KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — A veteran sherpa guide set off Thursday on an attempt to scale Mount Everest for a record 17th time and is confident he'll make it to the top, as he won't be worrying about helping a foreign client up the slopes.
Appa, who goes by one name, will lead an eight-member team of sherpas calling themselves the "Super Sherpas Expedition" as he attempts to break his own record for the number of climbs to the 29,035-foot summit.
"This is my 17th time ... I hope this is my 17th time (to reach the peak)," Appa told The Associated Press before leaving for Everest.
Appa — a modest, thinly built 46-year-old — is one of the most respected climbers in the mountaineering community. His closest competitor, fellow sherpa guide Chewang Nima, 41, scaled the peak a 14th time last year.
Appa and his teammates will make a documentary about the climb, and all money raised will go toward providing better education and health care for children in their community at the foothills of the mountain.
Appa said he expects his 17th climb of Everest to be easier as he will not have to worry about helping foreign clients — but he still is not taking any chances. He visited a famous Buddhist monastery in Katmandu where he offered scarves and colored flags and received a blessing from the head priest.
He said he also won approval to climb the peak from his concerned wife, who now lives in Salt Lake City with his three children. Appa's wife normally discourages him from climbing Everest because of the enormous risks involved, having claimed the lives of nearly 200 people since the mountain was first conquered in 1953.
The eight members of the expedition have scaled Everest a combined 46 times — with Appa topping the list at 16 and his friend Lakpa Gyelu 12 times.
Like most sherpas, Appa grew up in the foothills of Everest, and began carrying equipment and supplies for trekkers and mountaineers at an early age.
Appa made his first summit of Everest in 1989 and has been climbing almost every year since.
Sherpas were mostly yak herders and traders living in the Himalayas until Nepal opened its borders to tourism in 1950. Their stamina and knowledge of the mountains makes them expert guides and porters for foreign mountaineers.
The team flew out of Katmandu on Thursday, heading for the small airstrip at Lukla, from where they will trek to the base camp and spend a few more days acclimatizing and preparing for their summit bid in the second week of May.