Local myth had it that before his record-breaking tenth ascent one doubter swore that he would eat a dog’s penis if Ang Rita climbed Everest again. The man was said to have eaten both his words and the organ in question – which he pronounced “not bad”.
His doubts were, perhaps, understandable as, away from the mountain, Ang Rita was a different man from the agile “snow leopard” of the slopes.
“On flat land, he is an unashamed alcoholic, starting his day with frequent swigs from a litter of bottles lying around and ending up with a series of drunken binges around the city,” claimed a 1997 profile. “I don’t apologise for my drinking, but once on the mountain, I don’t touch the stuff,” Ang Rita was quoted as saying.
Robert Birkby, in his book Mountain Madness, recalled that in 1990, when Ang Rita was away from the mountain for some time, the rumour circulated around Base Camp that he had been arrested and jailed for murder following the killing of a Buddhist monk at a festival in his home village.
When he eventually showed up wearing a Nepal army uniform, it was assumed he had been “sprung” by members of an army expedition which he duly led to the summit of Everest in April that year.
A son of a yak herder, Ang Rita Sherpa was born on July 2, 1948 at Thamo, a village in the Solukhumbu district of eastern Nepal. After being orphaned in his teens, he became a mountaineering porter to help support his family.
His first expedition to the highest Himalayan peaks was in 1982, when he accompanied a Belgian expedition up the 8167-metre Dhaulagiri in western Nepal.
As well as his Everest climbs, he breasted the 8586-metre Kanchenjunga twice and scaled the 8201-metre Cho Oyu and Dhaulagiri four times apiece. He always claimed he felt more comfortable climbing without oxygen bottles.
Ang Rita was also recognised by Guinness World Records for being the first man to climb Everest without oxygen in winter – a feat he achieved in December 1987.
The Nepalese Government gave Ang Rita two of the country’s highest civilian honours as well as some land in Kathmandu; he also got a small stipend from the Nepal Mountaineering Association. But, due to his problems with alcohol Ang Rita, who lived in a one-room tenement in an insalubrious part of Kathmandu, always struggled with money. Business ventures such as a trekking agency and an attempt to establish a consumer brand in his name failed because he was unable to stay sober.
He also suffered brain and liver ailments, health problems which worsened after his eldest son Karsang Namgyal, an experienced climber, died of altitude sickness during an expedition in 2012.
Ang Rita’s wife died the following year. He is survived by two sons and a daughter.
The Telegraph, London