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A Champion Sherpa Died Guiding Foreigners. Is It Too Dangerous?

In July 2023, the mountaineer Tenjen Lama Sherpa guided a Norwegian climber to summit the world’s 14 highest peaks in record time. In a sport that demands an alchemy of sinewy resolve and high-altitude faith, Mr. Lama did everything his client did and more. But she received most of the money, fame and attention.

The kind of lucrative endorsements enjoyed by foreign athletes are not usually given to Nepal’s ethnic Sherpas. For them, the profession of Himalayan guide offers a path out of deep poverty, but also a possible route — strewed with avalanches and icefalls — to a premature death.

Mr. Lama could not afford to rest after guiding the Norwegian, he told The New York Times. Life in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, was expensive. He could not read or write, but he wanted his sons to get the best education, a costly endeavor.

So only three months after climbing the 14 peaks, Mr. Lama was back working as a Sherpa — his name, his ethnicity, his profession and, ultimately, his fate. Another foreigner chasing another record had hired him as a guide. This time, it was Gina Marie Rzucidlo, who was trying to become the first American woman to climb the world’s tallest mountains. Another American woman, also guided by a Sherpa, was climbing separately in pursuit of the same record.

But on Oct. 7, avalanches broke loose on Mount Shishapangma in Tibet. Both pairs of climbers were killed.