Sherpa Restaurant in Ashford Is Second Calling for Everest Climber

Growing up in Kharikhola, Nepal, at about 9,000 feet above sea level, Lhakpa had to walk three to four hours to get to a school. After the fourth grade, his family didn’t have enough money to continue his education. By the time he was a teenager, Lhakpa had started working as a porter on mountaineering expeditions, doing the work for which his people are known. Though “Sherpa” is often used as a shorthand term for the climbers who serve as mountain guides, the Sherpa people are actually one of Nepal’s 38 ethnic groups.

Lhakpa quickly found himself to be adept, and by the time he was 25, he had been selected for his first Everest expedition. Sherpas, he said, feel the same exhilaration as Westerners when they reach the summit, but the calculation is different. Visitors often pay tens of thousands of dollars for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Sherpas climb over and over again, depending on it for their livelihood. Lhakpa has summited Everest 15 times, and his work history is a checklist of the world’s most iconic peaks.

His accomplishment came with acclaim, but for all his success in the mountains, Lhakpa had set his sights on a new goal: the United States. For Sherpas, even with their world-class skills and stamina, even though they’re putting their lives at risk, mountain guiding is not a lucrative endeavor. Lhakpa lost a member of his team in an avalanche on a climb of K2. He was away from his family for long stretches of time. He wanted his children to go to school so they would have more options than him.

That would be different for his family. In 2005, Lhakpa and his wife Fulama moved to New York, where they scraped together an existence, living in a small apartment while he worked for a moving company. By 2007, they were able to bring over their three children, Dawa, Ngima and Tashi. The Sherpas lived in Utah, where Lhakpa took a shuttle two hours to sell coffee at a ski resort, then worked a second job delivering pizza. Fulama worked at a bakery. Later, he took a job stocking for Coca-Cola, which proved to be a demanding job even for a man accustomed to hard physical labor.

Wildberry’s offerings include a hearty Sherpa stew, chicken and mushroom thali dishes and pork momo dumplings. Fresh blackberry and huckleberry pies add a local flair. Members of the Sherpa family move to and fro, seating customers, taking orders and bringing out food. Fulama said the atmosphere at the restaurant is better than working in a corporate environment.

Lhakpa has stopped guiding on the mountain, although he still helps lead an annual expedition up Rainier, a fundraiser to help build a cultural center for the Northwest Sherpa Association. He still has close ties in Nepal, and he’s hoping to bring his family back for a visit this winter. He also runs the Lhakpa Gelu Foundation, which has helped fund projects back in his home country, including replacing roofs in his hometown that collapsed during the 2015 earthquake that devastated the country.

The family recently purchased three acres of land around the restaurant, and they’re hoping to one day build a museum of Sherpa culture on the property. After a lifetime of climbing mountains, scraping out a living at various jobs across America, Lhakpa is happy to have settled into Washington, working alongside his family, sharing his home country’s culture with countless visitors to Mount Rainier.