Climate Witness: Apa Sherpa, Nepal

Posted on 15 October 2009    
Climate Witness Apa Sherpa
Climate Witness Apa Sherpa
© WWF-Nepal
My name is Apa Sherpa. I am 49 years old and I live in Thame, a village in the Solukhumbu district of Nepal, right on the Everest trail. I’m a mountaineer by profession.

I was born and brought up in Thame and have climbed the mountains in this area for more then twenty years. My parents were yak-herders and farmers, but I went into mountaineering. I started by carrying loads for a few expeditions, then slowly became a professional mountaineer. Now, I hold the world record for climbing Mt. Everest for the most times – 19. I also lead many expeditions in this area.

During the past decades, I have observed many changes in the climate in this area. And when I also talk to the people living here I can hear about many such signs of changes. At first we didn’t realize that the changes were so severe, but then, we also did not know about anything called climate change.

Now, the changes in weather patterns are drastic. It didn’t snow at all during December, January and February, when it should snow heavily, and it finally snowed massively in May, when usually it’s dry. The numbers of hot days are also increasing. We saw mosquitoes in Namche Bazaar (altitude- 3440 m) for the first time in 2008 and we also saw a housefly at Everest Base Camp (altitude – 5360 m) which is unheard of. And, of course, the rapid melting of the snow in the mountains and glaciers. For the first time in my life, during the Eco Everest Expedition 2009, I saw running water around Camp 4 and near the summit of Mt. Everest. In fact, at Camp 2 we did not even have to melt snow for drinking, which was very rare in previous expeditions.

The melting glaciers pose an immediate threat due to the ever-increasing glacial lakes. The Imja glacial lake has slowly grown to a massive size in front of my eyes. My wife and I lost all our property and nearly lost our lives when a similar glacial lake Dig Tsho burst in 1985. I know how severe the impacts will be if a lake like Imja would burst. It would mean total devastation and not just for the people in the immediate vicinity but maybe also for people living downstream.

The people in the area are not very aware about these issues and therefore they cannot connect these changes into a single phenomenon. But these changes could have serious consequences for us. I have heard that there are 20 such glacial lakes in Nepal which are in danger of bursting. This not only poses a grave risk to all our property and infrastructure, but our lives. I have also gathered from the local people that the potato yield is not as good as before and that yak numbers are also decreasing – maybe these are the results of change in weather patterns. We have heard incidents of bushfires. And I cannot fathom what diseases mosquitoes and houseflies would bring in.

I am an uneducated person, yet I realize the seriousness of the issue. I hope our senior politicians and the government realize that climate change poses an immediate threat to the people living in the mountainous region. We need to educate the people there and we need resources so that these problems can be solved. I have dedicated my last two Everest ascents to raise awareness about Climate Change issues. This is just a small individual step. And it is definitely not enough. I think we need to work together unitedly if we are to ever find solutions to Climate Change and the problems it is creating.

More high-resolution images are available of Apa and Dawa Sherpa. Please contact Claire Carlton, the Climate Witness Programme Manager, for more information.

Apa and Dawa on “European Expedition”

Kathmandu, Nepal – Legendary mountaineer Apa Sherpa and Everest summiteer Dawa Steven Sherpa are embarking on a European Expedition through 10 European cities starting from Prague, through Brno, Bratislava, London, Rome, Geneva, Chamonix, Vienna, Brussels and finally to Copenhagen to raise awareness about impacts of Climate Change in the Himalayas.

In  their European journey, they will meet high-profile politicians and celebrities and people in the streets of these European cities delivering the message from Himalayan communities like the Sherpas, who truly exemplify how a small community literally living at the frontiers of Climate Change impacts can refuse to remain a mute spectator to the injustice meted out to them.

The journey which started with Apa Sherpa taking a Climate Change banner to the Everest Summit during his 19th Record ascent  six months, will now culminate in the European continent, one of the highest per capita GHG emitting regions of the world. There, Apa and Dawa will reach out to the people in Europe - the future actions of whose will determine the future of Apa’s community and hundreds of millions of other people who live in the drainage system of the Himalayas.

The European Expedition is part of the Climate for Life Campaign spearheaded by WWF Nepal to raise the profile of the Himalayas in the global climate debate in collaboration with Government of Nepal, its development partners, and a large number of non-profit and private organizations.

Speaking at a press meet organized before the start of the Expedition, WWF Nepal Country Representative, Anil Manandhar said, "During Climate Change debates, Himalayas, the third pole has never got the rightful attention of international community." "Apa and Dawa's European Expedition will be crucial in raising awareness about the impacts of Climate Change in the Himalayas taking the issue to the UN Climate Talks in Copenhagen."

