Now a U.S. citizen, East Bay man has been to the mountaintop
By Serena Valdez Oakland Tribune
Posted: 04/09/2013 04:23:06 PM PDT
Updated: 04/10/2013 06:35:03 AM PDT
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Kami Sherpa talks about his life as a Sherpa guide in Nepal before the Naturalization Ceremony to take his oath of citizenship at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, April 9, 2013. Kami, a multi-talented Nepalese man summited Mount Everest a total of six times, worked as a news reporter in Nepal Television, and is a life member of the California Sherpa Association. After immigrating to the United States he settled in Richmond and works as a plumber. (Laura A. Oda/Staff)
OAKLAND -- For some people, climbing a mountain like Kilimanjaro or Everest is a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list kind of wish.
But for Kami Sherpa, it's something embedded in his Nepalese blood.
In the span of nine years he's summited more than 20 mountains in the Himalayas, including Mount Everest, the world's highest peak, six times. In addition, he's also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro three times.
Yet, he doesn't consider those accomplishments his biggest.
The Richmond resident joined more than 1,000 others and took the oath of U.S. citizenship Tuesday at the Paramount Theatre.
"I'm proud to be here and a part of this great country," Sherpa said. "Being a citizen, you have more opportunities. I would like to climb Everest again but as an American citizen."
Born in the countryside of Nepal, Sherpa, 35, grew up in the tourism industry. His father cooked for trekking and camping trips.
It was the lure of interacting with people from around the world that drew Sherpa to hiking and mountaineering.
"Growing up, we didn't see so many international people and I wanted to know more about people from other (countries)," he said.
At 18, Sherpa went to school in Katmandu, Nepal's capital, to be certified as a mountain guide.
Learning to be a mountain guide involves lessons in outdoor survival.
Sherpa learned everything, including how to climb and handle ropes; emergency rescue; cooking; first aid; communication systems, from hand signals to two-way radios; and pitching tents.
Sherpa took his first climb during a mountaineering course when he was 20 and eager to go beyond the 20,000-foot mountainside the class required.
"It was actually exciting because I was already trained how to climb. And I wanted to climb more, but the teacher said, 'No, no, no, you can't continue,'" he recounts, laughing.
After that first climb, Sherpa joined the Peak Promotion, a trekking and mountaineering agency, where he acted as a guide on more than 20 trips in the Himalayas.
Most of those climbs were up Island Peak, formally known as Imja Tse, and Yala Peak.
Many of his trips up Mount Kilimanjaro were to help director David Breashears on his 2001 documentary film "Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa." It was while working on the film that Sherpa developed a taste for travel outside of his country.
"My favorite part was visiting the jungle safaris and seeing all those animals," he said. "I was very excited. I saw everything different from in Nepal, especially that jungle. I really loved it there."
Sherpa also spent three years working as a news reporter for Nepal Television, where after a newscast he was threatened by the government and felt it was time to move on from Nepal. He moved to California in 2008, where he started the process of becoming a citizen. He works as a plumber.
For Sherpa, becoming a citizen was imperative in order to start the process of bringing his wife, Sunita, to the United States. The newlyweds married in India in November after dating long distance for almost three years, communicating via phone, social media and Skype.
As a new citizen, Sherpa plans to develop Everest Sherpa Travel Agency, a business he created with a partner to organize trips up mountains like Mount Everest, allowing him to climb again