Late Phu Dorje Sherpa (ChYorpen)

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Late Phu Dorje Sherpa (ChYorpen)

Born in Khumjung in the Solukhumbu District, Phu Dorje Sherpa is the youngest son of Tashi and Rhita Sherpa. He grew up with his eight remaining siblings after his eldest brother left for India in search of employment and never returned. His father, Nima Tashi, served as the chyorpen (person in charge) at Khumjung village’s gompa (Buddhist temple). Phu Dorje studied with a local guru at Tengboche to obtain his general lama education. When he was about 15 years old, he went to Kathmandu to seek work and soon found employment as an expedition porter.

 

He started climbing in 1953 with the Himalayan Joint Committee of the Royal Geographical Society and Alpine Club. In 1954, he set out in search of Himalaya’s yeti. In 1955, Phu Dorje was working with an expedition attempting a very dangerous climb on Mt. Lhotse. In the remaining years of the 1950s, Phu was involved with several more expeditions with international climbers who were eagerly traveling to climb in the Himalayas since the borders of Nepal were newly-opened to them.

 

Although he had climbed to altitudes as high as 7,925m (26,000ft), he had never used supplemental oxygen until 1960 when he reached 8,230m (27,000ft) while climbing with the Indian Mount Everest Expedition. In 1961, Phu Dorje was part of the Himalayan Scientific and Mountaineering Expedition led by Edmund Hillary.

 

Phu Dorje’s skills and reputation as a trustworthy team member increased and his hard work paid off for him when he became the first Nepali citizen to summit Mt. Everest. He achieved this historic feat on May 29, 1965, while climbing with an Indian expedition team under the leadership of then-Lieutenant Commander Manmohan Singh Kohli and then-Captain Hari Pal Singh Ahluwalia.

 

The summit – reached by nine members of the team – was an especially important event for the Indian group and for the country of India. Previous attempts to the summit had been unsuccessful, and with the buzz of activity surrounding Mt. Everest, Indian mountaineers had been anxious to have summits to their credit.

 

First summited on May 29th of 1953 by Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, Everest was still a fairly new challenge for mountaineers. Less than two dozen people had reached the top of the world when Phu Dorje made his historic climb.

 

To honor the group, the Indian government bestowed the prestigious Arjuna and Padma Shri awards to the expedition participants. The Padma Shri award, in particular, is rarely given to people who are not Indian citizens so it was a special honor for Phu Dorje.

 

He was awarded many other things as a result of his climb, including an honorary allowance from His Majesty the King of Nepal. The monthly amount was NR 400.

 

On January 26, 1966, His Majesty King Mahendra of Nepal honored Phu Dorje Sherpa with the Sukirtmaya Nepal Shripada medal.

 

Two years later he was given the special distinction of an honored title and position by the Minister of Defense in his home country.  Phu Dorje was entrusted with the task of training the officers and personnel in the Nepal Army to be proficient in mountaineering skills.

 

During his thirty-month tenure with the Royal Army of Nepal, Phu Dorje trained army personnel in rock climbing, repelling, and knot tying. He also worked as an advisor for a group working on the establishment of a special school for mountain climbing.

 

In remembrance of the Indian Mt. Everest Expedition of 1965, the Indian government printed a postal stamp with a photo of Phu Dorje holding a Nepalese National Flag. Alongside him in the summit photo was Ahluwalia.

 

Phu Dorje took an advanced-level course in mountaineering at The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling during 1966. He is quoted as saying that he had an ‘immense desire’ to climb Mt. Everest with a team comprised exclusively of Nepali citizens. He also expressed a goal of establishing a mountaineering school in Nepal.

 

Phu Dorje was adamant about the establishment of a mountaineering school because he felt it would serve the purpose of helping climbers be safer and would also be of use for the rapidly-developing tourism business in Nepal. Since the time that borders were opened to international visitors, people were traveling to Nepal from all over the world to climb the Himalayas. Phu Dorje had the wisdom to know that mountaineering would be a prominent factor in his country’s future.

 

The life of this great mountaineer came to an end on October 18, 1969, when he fell into a crevasse between Camps 1 and 2 on Mt. Everest. Phu Dorje Sherpa’s work and advocacy will forever be an important part of mountaineering history in Nepal.

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