Phunjo Lama and her journey to set record as fastest woman to summit Everest

phunjo Lama

After walking for 14 hours and 31 minutes, Phunjo Lama stepped onto Mt. Everest. After reaching the top of the 8,848.86 metre peak, she praised her legs by saying, “Kudos.”

Lama, from Chum Valley, Gorkha, not only summited Everest but also set a record for fastest ascent by a woman. She descended to base camp from Everest in 9 hours 18 minutes. She reached base camp in 24 hours and 26 minutes, which is another record of Lama. “I was happy to know about the records,” she says. 

Game of records

phunjo lama

In 2018 too, Lama set the record of the first woman to summit Everest in the shortest time. Back then, she completed the expedition in 31 hours and 6 minutes. 

In 2021 Tsang Yin-hung of Hong Kong broke the record of Lama by ascending Everest in 25 hours and 50 minutes. Lama went to summit Everest in 2018 with a belief that Everest can be summited in 20 hours. But she could not complete it in the expected time because her guide was injured amid the expedition. 

Lama says that she never thought of setting a record. “I did not summit the mountain to compete against anyone. To avoid the time pressure I even did not wear a watch,” she adds, “I just wanted to give my best.” 

This time the way to Everest was different than in 2018. The road to the ‘Icefall area’, considered the most dangerous for safe climbing, has been curved somewhat. Lama experienced this, which extended the expedition by an additional 1 hour and 40 minutes. 

“This time the way was longer than earlier, I had less hope that I would complete the summit in 20 hours,” she says. 

But Lama summited Everest in less than an expected time. Now after completing her aim, she wants to be a guide. She says she wants to guide even those who want to break her record.  

Straight outta Himalayas

Phunjo Lama

Born in the Himalayan region of Chum Valley, Lama was raised around mountains and snow. After losing her mother at the age of two, she spent her childhood at over 5000 metres with her grandfather and yaks. “My home was near Ganesh Mountain,” she says, “But I never had thought about climbing a mountain.”

Lama alone used to take care of around 60 yaks. In 2008, tourists started trekking in Chum Valley. The number of tourists increased since 2014/15. In the same year, an earthquake hit Nepal, making Barpak of Gorkha an epicentre. Then again tourists stopped visiting the place. 

In the same year, she started working as a helicopter longline rescuer, and for the first time, she got a chance to go to the base camp of Everest. Without climbing any other mountain, she directly approached Everest, but she had to return from base camp, and she got back to her regular work. Looking at her activeness and energy, everyone used to get surprised. 

So one of her colleagues advised her to become a guide, complimenting her physical fitness. Then she asked, “How much will I earn?” 

The turning point

That colleague told her that fewer female guides are working in the mountain region, and it could give good results in the future. “Afterwards, I chose  to be a guide.”

As a guide, she summited Mt. Denali of the USA, Ama Dablam and Mt Manaslu and in 2018 she summited Mt. Everest. Lama says that Everest has changed a lot in the last six years. Due to the lack of snow, the mountains are becoming a black stone. 

“There is a risk that the land of the mountain will melt and collapse,” she says, “We must save Everest for upcoming generations. Instead of worrying about climate change, we should immediately do something to recover the situation.”   

Before climbing the mountain, Lama never informs her family members. This time as well before summiting Everest, she did not inform her brother. 

“It is the family members who get more tense than me,” she says. “So I don’t inform them.” However, the family members knew about her new record before she informed them. Many people in the village have told her that, “You have even climbed Everest, now stop climbing mountains.”

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Magar is an Onlinekhabar correspondent, reporting from Pokhara.

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