In 1952, when a Swiss expedition camped out at Namche Bazar on its way to climb the world’s highest mountain, Kancha Sherpa was impressed with the climbers’ gear. They looked glamorous, and their Sherpa guides had swagger. It made a deep impression on the 19-year-old, who ran away from home to Darjeeling to join Tenzing Norgay, who was preparing for the 1953 John Hunt expedition.
As a teenager, Kancha Sherpa used to work as a porter, crossing Nangpa La to Tibet with loads of paper and bringing back up to 40kg of salt to barter for maize or rice. When he was offered Rs8 per day to join the Everest expedition, with a bonus for going above Camp 7, it felt like a windfall.
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Despite having no previous climbing experience, Kancha was trained to use ropes and crampons and set out for the icefall with heavy loads of oxygen cylinders for the higher camps. Being better acclimatised than western climbers and used to carrying heavy loads, Kancha made a good impression on the ‘sahibs’.