How Rolex and Dawa Yangzum Sherpa Help Nepali Women with Skills to Conquer Life’s Mountains

It's the call of the mountains.
Dawa Yangzum Sherpa (left) is leading her group of young women towards the top of a ridge, with the white peaks offering an inspiring backdrop for these aspiring mountaineers.

Here’s a story that will inspire you to not only live for yourself. At 4,200 metres above sea level, Rolwaling Valley is where Nepali-born Dawa Yangzum Sherpa grew up. With its remote conditions and harsh altitudes, it’s not surprising for people living there to be mountaineers. But for a woman to be one, it’s a different story as mountain climbing has been predominately a male-centric sport. So for Dawa Yangzum, a female mountaineer to not only be the first woman in Nepal to be certified by the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association (IFMGA), but to be giving back to society by training more young girls to conquer these mountains—we’ll say that’s something to be celebrated. 

Even in the early stages of her life, Dawa Yangzum wanted to be at the top of Mount Everest. At 13 years old, she searched—literally up high to be with a trekking group that followed a trail over Tashi Lapsa pass, carrying heavy gear for money that allowed her to fly to Kathmandu—the place that launched her first steps to Mount Everest. After working for several years as a trekking guide and completing initial courses and spending time as a long-distance trail runner, Dawa Yangzum took a course in ice and rock climbing at the Khumbu Climbing Center (KCC). She learned technical skills, rescue, and first aid to improve the mountain safety of indigenous and local communities. Her determination caught the attention of the founders of KCC, adventurer and alpinist Conrad Anker and his wife, artist and climber Jennifer Lowe-Anker. They selected her for an expedition to Mount Everest—two years later in 2012, at the age of 21, she scaled and stood atop the tallest mountain in the world. She later became the first Asian woman to earn the prestigious IFMGA certification qualification—one of just over 100 women worldwide—and continued conquering eight out of the fourteen 8,000-metre summits. 

“I had everything, but I still wasn’t happy. I was thinking, ‘What is missing?’ I wanted more”, Dawa Yangzum said. On her way up to the Himalayan village, Dawa Yangzum encountered various obstacles that she couldn’t have conquered if she was alone. She remembered her mentors that helped her along the way and that was when—in 2019—she started an all-female course training in high-altitude climbing. “I know how it feels like when somebody helps you”. 

The young training course recruits learning from Dawa Yangzum Sherpa (right) about how and when to use ice crampons.

The training course through Rolex’s Perpetual Planet support teaches students invaluable skills; not just gear, safety, and how to become a trekking guide, but also intergenerational mentoring. The teachings of self-belief, confidence, and independence are what Dawa Yangzum wants to impart. Doing so, she had unconsciously benefited herself too. She realised that by focusing on your passion, there are no limits to what you can achieve. Taking on the role of a mentor has allowed her to gain a fulfilment she once realised was missing.