Ang Tshering Lama: Volunteer Mountaineering Ranger on Denali

Ang Tshering Lama is a Nepalese mountain guide who has climbed many of the country’s highest mountains. In 2011, Ang spent a month volunteering as a mountaineering ranger on Denali through the unique Sherpa Exchange Program through the US National Park System. Through the program, Ang learned how the NPS operates compared to the Khumbu Climbing Center, as well as learning to appreciate places like Denali.

Alison Hudson: When did you start working in the mountains?
Ang Tshering Lama: I started twenty years ago, when I was 14 years old. I was an assistant helper on school holidays, mostly as a translator. I worked mostly for Australian companies, like World Expeditions. I’ve owned my own business (Ang’s Himalayan Adventures) since 2008.

AH: How did you get involved with the National Park Service?
ATL: I found out about it through the Khumbu Climbing Center. NPS Ranger Brandon Latham, started the program as an exchange. In 2011, I volunteered on Denali for one month doing Search and Rescue. In 2009 I was in Grand Teton National Park with someone I met through KCC and in 2010 I was on Rainier. Neither of those were the volunteer program, though.

Summit Ridge  Photo courtesy NPSAH: Tell me more about the Khumbu Climbing Center.
ATL: Khumbu Climbing Center is a program in Nepal for local guides to learn mountaineering and climbing skills. It’s run by the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation. I went first in 2007 as an advanced student. I have taught there since 2008. I like the program because it’s a way to share knowledge and it’s inexpensive because all of the instructors volunteer.

AH: Did you have any memorable of rescues on Denali?
ATL: I was involved with five or six rescues; one night we had to help four people. The worst was one guy who died near the upper camp. When when we arrived, we had to temporarily bury him because the weather was bad. The next day we unburied him and sent the body down in helicopter.

AH: What was the most valuable skill you learned on Denali?
ATL: Last year I had to recover the body of a Sherpa guide. He died at 5800 meters on a peak in Nepal. That was like Denali. I also learned to keep the mountain clean and I share that knowledge with people back in Nepal.  

AH: How is working on a mountain in America different from guiding in Nepal?
ATL: It depends on the angle. Back home, I’m the guide, while here I’m a Search and Rescue Ranger. There are different aspects of working styles. In America, there is more freedom. I just check on the mountains and make sure everyone is okay. Back home, when I work on the mountain, it’s like baby-sitting. I have much more responsibility. I have responsibility for saving lives out in America, but you don’t have to worry all the time about babysitting clients or about them getting sick.

favorite peak in NepalAH: What is your favorite peak in Nepal?
ATL: There are so many I want to climb, I don’t have one favorite. I’m looking for new ascents. I’m always looking for smaller mountains. There are a few I want to climb on my own in the Western part of Nepal, but getting there is difficult. For new people who want to get the feel of mountaineering, I would recommend Lobuche East. It’s much more fun. The highest, Mera Peak, is fun as well.

AH: What did you think of Denali?
ATL: It has a different taste of climbing. From the base camp to the summit is higher than climbing Everestst from its base camp to summit. Denali is a good challenge, the weather could be challenging sometimes. Overall, it’s a fun peak, it’s a fun mountain to climb.