Obituary: Nepal's 'Snow Leopard' Ang Rita who set Everest record

Ang Rita Sherpa, the first person to climb Mount Everest 10 times without bottled oxygen, dies aged 72.

Ang Rita, the legendary Nepali Sherpa guide known as “Snow Leopard”, has died at the age of 72 after a long illness.

Rita was the first person to climb Mount Everest 10 times without bottled oxygen, a feat for which he was honoured in his home country of Nepal and earned international fame.

He suffered from health problems for many years and had not done any climbing since setting the Everest record in 1996. His daughter, Dolma Lhamo, said he died in his sleep on Monday at their home on the outskirts of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

“During his time, he was the strongest climber in the world and a star,” his close friend and Nepal Mountaineering Association president, Ang Tshering Sherpa, told AFP.

Ang Tshering Sherpa, Nepal Mountaineering Association president

“This is a big loss for the mountaineering community.”

Nepal’s Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli expressed his condolences. 

“I am saddened by the demise of legendary Ang Rita Sherpa… I express my heartfelt condolence to his family and well-wishers. His records will always be remembered,” he tweeted.

A national hero

Nepal’s tourism department said Rita’s contribution to mountaineering “will always be remembered”.

Despite of being a national hero, Rita struggled financially and had health problems a few years after his record-breaking feat. He suffered from liver illness and swelling of the brain.

In 1999, he fell seriously ill in his village and his close friend Ang Tshering hired a helicopter to fly him to a hospital in Kathmandu for treatment.

He was hospitalised again for months in 2017 due to continued swelling of the brain. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Ang Rita held the record since 1996 for becoming the first man to climb the 8,848-metre-high (29,028-foot) Everest 10 times without bottled oxygen, following his first ascent in 1983.

He was among the first Sherpa guides to receive international fame for his accomplishments and an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2017.

He also achieved the first winter summit of Everest without supplementary oxygen in 1987.

Nepal government honoured him with Gorkha Dakshin Bahu First Class and the Tri Shakti Patta First Class.

Started work at the age of 15

Born in the mountain village of Yillajung in eastern Nepal in 1948, Ang Rita was 15 years old when he first started working as a porter. He quickly rose through the ranks to become a guide – summiting some of Nepal’s highest mountains.

Some 200 mountaineers have climbed Everest without bottled oxygen, according to the authoritative Himalayan Database, but Ang Rita’s record remains.

Kami Rita Sherpa has summited Everest a record 24 times, but mostly with the aid of bottled oxygen.

Sherpa are an ethnic group from the Himalayan region, many of whom work as guides or support staff for foreign climbers. They carry equipment and supplies and dig paths in the snow and ice to help their clients get to the summit, usually with little recognition.

Ang Rita is survived by a daughter and two sons. His body has been moved to a monastery in Kathmandu and his funeral will take place this week according to Buddhist traditions.

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