upwards but lacked equipment and descended back to Camp-3.
On 15th January, Nims Dai, our fellow Sherpas, and I went up to Camp-4 to fix ropes, and on 16th January, we went to summit.
DW: What did you discuss with your Sherpa-only team before the summit? How did you decide whether to go for the summit or not?
Mingma G: It’s not only the Sherpa team. There were a few foreigners who wanted to go with us and they were already in Camp-2. On 14th January, the weather showed that the wind was stronger than 60km/hr and they were afraid to get out of the tent but the weather report I got from Nepal was perfect for that day. It suggested no wind at all. Therefore, we continued to Camp-3 but the remaining team members stopped at Camp-2. That makes the difference; otherwise there were three foreigners who wanted to follow our plan because they already knew what was going on up there.
DW: After the very bad weather spanning 10 days, you said, “If the tent was blown away then we are done to go back home.” From that to actually making history, how did that happen?
Mingma G: I was scared about our equipments at 7000m. We got a friend who had a long-lens camera (focal length: 700mm). It showed that there was a tent at 7000m but it looked to be broken. We decided that if there is any equipment left, we would continue. If not, we would come back. That was the plan. Luckily, when we reached 7000m, we found our equipments but our tent was broken.
DW: It was great that everything was not blown away. What happened next?
Mingma G: Then on 14th January, other teams found a very big wind approaching but fortunately, our weather report showed nothing like it at all.
Then we continued to Camp-3 and told Nims Dai to continue because we were not in the same camp. That day, the weather was perfect early in the morning and we continued our ascent. A few foreigners were resting at Camp-2, right below the chimney.
On 15th January, it was a little bit windy and not at all possible to come from lower camp to Camp-3 directly.
In Winter, it takes a lot of time to walk to climb up, nothing like in summer. They needed a middle camp between lower camp and Camp-3 since they lost the tent there on 14th January. So, they could not match our timeline on 16th January. This is also why it was only the Nepalese team that went to the summit.
DW: And evidently so, they could not match up with your speed as well.
Mingma G: Right, yeah.
DW: So true. Now one must ask you about your approach to summit. Could you please elaborate how exactly did you go to the summit from Camp-4?
Mingma G: Until Camp-3, it is very easy. Then on our way to Camp-4, at first, we tried following the summer route. But 30m below Camp-4, we found a big crevasse which we could not cross. Then we tried finding an alternative way more on the right without any success. Again, we tried a little more on the left – again, no luck. So, we had to come all the way down a bit above Camp-3. From there, we moved more on the left through the Cesen route. We could cross the Serac and reach Camp-4.
By the time we reached Camp-4, I was very tired. That is the reason why I took a day at Camp-4. That is also the reason why I didn’t want to climb without oxygen.
I took the oxygen on the summit day as I was very tired.
DW: What was the altitude at which you found the crevasse?
Mingma G: Not sure of the exact altitude but it was just below the Camp-4.
DW: So it was because of the crevasse, you had come back and then take the Cesen route.
Mingma G: We tried finding three different ways, and by then, it was almost 3:30pm. When I came back to Camp-3, it was already 5 O’clock and I needed to take more rest.
There I told Nims Dai to lead the team ahead of us for the summit push. But he suggested that we should go all together.
DW: So, it was his idea.
Mingma G: Yes. Then around at 1 O’clock, we almost got ready but I left approximately at 2 O’clock because I still needed more rest.
Meanwhile, Nims Dai and others left earlier. I met the team next day at around the Bottleneck on the traverse-path in the morning, at around 9 am.
Our rope-fixing was in progress – Mingma Tenzi was leading the team. He did the fixing till the summit. While we climbed on, Mingma David and I tried helping him in belaying and other things. It was slow progress. But we made the summit around at 5 in the evening.
DW: Seems to be slow and steady. But how different was it from the Summer?
Mingma G: It’s all same but there is no snow this time. In Summer, we have very deep snow on the Bottleneck and above Camp-4. This time it was just ice.
DW: Was it easy for you to reach summit this time?
Mingma G: It was easier to make the route, yet not that easy to get to the summit. But definitely, it was easier to make the route as we were just climbing the ice.
