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Published: Saturday, 5/29/2004

To the summit, quickly

RECORDS are made to be broken, and those established by Mount Everest climbers who hunger to stand just once on top of the world are no exception.

Sherpa guide Pemba Dorjee knows that well.

A successor to Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who with New Zealander Edmund Hillary first conquered the 60-million-year-old Everest in 1953, this summit veteran has broken the Everest speed record twice, the first time for three days last year, and the second, this year.

He is among more than 1,400 climbers who have scaled the 29,035-foot mountain. About 180 have died sometimes celebrated deaths on its high Himalayan slopes.

The mountain, named for Sir George Everest, a British surveyor first to record its location and height, is austere and demanding. It gives nothing.

Mr. Dorjee's record-setting trip from the base camp at 17,380 feet - as far as many travelers to Everest go - took eight hours and 10 minutes, according to Nepal's Mountaineering Department.

His prior record, earned last year in his first trek up the Nepalese side, was 12 hours, 45 minutes, a record broken three days later by another Sherpa, Lakpa Gyelu, who did it in 10 hours and 56 minutes. Mr. Dorjee first scaled Sagarmatha (goddess of the sky, Everest's Nepalese name), two years ago from the Tibet side, where it is known as Chomolungma (mother goddess of the universe).

Many Sherpas, who were yak herders and traders before Nepal became a tourist destination in 1950, began new work, first as guides and porters for foreign climbers, then as climbers who made their own mark in Everest's history.

With their stamina in high altitudes, they were naturals.

Theirs is a long and honored tradition, one in which Mr. Dorjee has firmly ensconced himself. His record is one against which future climbers must pit themselves.

Rare is the man or woman who sets two speed records to the roof of the world. Mr. Dorjee deserves acclaim and probably a host of product endorsements.

He is a fierce competitor with role-model grit.



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