Babu Chiri Sherpa, born in Nepal in 1965, became a Himalayan trekking porter when he was just 15 years old and he died in 2001 while taking pictures and falling into a crevasse on his 11th climb to the summit of Mount Everest. Although he earned very little money as a porter, he never gave up and worked hard to climb the ranks. At the age of 23, he finally had his big break when he was selected as a climbing Sherpa for an expedition to Kangchenjunga, the third-highest peak in the world. To everyone’s surprise, he reached the summit without the use of oxygen tanks, all the while assisting his fellow climbers. Anatoli Boukreev, a renowned climber, joined him on this remarkable journey.
Babu Chiri Sherpa is the only Sherpa mountaineer to spend 21 hours on the top of Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen. It’s a tremendous achievement in Everest history that still stands today. In addition, he achieved history by scaling Everest in 16 hours and 56 minutes, despite the fact that this record has previously been broken by Pemba Dorje Sherpa. During his climbing career, he climbs Everest ten times. Babu Chirri was an environmentalist and humanitarian in addition to climbing. He worked to get a school established in his hometown, and it was eventually erected. In Kathmandu, the then-Royal Government of Nepal, headed by the Crown Prince, inaugurated the Babu Chiri Memorial Museum and built a statue of Babu Chiri.
It became evident that Babu possessed remarkable speed and talent as a climber. He quickly found employment on Everest expeditions and, at the age of 25 in 1990, he reached the summit of Mount Everest for the first time.
Having received no formal education as a child, Babu felt troubled. He recognized that education was the key to a better life and took it upon himself to learn English and how to read. His goal was to earn money by supporting Himalayan climbs, which paid handsomely by local standards, and then use those funds to establish a school in his village.
Over the next decade, he conquered the summit of Everest ten times and gained recognition as one of the world’s strongest Everest climbers. He simultaneously began planning for the school. On his fifth summit of Everest, he achieved an extraordinary feat by climbing without the aid of oxygen tanks, placing him in an incredibly exclusive group. Additionally, Babu successfully reached the summit of Cho Oyo, the sixth highest mountain in the world, on two occasions, and he even ventured to climb in the United States and Europe. Babu understood that raising his own profile, instead of remaining an invisible porter, would enhance his earning potential and allow him to support his extended family. He pragmatically stated:
“Sherpas have to do it because it’s a job, and they’re well paid for it. When they lack education, they don’t have much of a choice.”
Babu envisioned a future for his children beyond climbing once they received an education.
Let’s take a closer look at Babu Chiri Sherpa’s remarkable records:
In 1999, Babu embarked on a mission to prove that a person could spend the night on the summit of Everest without the use of oxygen tanks. Mountain Hardware, a leading manufacturer of outdoor equipment in the United States, specially designed a tent, sleeping bag, and mattress to withstand the extreme conditions for him. Battling fierce 60mph winds and snowfall, he reached the summit with the help of two other Sherpas. They assisted him in setting up the tent before leaving. Most climbers spend less than 30 minutes at the top, but Babu stayed active throughout the frigid night, chatting on the walkie-talkie and singing songs to stay awake. Doctors had warned him that falling asleep in the low-oxygen environment would be fatal. After enduring 21 hours alone on the summit, he packed up his gear and descended, setting an endurance record that still stands.
The following year, Babu set his sights on another achievement. After acclimatizing for six weeks at higher altitudes, he shattered the speed record for the journey from Base Camp on the south side to the summit. Remarkably, he covered the distance in just 16 hours and 56 minutes, securing a place in the prestigious Guinness Book of Records.
Babu Chiri Sherpa’s Last Climb:
One year later, in 2001, Babu once again joined an expedition as a climbing Sherpa on Everest. For a man who had already stood on the summit ten times, it was supposed to be a straightforward ascent. At that time, only one other person in the world had reached the summit more times than Babu.
The team arrived at Base Camp in early April and began their acclimatization process. By May 19th, Babu and several teammates had reached Camp 2 at 6,400m, waiting for a favorable weather window to make their final push for the summit. The atmosphere was calm, and the team was at ease. In clear conditions after fresh snowfall at around 4 pm, Babu ventured 100 meters out onto the glacier to capture some photographs. Sadly, he never returned.
Later that night, a search party discovered footprints leading to a small hole where the snow had concealed a hidden, narrow crevasse. Taking immense risks in pitch darkness, an Argentinian climber named Willie Benegas set up anchors and descended into the sub-zero crevasse. Benegas recalled:
“The crevasse was barely a meter wide, and in the darkness, it seemed to be filled with precarious chunks of ice. I had no idea what I would find. Suddenly, I came across a wall of ice blocks, and amidst them, I saw Babu’s leg. It was a terrifying moment. I immediately realized that he had passed away.”
At first light the next morning, Benegas descended back into the crevasse with the help of another Sherpa. They painstakingly removed blocks of ice from around Babu’s body while a dozen climbers provided assistance from the surface. Working within the confines of an 80cm wide gap that could collapse at any moment, the two climbers managed to secure the badly damaged body to a rope after two hours. The body was then brought to the surface. Over the following eight hours, around sixty Sherpas collaborated in carrying the body down the mountain, navigating through numerous wide crevasses, the treacherous icefall, and back to Base Camp.
Babu left behind his wife and six daughters. The Nepalese royal family made a promise to provide his daughters with free education at one of Nepal’s most esteemed schools, which even the royal family’s children attend.