Life at the Top
By Dan Greeson
Photo by Elinor Samuelsson.
By Janne Siegel
Quiet and humble, with an infectious smile and peaceful presence, Chhiring Dorje Sherpa spends much of his life on top of the world – literally. Despite calling Steamboat Springs home, Chhiring spends every spring and fall in his Nepalese homeland, guiding climbers in the Himalayas.
Born and raised in the Rolwaling Valley in east-central Nepal, Chhiring began life as a Sherpa at age 16. When he and his brother Tashi formed their own expedition company, Rolwaling Excursions, Ltd., in 1994, little did they know it would lead to a life in the United States.
Dr. Eric Meyer, a medic from Steamboat, met Chhiring on an expedition to Mount Everest in 2004, and invited him to visit. “I had a good feeling about Steamboat; it was a friendly and safe place and good for education,” Chhiring says.
Chhiring cannot read or write. “I never learned and it makes me sad,” he says. He and his wife, Dawa, are dedicated to giving their daughters Tshering, 18, and Tenzing, 16, the very best education. With this as a motive, in 2012 Chhiring and Dawa moved to Steamboat, which entailed a difficult three-year visa process. The girls remained at a boarding school in Katmandu before joining their parents two years later. Tenzing currently attends Steamboat Springs High School and Tshering is a freshman in nursing at Colorado Mesa University.
“They will be the first in their family to graduate high school and college,” Meyer says.
Chhiring and his family appreciate the dangers of guiding in the treacherous mountains of Nepal. In April 2015, Chhiring was devastated when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit the Himalayan nation. He drew hope from the fact that the international climbing community continued to support Nepal, with climbers returning in fall 2015. Tashi was instrumental in getting word out to the world through digital and print media that the mountains were ready again for exploration.
Chhiring knows his family worries for his safety when he is away from Steamboat. “I think it is more than his work,” Tenzing says. “He just loves mountains and meeting new people with different stories.”
This year, Chhiring brought Rolwaling Excursions, Inc. to Colorado, and plans to open an office in Steamboat. When he is home, he works for Big Agnes. He volunteers for Everything Outdoor Steamboat and a Western State Colorado University outdoor program.
Chhiring has climbed a number of 14ers with Meyer, but doesn’t follow any kind of training regimen. “We only take walks,” Tenzing says. Like the rest of the family, she enjoys spending time together with her father before he flies back to Nepal.
Chhiring believes he was put on Earth to guide and serve others. He continues to care for his extended family, as well as many villagers in Nepal, often working behind the scenes to make sure they all get what they need.
When his girls need to feel closer to Chhiring, they go rock climbing and hiking. “We can always follow his energetic spirit in the mountains,” Tenzing says.