2 Nepali climbers barred from the 14-peak record, point the finger at white competitor and agent

Dawa Onjgu Sherpa and Pasdawa Sherpa
Dawa Ongju Sherpa and Pasdawa Sherpa climbing with Kristin Harila. Photo courtesy: Dawa Ongju.

Dawa Ongju and Pasdawa Sherpa are upset. The two mountaineers had planned everything to go to China to climb Cho Oyu and Shishapangma to finish climbing all the 14 8,000-metre mountains. They were so close to their dream.

On April 4, the two received their visas to go to China and were ecstatic as they were finally going to complete their long-awaited dream. But their joy was short-lived as on April 6 as their agent told them their visas were cancelled by the embassy.

“They told us we could not go to China as we had recently been to Pakistan. During the interview, we clearly told the embassy we had been to Pakistan and they had no problem, but two days after getting our visas, our agent told us we could not go. It makes no sense,” says Dawa Ongju Sherpa.

Their agent, Climbalaya Treks & Expeditions, recently ran an expedition in Shishapangma during which a host of climbers reached the summit. Everyone that applied for visas through Climbalaya got their applications approved apart from two – Dawa Ongju and Pasdawa Sherpa. Record-chasing Norwegian climber Kristin Harila also received her visa as she reached the summit of Shishapangma and is now one mountain away from climbing all 14 8000-ers.

But why? An investigation reveals Harila and Climbalaya might have played a role to make sure the two did not get visas to go to China.

The unhealthy competition

Dawa Ongju and Pasdawa Sherpa claim this was a ploy not to let them climb as they too were going for the same record Harila was.

“This is what money can do. People are bringing politics into mountaineering and it is disgusting,” says Dawa Ongju, suspecting Climbalaya was bribed to bar them from getting their visa.

The Chinese Embassy in Nepal says their visas were cancelled as the two had withdrawn their applications before a decision. But Dawa Ongju and Pasdawa say they have not done so and say everything was dealt with by Climbalaya.

“China and Nepal are friendly neighbouring countries, we welcome all Nepali friends to visit China,” said an official from the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu.

“This is a disgusting act by the agent. We do not know if they took the money but this is politics of the highest level as they have stopped two of their own from getting this record,” Dawa Ongju says.

Harila denies playing a role in anything of this on a social media post while Climbalaya says the visa was cancelled by the embassy and not them.

“We don’t know why the embassy is saying that, but the embassy cancelled their (Dawa Ongju and Pasdawa Sherpa) visa we did not withdraw it,” says Dawa Sherpa from Climbalaya.

8K Expeditions, the company the two work with, says they were sending the two of their best guides to China despite needing them to guide people on Everest.

“I understood why they wanted to go and I was looking forward to them climbing the two remaining mountains there. But, now, with details coming out, it is clear they were robbed of this opportunity,” says Lhakpa Sherpa, the founder of 8K Expeditions.

Dawa Ongju and Pasdawa Sherpa’s passports were held by the agent until the day everyone left for China. The two had even asked for their passports but were told the papers were held by the embassy.

“When I told them I would go to the embassy, they asked me to come to their office and collect it. That is when I found out that they were trying to con us,” says Dawa Ongju who argues why would the two who were chasing 8,000-metre summits withdraw their applications.

The betrayal?

Dawa Onjgu Sherpa and Pasdawa Sherpa
Dawa Onjgu Sherpa (R) and Pasdawa Sherpa (C) with Kristin Harila (L) climbed 12 of the 14 8000-metre peaks in 2022. Photo courtesy: Dawa Ongju.

Over the past year, Dawa Ongju and Pasdawa Sherpa have been through a lot. The two guided Harila to the summit of 12 of the 14 8,000-metre mountains. They did so in record time too as they only took 148 days and were only two mountains away from breaking the speed record held by Nirmal Purja Magar (Nimsdai).

But with China closing its mountains, they were left disappointed as the two, along with Harila, had to give up on their mission.

Following that, Harila jumped ships. While she said she was climbing to prove to the world how capable women were on the mountain, she also stated how she wanted to share the record with her two guides. However, after climbing Manaslu on September 23, 2022, things changed as she started to distance herself from Dawa Ongju and Pasdawa Sherpa.

“I do not know what changed, but she suddenly cut contact. We had a verbal agreement to do it together but it seems words don’t mean anything anymore,” says Dawa Ongju.

Harila joined another company and tried to climb Cho Oyu from Nepal. But due to poor weather, she was not able to reach the summit both in autumn and winter.

That is why Dawa Ongju and Pasdawa Sherpa say they feel betrayed as they say she did not communicate with them before going to Cho Oyu.

But Harila says she asked them to come, but the two say that is a lie.

“We treated her like a sister, then she betrayed us,” says Pasdawa.

They say they helped a novice climber become known throughout the world. They agree Harila is a strong woman and say that they believed in her and her mission and worked day and night to achieve it. 

“We did not care about us. We did not care about the dangers because we were chasing something historic together. But where did that get us? Nowhere,” says Pasdawa, who first climbed with Harila in 2021 when he guided her to the summit of Everest and Lhotse in 12 hours.

Both Dawa Ongju and Pasdawa Sherpa say their toughest test was K2 in 2022. There were many Nepali teams on the mountain, but with no one able to fix ropes to the summit, the two volunteered as they worked from 6 am to 11 pm to ensure they were able to summit the killer mountain.

“Both of us worked day and night to open routes on most of the mountains. We did it without thinking about our family back home and the dangers of life as we carried on the unthinkable task of carrying 35-40 kg of weight through ravines, crevasses, rock faces and death zones. It sucks that our dreams were left unfulfilled,” says Pasdawa Sherpa.

Dawa Ongju is just heartbroken. As a climber, he too wanted to climb all 14 8,000-ers. But now with politics being played on the highest level, he feels he will never trust anyone involved again.

“Everyone lied to us. Everyone cheated us. This is very unfair,” he says.

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Pant is an independent journalist based in Kathmandu. He covers issues ranging from tech, music, mountains, biodiversity and environment.

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