The Sherpa (Tibetan:ཤར་པ། "eastern people", from shar "east" + pa "people") are an ethnic group from the most mountainous region of Nepal, high in the Himalayas. Sherpas migrated from eastern Tibet to Nepal within the last 500 years. A sherpa woman is known as a "sherpini".
The term sherpa is also used to refer to local people, typically men, who are employed as guides for mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas, particularly Mt. Everest. They are highly regarded as elite mountaineers and experts in their local terrain, as well as having good physical endurance and resilience to high altitude conditions. However, a sherpa is not necessarily a member of the Sherpa ethnic group.
Most Sherpas live in the eastern regions; however, some live farther west in the Rolwaling valley and in the Helambu region north of Kathmandu. Pangboche is the Sherpas' oldest village in Nepal. Sherpas speak their own Sherpa language which in many ways resembles a dialect of Tibetan. The Jirels, native people of Jiri, are ethnically related to the Sherpas. It is said that the Jirels are descendants of a Sherpa mother and Sunuwar (another ethnic group of the eastern part of Nepal) father. In India, Sherpas also inhabit the towns of Darjeeling and Kalimpong and the Indian state of Sikkim. The 2001 Nepal Census recorded 154,622 Sherpas in that country, of which 92.83% were Buddhists, 6.26% were Hindus, 0.63% were Christians and 0.20% were Bön.
The Sherpas contribute substantially to the economic growth and stability of Nepal.
Sherpas were of immeasurable value to early explorers of the Himalayan region, serving as guides and porters at the extreme altitudes of the peaks and passes in the region. Today, the term is used casually to refer to almost any guide or porter hired for mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas. However, in Nepal, Sherpas insist on making the distinction between themselves and general porters, as Sherpas often serve in a more guide-like role and command higher pay and respect from the community.
Sherpas are renowned in the international climbing and mountaineering community for their hardiness, expertise, and experience at high altitudes. While many have speculated that a portion of the Sherpas' climbing ability is the result of a genetically greater lung capacity and larger heart muscle, such speculation is false. Although these qualities apply to some high altitude indigenous groups residing in the South American Andes mountains, such as the Quechuas, the Sherpas' high altitude adaptations arise at the molecular level. Some of these adaptations include unique hemoglobin-binding enzymes, doubled nitric oxide production, hearts that can utilize glucose, and lungs with an increased sensitivity to low oxygen. Another reason suggested for their wide employment as porters is that Sherpas have fewer dietary prohibitions than most people of the region and are prepared to eat whatever is available on expeditions.
Two Sherpas, Pemba Dorjie and Lhakpa Gelu, recently competed to see who could climb Everest from Basecamp the fastest. On May 23, 2003, Dorjie summited in 12 hours and 46 minutes. Three days later, Gelu beat his record by two hours, summiting in 10 hours 46 minutes. On May 21, 2004, Dorjie again improved the record by more than two hours with a total time of 8 hours and 10 minutes.
Perhaps the most famous Nepalese female mountaineer, is Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, the first Nepalese female climber who died during the descend. Even today girls look up to her achievement as a milestone for their own ambitons. Also the two-time Everest summiteer Pemba Doma Sherpa, died after falling from Lhotse on 22 May 2007.