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After Everest, one-legged Sherpa sets sights on Guinness

By Sudeshna Sarkar, Indo-Asian News Service

Kathmandu, July 27 (IANS)

He has made it to the top of Mt Everest. And Nawang Sherpa now wants to have his feat registered in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first climber with an artificial leg.

The 30-year-old climbed the highest peak in the world May 16 this year as part of a Californian expedition, Friendship Beyond Borders. The soft-spoken, self-assured Nepalese, who began his climbing career as a sherpa - a high-altitude porter-cum- guide - attributes his success to "confidence in one's self that can make a disabled able" and his friendship with Californian climber Tom McMillan.

After he lost his left leg in 2000 due to a motorcycle accident in Kathmandu, Nawang said in his initial depression he felt his climbing career had come to an end. "As it is, life in the hills is hard," Nawang told IANS. "On top of that, if you don't have a leg you think you will no longer be able to do what you love best - climb mountains."

However, he was inspired by the example of Welsh climber Tom Whittaker who, undeterred by a car accident in 1979 that made him lose a foot, went on to conquer Mt Everest in 1998. Two years after his own mishap, Nawang was fitted with a "climbing leg" by High Exposure Foundation, a non-profit organisation launched by double amputee Ed Hommer, who had dreamt of leading an expedition to the summit.

Nawang's plan to join Hommer's expedition came to naught when the American was killed by a rock fall on Mount Rainier last September. However, his flagging dream was revived this year when McMillan stepped in to plan a climb to the summit with him. To record his feat, Nawang will be applying to the Guinness authorities.

As the first step in that campaign, this week he lodged an application with the Nepal Mountaineering Association and the Nepal Tourism Board. He says while Whittaker climbed with an artificial foot, he reached the top with an artificial leg.

Nawang leaves for the US Tuesday where he will be doing lectures as a motivational speaker and attend the inauguration of a prosthetics clinic in Minnesota run by Tom Halvorson, the same man who fitted him with his prosthetic leg. Nawang's attempt to make it to the Guinness might trigger controversy about amputee Everest summiteers. A row erupted this year with two Nepalese climbers vying for the record of being the fastest climber to reach the top and climb down.