This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A strange thought floated through Apa Sherpa's mind as his airplane landed at Salt Lake City International Airport on Sunday afternoon.
"I said to myself, 'Home, sweet home,' " the Nepalese native recalled later that day at a celebration among about 30 friends and family members, recognizing his record-setting 18th summit of Mount Everest on May 22.
After more than 30 years of leading mostly Western climbers up Everest's tricky - and often deadly - slopes, Sherpa moved to Utah in 2006, intent on providing a better education for his children. "So that they wouldn't have to go up the mountain," he often says.
Even by Beehive State standards, the culture shock was intense. But the humble Sherpa found good friends, a job helping to design outdoor products with a Salt Lake City company, and even a few nice hiking trails in the Wasatch Mountains that, with just a little imagination, reminded him of home.
And then, at some point, Sherpa started feeling as though he was home.
"Now I think I must have two homes," Sherpa said as he nursed a cold Corona while relaxing on the back porch of the Draper home he and his family share with friend and business partner Jerry Mika. "There is home where I was born and there is home here, in Utah, with my family and the friends I have made."
Meg Brady, a University of Utah professor who has recorded dozens of hours of conversations with Sherpa as part of the U.'s "YourStory" program said she's certain that the Himalayas still call to the famed climber.
While not a rich man in his native Nepal, Apa was well-known and well-respected - and his services were always in demand by wealthy Western clients. In Utah, he shares a home with Mika out of financial necessity and rides TRAX to work every day, often without being noticed by any fellow commuters as the mountain-climbing rock star he is.
"I think it is very difficult for him to be here in a lot of ways," Brady said. "But the thing for him is his children. He is doing this for his family."
While he didn't expect Sherpa's road to the American dream to be paved with gold, Mika said he didn't think his friend would have to struggle so much to make it in the United States. Sherpa is, after all, the Michael Jordan, the Tiger Woods or the Lance Armstrong of his particular sport, with a record of safe ascents up the world's tallest peak that eclipses any of the most famous Western climbers.
And although it has been difficult to find sponsors, which has made life in the United States more difficult than he might have expected, Sherpa said his recent 45-day absence from Utah was a great burden to bear.
"I missed my family and my American friends," he said. "I missed home."