DW: You flew the national flag and sang the Nepalese national anthem at the summit. What was the message you tried to convey?
Mingma G: Actually, it was Nims Dai’s plan to sing the national anthem at summit. He wanted us to step on to the summit together.
We went there holding hands and took steps one by one, all together so that, in future, no one says that I came first, and you, second.
DW: That is amazing.
Mingma G: It was a matter of national pride. So, we must pay our tribute to our nation, our national heroes, and our nationality.
DW: Will there be more Sherpa-only expeditions in the future?
Mingma G: I can’t say exactly like this right now. But, most probably, in the future.
DW: Your K2 Expedition was majorly self-funded, as far as we know. You also approached for crowd-funding on Gofundme.com.
In future, if you again go for a Sherpa-only expedition, without clients, do you think that the Nepal Government is going to help you with sponsorships? Or you would depend upon the private sponsors?
Mingma G: If the program is meaningful, I think Nepal Government will definitely help. But this time our country is going through a big crisis – an economic crisis because of the Covid. So, we did not ask anything from the Government. We did not even ask for any financial help from any other organisation. Which is why we crowd-funded through Gofundme.com and the remaining was self-funded.
DW: Your initial plan was to climb without oxygen. Will you again climb K2 in Winter without supplemental oxygen?
Mingma G: I already climbed K2 without supplemental oxygen before. So, it is not necessary for me.
DW: Did anyone in your summit team climbed without supplemental oxygen?
Mingma G: This time only, Nirmal did it without supplemental oxygen. We all used supplemental oxygen otherwise.
DW: In years to come, how will you look back on this epic climb – as an individual climber, as a Sherpa or as a citizen of Nepal?
Mingma G: I would say as a citizen of Nepal.
This climb was necessary for our new generation of Nepalese climbers. All thirteen 8000-meters were already climbed when we were not earning that much money. So, we had lost all thirteen. Hence, the remaining one – we must add this to our nation. So, I had this thought that this is for me but for the new generation of climbers.
DW: So, you felt that responsibility.
Mingma G: Yes, right. When the new generation of climbers come, they will know that, until now, no 8000-meter peak in Winter was climbed by our community but this time, for the last one, we made it happen. So, it was very important, because that is the kind of thought that I got immensely touched by.
DW: Sherpas are always taking foreign clients high on the mountain. It’s actually you guys who take them to the summit. But they get all the glory; they get all media coverage and everything else that follows. As a Sherpa, how would you look back at your own achievement?
Mingma G: I don’t know what to say in this case.
DW: Do you think that the Sherpa community finally got their recognition this time? This time your achievement has not been overshadowed by foreign climbers.
Mingma G: We can say something like this but I am not sure what to say.
DW: Sherpas have graduated from porters to guides to equally good fellow climbers, and then, to leader and organizer. You did everything. Then what more does this climb prove to the mountaineering world?
Mingma G: This is not about proving anything to others. This is about achieving something for us, for our future generation; something for the mountaineering records of Nepalese climbers.
We used to work as porters, then guide, now we are also climbing as professional climbers and leading teams; not only in Nepal but also in many foreign countries. I would say this is a kind of development, but not about proving anything to others.
DW: So you just wanted to set an example without proving anything to anyone. Do you think merging Nirmal Purja and his team with your team gave you an extra boost?
Mingma G: Yes. It did. When we came, we were only three. When Nirmal Purja and his team joined us, it became a combined effort. That definitely gave us more confidence that this time we will make it to the summit.
DW: So, it was a story of the Brotherhood of Nepal. Did everything go alright when you were descending to Base Camp?
Mingma G: Yes, we came down smoothly. It was a little bit windy but we came down smoothly.
But yeah, we were a bit scared for us since we saw a lot of cracks on the ice. Because we were just coming down, and just the day before the Spanish guy (Sergi Mingote) died on our summit day. On the day we were coming down to Base camp, we got the news. It was little scary for us, otherwise everything went smoothly.
DW: We recall that Sona Sherpa from Seven Summit Treks and Gelje Sherpa from Nims Dai’s team came back before everyone else did. Why did they come down earlier?
