Dawa Yangzum Sherpa grew up in a Himalayan village with no electricity or running water, but by age 9, she knew she would someday summit Mount Everest. She accomplished her dream at age 21, then went on to become the first Nepali woman, and one of just over 100 women worldwide, to earn mountaineering’s most elite title—International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations certification. Dawa was also part of the first all-female team from Nepal to reach the summit of K2, and she in she made a first ascent on Mount Langdung in her home Rolwaling Valley of Nepal. She’s also climbed Ama Dablam and attempted the 28,169-foot Kangchenjunga.
Dawa’s incredible journey began in 2003, when she left her village at age 13 without telling family or friends and joined a trekking group heading over the rugged Tashi Lapsa pass. She carried some 30 pounds of gear for six days to earn the $20 for a plane ticket to Kathmandu and spent five years living with her Uncle and brothers, caring for her two younger siblings. Her older brother—now a IFMGA guide and successful mountaineer—helped secure Dawa the lead guide position on a 15-day trek, which reaffirmed her goal of becoming a guide. In 2010, she enrolled in a course at Conrad Anker’s Khumbu Climbing Center to learn more technical skills and the following year, she returned to teach alongside veteran mountain guides like TNF’s Peter Athans. The next year, she joined Anker’s TNF National Geographic Everest expedition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the peak’s first American ascent. She would be paid to help carry loads between camps, then be able to climb for herself. She summited on a bluebird day with TNF’s Emily Harrington.
Dawa started the process to earn IFMGA guide certification in 2013 and four years later earned the coveted title. In between, she guided on Mount Rainier for the National Park Service, summitted 28,250-foot K2, nannied in Denver and attempted Nepal’s Kangchenjunga, the world’s third-highest peak. Dawa Yangzum now splits her time between the United States and Nepal, guiding on Mount Rainier and Mount Baker, in the summer.