On the occasion, Dawa Steven Sherpa said, "The European Expedition will be like climbing Everest. Starting from the Base Camp in Kathmandu, we will be setting up subsequent camps throughout Europe – all helping us to reach our ultimate goal – the Summit - Copenhagen."

Scientific review

Reviewed by: Dr John Sweeney, National University of Ireland Maynooth, Ireland

Glacial lakes are a common feature of the Himalaya in general and the Khumbu Himal region of eastern Nepal in particular. In some of these glacial lakes, water is impounded by moraines. Such lakes where water is stored by moraines are in general hazardous. Outburst floods from such lakes are characterized by extraordinary peak discharges at the onset of the event and entrainment of large quantities of debris. Such lakes appear to be the most common type of glacial lakes now found in Nepal (Yamada and Sharma, 1993).

Glaciers are a key indicator of climate change as they react sensitively to climate (Oerlemans, 1994). The mean annual air temperatures rose rather dramatically in the 20th century (IPCC, 2001). This has most likely caused increasing glacier retreat in many parts of the world. A recent review of glaciers around the world shows that the average loss of length is about 10 meters (m) per year, and this pace is accelerating in many regions ( Lemke et al, 2007).

The case study on the development and climate change in Nepal from Shardul et al., 2003 reveals a significant warming trend in recent decades and are even more evident at higher altitudes. Similarly, Shrestha et al. (1999) also reported, a drastic warming over the last two decades in Nepal.

Climate change scenarios for Nepal across multiple general circulation models meanwhile show the average increase in the mean temperature by1.2°C and 3°C for 2050 and 2100 respectively (Shardul et al., 2003). Similarly, New et al., 2009 shows that temperature extremes will increase by up to 55% (2060s) and 70% (2090s) ( This warming trend is likely to have significant impact on Nepal Himalayas- most significantly in terms of glacier retreat and significant increases in the size and volume of glacial lakes, making them more prone to Glacial Lake Outburst Flooding (GLOF). Though the data on the glacier mass balance provides the quantitative information on the increasing or decreasing of glacier, it is rare in the Himalayas of Nepal. However, over the past 30 years, the vast majority of all Himalayan glaciers have been retreating and thinning, with accelerated losses in the last decade (Bajracharya and Mool 2009). A number of recent research (e.g., Fujita et al., 2001; Bajracharya and Mool. 2009) have reasoned climate change as a driver to this decrease in mass balance of Himalayan glacier.


  • J. Oerlemans (1994) Quantifying global warming from the retreat of glaciers, Science 264, 243–245.
  • Bajracharya, S. R. and P. K. Mool 2009. Glaciers, glacial lakes and glacial lake outburst floods in the Mount Everest region. Nepal. Annals of Glaciology, 50 (53) London, UK. 81 – 86.
  • Shardul A., Vivian R., Maarten V. A., Peter L., Joel S. and John R. (2003) development and climate change in nepal: focus on water resources and hydropower.
  • (
  • Mark New, Sarah Opitz-Stapleton, Jagadishwor Karmacharya, Gil Lizcano and Carol McSweeney (2009) Climate Projections for Nepal Global and Regional Model Results, 2009 A regional climate change conference Kathmandu to Copenhagen, 31august-1 September, Kathmandu, Nepal
  • Wessels, R.L., Kargel, J.S., and Kieffer, H.H. (2001) Global Land Ice Measurements from Space: Documenting the Demise of Earth’s Glaciers using ASTER. American Geophysical Union, May.
  • Shrestha, A. B., Wake, C. P., Mayewski, P. A., and Dibb, J. E. (1999). Maximum temperature trends in the Himalaya and its vicinity: An analysis based on temperature records from Nepal for the period 1971-94. Journal of Climate 12, 2775-2787.
  • IPCC, 2001 In: IPCC, Editor, Climate Change 2001 — The Scientific Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2001).
  • P. Lemke et al., ”Observations: Changes in Snow, Ice and Frozen Ground,” in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge, UK, and New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 337–83.
  • Haritashya,; Bishop, Shroder, Andrew, Bush, Bulley (2009). "Space-based assessment of glacier fluctuations in the Wakhan Pamir, Afghanistan" (PDF). pp. 5–18. doi:10.1007/s10584-009-9555-9.

All articles are subject to scientific review by a member of the Climate Witness Science Advisory Panel.
Climate Witness Apa Sherpa
Climate Witness Apa Sherpa
© WWF-Nepal Enlarge
Veteran Everest Summiteer Apa Sherpa holding up the WWF Banner with Climate Change message at the Everest Summit during his record 19th ascent to the highest mountain in the world.
© Enlarge
Climbers at the Khumbu Icefall
Climbers at the Khumbu Icefall
© WWF-Nepal Enlarge
© Sony Japan Enlarge

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