This isn’t my usual blog post, and certainly not one I wanted to write either.
Yesterday my friend Lakpa Thundu Sherpa died in an avalanche on Ama Dablam. This was triggered by an earthquake – an aftershock of the huge Nepal earthquake last year. What seems most tragic is that Thundu was with us at Camp 1 last year when that earthquake struck, and has been taken by an aftershock 18 months later.
Anyone can post a tribute on Facebook but I felt Thundu deserves so much more. I had only known Thundu a short time, in his company only weeks, but I’m proud to call him a friend. The Sherpa people in Nepal live worlds apart to the people who visit the Himalayan mountains, yet the friendship formed is almost instant – and a very special one. We first met on Everest last year, but I got to know him much better on Cho Oyu (Tibet) this Autumn. I’m very grateful to have had the chance.
Thundu always stood out to me. He was an unassuming and very slight man amongst giants, preceded by superhuman strength, patience and gratitude. When I was ill on Cho Oyu and had to recover at Interim Camp, Thundu walked down from Advanced Base Camp (3 hours) to keep an eye on me. I could not have had a more reassuring face at my side. That night he was reluctant to share the tent in case he took up my space (or maybe I just didn’t smell too good!) and willingly brought me flasks of noodles and milk tea. Fortunately he joined me, and showed me the sleeping bag he was given by Sir Ranulph Fiennes when Thundu guided him up Everest. He lost the other items in the Everest avalanche last year.
I’ve never liked to categorise the Sherpa by the number of times they’ve climbed a mountain. That doesn’t say anything about their loyal, humble and charismatic nature, or the families they work so hard to support – even at the sacrifice of their lives. Having climbed Everest nine times and Annapurna amongst many others, Thundu was highly regarded, yet incredibly modest about his staggering achievements. Many climbers wouldn’t go without him by their side. He treated me like royalty yet I didn’t feel worthy to share a tent with him!
I’ll always remember that following morning when he peered into the tent with a pack of Hobnob biscuits – smiling and shimmying to stay warm. “How are you feeling?” he beamed. God knows where he got them at 5,400 metres! But he always went the extra mile to help. When it came to packing up the tent, he insisted I rest, but I felt guilty. On the trek to base camp we shared stories. He spoke proudly of his two young boys, aged 8 and 14, and his wife Bandi. He mimicked how she always told him not to climb, as if he died it would be bad for his boys – but he knew he had to. Heartbreaking, especially now. I asked what he would do if he wasn’t climbing. He didn’t know.
His brother was a trekking guide, his mother was a farmer and still lived in his home town of Pangboche. He enjoyed going home for a fried potato dish she made for him. Thundu’s father left when he was 3 so, sadly, they couldn’t afford school.
I thoroughly enjoyed his company and boyish chuckle. He was reluctant to take my food – but eventually gave in, and we shared a Twix bar by the path, right in the middle of a mountain vista. He assured me base camp was only forty minutes away. Weeks later, I was nearing Camp 2 (over 7000m) – wrecked and utterly hanging out of my backside – and once again it was Thundu who appeared first, taking the burden of my rucksack from me and strolling effortlessly back into camp. And I could say so much more about him.
The Sherpa people have so little but give so much, and it only seemed right to return their gratitude, even in a small way compared to what they do for us. Hours after the bad news I spoke at a small local event, which took a different course as I went off the cuff and told the audience about Thundu instead. This raised over £200 to support his wife and children and I hope to raise more. A big thanks to my mentor Steve Fives who donated books which hugely contributed to the proceeds.
From the Himalayas to Hale, we toasted in his memory. Thundu’s charm had touched the lives of 23 people who had never even met him, just how it had always touched mine. Rest in peace my friend – you were selfless until the very end, and will be hugely missed.
(If you’d like to contribute to support his family – please get in touch…)