Mingma G: Gelje got frostbitten. So did Sona; on his toes. So, they went straight down.
DW: And what about remaining eight? Are they now all safe and sound?
Mingma G: Yes, we are. We stayed at Camp-3.
DW: What was your thought when you came to know about the demise of Sergi? How did this all happen?
Mingma G: I was at Camp-3 at 7 in the morning when we made a radio-call to the Base Camp and we came to know that Sergi died. But how he died, I don’t know.
I didn’t want to ask right there because I didn’t know him very well. Later, I learned that he climbed 11 8000ers.
Before that, I didn’t know much about Sergi. When I realised that he climbed so many 8000ers and still died at a lower altitude, I felt that it must be carelessness. Because, from Camp-1 to Advanced Base Camp, the line is fully fixed, the ropes are all okay – there was no rope caught down in the middle or cut in halves.
DW: What are your future plans? Will you try for other 8000ers in Winter without supplemental oxygen?
Mingma G: I don’t think I will climb in Winter again. All Winter 8000ers are done with K2 now.
DW: Will you go for Everest in Spring with clients?
Mingma G: I have plans for Annapurna in March, Lhotse-Everest in April-May; then I will come back to K2 again in Summer. After a year or two, I may go for first-ascents on 6000m peaks in alpine style with just Nepalese climbers, not with clients. The game of 8000m is all gone now.
DW: Since you mentioned that you are going to climb without clients in future, why didn’t you take clients this time?
Mingma G: This time, we really wanted to climb K2 and you know, with clients, sometimes it is a huge burden. We need take care of the clients, help them carry oxygen cylinders, tents, food and everything else. So, it is big burden for us.
And you know, in Winter, you can’t get good weather all the time. There are limited days with good weather. We didn’t want to miss those days. We made sure that we did not miss a single good day. We went up and fixed ropes. We finished it within a month. It’s a good achievement, I think.
Mingma G: If we had clients, we wouldn’t be able to take risks.
DW: Is this the only reason why you don’t want to climb with clients in Winter?
Mingma G: On 8000ers, I generally do climb with clients. But this time it was a big event for me and my nation. So, we did not want to take any clients.
DW: Do you have any plans to climb in some other mountain ranges, apart from the Himalayas and the Karakorams?
Mingma G: I am planning to finish the seven summits. I have done four of them, other remaining three in next year – some this year, and some, next.
DW: Thank you for the interviews. You must be tired and a lot of celebrations will be coming your way. The entire world has watched you and celebrated with you. Wish you many more joyful years of alpinism.
Expedition Summary – Winter K2 2020-21
18th December, 2020 – Arrived at the K2 Base Camp
21st December, 2020 – Rope fixed up to Camp-1
22nd December, 2020 – Rope fixed up to Camp-2
28th December, 2020 – Back to Camp-1
29th December, 2020 – Back to Camp-2
30th December, 2020 – Rope fixed until just below Camp-3 & back to Camp-2
14th January, 2021 – Back to Camp-3
15th January, 2021 – Rope fixed up to Camp-4
16th January, 2021 – Camp-4 to Summit to Camp-3
Team of Mingma G: Mingma G, Dawa Tenjin Sherpa and Kilu Pemba Sherpa
Team of Nirmal Purja: Nirmal Purja, Mingma David Sherpa, Mingma Tenzi Sherpa, Geljen Sherpa, Pem Chhiri Sherpa, Dawa Temba Sherpa,
Team SST: Sona Sherpa
Successful 8000m Expeditions of Mingma G
2007 – Everest in Spring
A 7-member International team, led by Jean-Marc Nowak via N Col-NE Ridge, Mingma G summited as H-A Worker.
2007 – Cho Oyu
Mingma G summited as H-A Worker.
2009 – Manaslu in Autumn
An 8-member Chinese team, led by Yang Chun-Feng via NE Face, Mingma G summited as H-A Worker without supplemental oxygen.
2010 – Everest in Spring
Japanese climber Hiroshi Ogasawara with 3 Sherpas via N Col-NE Ridge, Mingma G summited as H-A Worker.
2011 – Everest in Spring
A 25-member International team, led by Dawa Steven Sherpa via S Col-SE Ridge, Mingma G summited as H-A Worker.
