Another day in the life of Richland's sherpa

RICHLAND — Just before Ang Dorjee Sherpa made more Himalayan mountaineering history in May, he had to tend to a pressing obligation in the Tri-Cities.

"He had to sign mortgage papers from base camp for our new home," said his wife, Michelle Gregory.

Sitting last week in the living room of the family's new home in Richland, Ang Dorjee smiled as he recalled receiving the documents from Michelle via e-mail at base camp on Mount Everest.

"We did not have a fax (machine) at base camp. I had to take a picture (of the signed documents) and send her back the picture," he said.

Ang Dorjee, guiding for New Zealand-based Adventure Consultants, pressed on to make his 14th summit of the world's tallest mountain. He said he now has the third-highest number of summits of the 29,035-foot peak, ranking behind two other sherpas.

This year's Everest expedition was anything but routine for Ang Dorjee, a world-renowned mountaineering guide, or his family.

Storms hampered summit attempts, and two people died on the south side of Everest. In Richland, Michelle was busy with her work as a research scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, caring for their children, Tenzing, 6, and Karma, 4, and packing boxes for the move.

She also underwent surgery, which she kept from her spouse out of concern he would abandon the expedition to return home or potentially lose the concentration he needed on the mountain. She finally informed him when he called from an airport en route home.

"She never told me because she knew I would not stay there," he said. "I would have left there, of course. It's family, and family is much more important than that mountain. That mountain is staying there."

Laughing, Gregory said, "This year, I had a lot going on."

Still, she managed to keep up on the expedition via web updates. She kept in contact with her husband largely by e-mail, often updating him about their children.

"Our son lost his first tooth, so I e-mailed the photo to him," said Michelle, who met Ang Dorjee in spring 2002 when she stayed at base camp for three months while doing a research project on the effects of high altitude on speech.

Ang Dorjee is a climbing leader for Adventure Consultants, which has employed him since his first Everest summit in 1992.

Born and raised in a small village in the Khumbu region of Nepal, he followed his father's career as a mountaineering guide. Birth records weren't recorded in his village, so his wife says he's thought to be about 40 years old.

He's climbed throughout Nepal, Pakistan and Europe, as well as Kilimanjaro -- the highest point in Africa -- and 22,841-foot Aconcagua, the tallest peak in South America. He summited Aconcagua 25 times from 2003-07, guiding for Adventure Consultants, and also has guided climbs of Mount Rainier.

He is a friend and peer of many of the world's most famed mountaineers and widely respected. Guy Cotter, owner and director of Adventure Consultants, in 2006 described Ang Dorjee as exceptionally strong and focused.

"As a mountaineer, all climbers have a huge amount of respect for the sherpas, and Ang Dorjee ... (is) one of the very top in his game," Cotter told the Herald.

Everest, however, is the only expedition he will do this year. He left Richland on March 9 for this year's climb, then spent time with his mother in Nepal before heading to Katmandu to link up with his team and clients.

Three clients -- including the first woman from South Africa to summit all seven of the world's tallest peaks -- reached the summit with him May 22. In all, 425 climbers reached the summit from the south side.

His 14 summits may rank him among the elite mountaineers in the history of Everest climbing, but he's not obsessed with trying to overtake the two sherpas ahead of him. One of them summited for the 20th time this year, and the number of the other was not immediately available.

"I'm not interested in challenging these things," Ang Dorjee said. "I'm not interested in breaking records."

He made a rapid re-entry this year to his life off the mountain. He arrived home June 3 and immediately started helping his wife pack.

"He got home Thursday, and we moved Saturday," Gregory said. "It's been kind of a crazy few weeks."

He has returned to work for H & N Electric Motors in Pasco, where he performs maintenance on wind turbines. He said he doesn't plan to guide any more trips this year, citing his job and eagerness to spend time with his family.

He found he missed his children even more this year while in Nepal. "In two, three months, I came home and they were taller. I don't want to miss that," he said.

Everest is on his itinerary for 2011. But with his children growing, how long the world's most celebrated mountain will lure him back is uncertain.

"I don't know, maybe another five, six years. I'm not sure," he said, and smiled. "We'll just see how it goes."