KATHMANDU, Nepal — Ang Rita Sherpa, who earned global fame by climbing the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest, 10 times without the use of supplemental oxygen, died on Monday at his daughter’s house in Kathmandu. He was 72.
His death was confirmed by his family and by Nepal’s mountaineering associations. No cause was specified, but he had been suffering in recent years from multiple lung and brain ailments that colleagues say could have developed from his years of climbing high altitudes without bottled oxygen.
Most climbers use supplemental oxygen when ascending peaks higher than 8,000 meters, an altitude mountaineers call the “death zone” because the air is so thin that the human body begins to shut down. Early in his career as a porter, and later as a mountain guide, Ang Rita noticed that he never felt the need for supplemental oxygen, even as he carried bottles of it for other mountaineers. He didn’t use it during his first ascent of Everest in 1983 or on his subsequent nine ascents, the last of which was in 1996.
In his only winter expedition on Everest, in 1987-88, he and a Korean climber lost their way just below the summit in bad weather conditions and spent the whole night doing aerobic exercises to stay warm.
Ang Rita holds the Guinness World Record for most climbs of Everest without bottled oxygen, a record that remains unequaled. (Another Sherpa, Kami Rita, holds the record for most total ascents of Everest, having done it 24 times, but he was known to use bottled oxygen.)
The Nepalese government honored Ang Rita with several awards, most notably the Order of Tri Shakti Patta First Class in 1990.
“His demise is an irreparable loss to the country’s climbing industry,” President Bidya Devi Bhandari of Nepal wrote on Twitter.
Ang Rita Sherpa was born in 1948 in Yillajung, a tiny village near Thame in the Everest region of Nepal. His mother, Chhokki Sherpa, and his father, Aayala Sherpa, were farmers. Ang Rita never received a formal education (no school was established in the Everest region until 1961, when Edmund Hillary, the first mountaineer to reach the summit of Everest, built one in Khumjung). He learned the Nepali alphabet on his own and could barely write his own name.
Ang Rita spent his childhood days in the high pastures grazing yaks, growing potatoes and carrying commodities from nearby markets. He became a porter when he was 15 and quickly gained a reputation for his agility, ultimately earning the nickname Snow Leopard.
Although he was raised under the shadow of Mount Everest, his first job as a porter was to climb Dhaulagiri, a Himalayan massif that includes the world’s seventh-highest mountain, for which he had no shoes or equipment.
After about 15 years as a porter, he became a mountain guide.
In addition to climbing Everest 10 times, Ang Rita climbed Dhaulagiri a total of four times, as well as the Himalayan peak Cho Oyu — also four times — and Kanchenjunga, the third-highest peak, once. He didn’t use supplemental oxygen on any of these climbs.
Ang Tshering, the former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, said in an interview that he once climbed Dhaulagiri with Ang Rita, and that he found him to be the strongest Sherpa of his time. “He challenged science and human physiology,” he said.
Ang Rita stopped climbing after the 1996 Everest disaster, in which eight people died in a fierce blizzard. But he continued to work as a base camp manager and trekking guide.
Colleagues say he never saved money or worried about the future. He lived a happy life and enjoyed his retirement days to the fullest. He was living in his home village until his wife, Nima Chokki, died several years ago. He then moved to Kathmandu to live with his daughter, Dolma.
She survives him, as do two sons, Tshewang Dorje and Furunuru, and eight grandchildren. Another son, Karsang Namgyal Sherpa, who also became a mountain guide, died in 2012 after an Everest expedition.