2011 – Manaslu in Autumn
A 2-member Bangladeshi team, led by Mohammad Abdul Mohit via NE Face, Mingma G summited as H-A Worker without supplemental oxygen.
2012 – Everest in Spring
A 2-member Bangladeshi team, led by Mohammad Abdul Mohit via S Col-SE Ridge, Mingma G summited as H-A Worker.
2013 – Kangchenjunga in Spring
Iranian climber Reza Shahlaee with Mingma G via SW Face, Mingma G summited as H-A Worker without supplemental oxygen.
2014 – K2 in Summer
Mingma G summited as H-A Worker without supplemental oxygen.
2015 – Annapurna in Spring
A 7-member International team, led by Reza Shahlaee via N Face, Mingma G summited as H-A Worker without supplemental oxygen.
2016 – Everest in Spring
Mingma G led an Indian and 3 Chinese climbers via S Col-SE Ridge and summited.
2016 – Gasherbrum I in Summer
Mingma G led his client climbers and summited.
2016 – Manaslu in Autumn
Mingma G led 3 Chinese climbers via NE Face and summited without supplemental oxygen.
2017 – Dhaulagiri in Spring
Mingma G led 2 Chinese, and a Turkish climber via NE Ridge and summited without supplemental oxygen.
2017 – Makalu in Spring
Mingma G led a Chinese climber via Makalu La-NW Ridge and summited without supplemental oxygen.
2017 – Nanga Parbat in Summer
Mingma G led his client climbers and summited.
2017 – K2 in Summer
Mingma G led his client climbers and summited.
2017 – Broad Peak in Summer
Mingma G led his clients and summited without supplemental oxygen.
2018 – Lhotse in Spring
Mingma G led a Nepalese and 2 Chinese climbers via W Face and summited.
2018 – Broad Peak in Summer
Mingma G led his client climbers and summited without supplemental oxygen.
2018 – Manaslu in Autumn
Mingma G led 10 climbers from different countries via NE Face and summited.
2019 – Everest in Spring
Mingma G led his client climbers via S Col-SE Ridge and summited.
2019 – Gasherbrum II in Summer
Mingma G led his client climbers and summited without supplemental oxygen.
14 First Winter Ascents on 8000ers
17th February, 1980, Everest – Krzysztof Wielicki, Leszek Cichy (both Polish)
12th January, 1984, Manaslu – Maciej Berbeka, Ryszard Gajewski (both Polish)
21st January, 1985, Dhaulagiri – Andrzej Czok, Jerzy Kukuczka (both Polish)
12th February, 1985, Cho Oyu – Maciej Berbeka, Maciej Pawlikowski (both Polish)
11th January, 1986, Kangchenjunga – Krzysztof Wielicki, Jerzy Kukuczka (both Polish)
3rd February, 1987, Annapurna – Jerzy Kukuczka, Artur Hajzer (both Polish)
31st December, 1988, Lhotse – Krzysztof Wielicki (both Polish)
14th January, 2005, Shishapangma – Piotr Morawski (Polish), Simone Moro (Italian)
9th February, 2009, Makalu – Simone Moro (Italian), Denis Urubko (Kazakh)
2nd February, 2011, Gasherbrum II – Simone Moro (Italian), Denis Urubko (Kazakh), Cory Richards (American)
9th March, 2012, Gasherbrum I – Adam Bielecki, Janusz Golab (both Polish)
5th March, 2013, Broad Peak – Maciej Berbeka, Adam Bielecki, Tomasz Kowalski, Artur Malek (both Polish)
26th February, 2016, Nanga Parbat – Simone Moro (Italian), Muhammad Ali Sadpara (Pakistani), Alex Txikon (Spanish)
16th January, 2021, K2 – Nirmal Purja, Mingma David Sherpa, Mingma Tenzi Sherpa, Geljen Sherpa, Pem Chhiri Sherpa, Dawa Temba Sherpa, Mingma G, Dawa Tenjin Sherpa, Kilu Pemba Sherpa, Sona Sherpa (all Nepalese)
This news was revised on Feb 9. 2021
Source: Dream Wanderlust