Synopsis The Glass Ceiling

The Glass Ceiling tells the story of Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, who risks her life and battles profound obstacles to become the first Nepali woman to summit Mt Everest. Born in the shadow of the world’s highest mountain, Pasang runs away from an arranged marriage to be with the love of her life, a young mountain guide. Exposed to foreign women climbers through the trekking company she starts with her husband, Pasang determines to do what no Nepali woman has done previously: summit Everest.

Pasang tries three times, each attempt turned back by weather or climbing politics. On her third expedition, she comes within 98 meters of the summit. Heartbroken, she abandons her quest in favor of domestic life in Kathmandu.

At the same time, Nepal was undergoing its own revolution for equality, having overthrown the colonialist king in favor of democracy. The Sherpa people however—though discriminated against by the ruling elite—are economically and culturally isolated from Nepali politics, and therefore able to ignore the turmoil in the capital city. That is, until it boils over into violence in streets, riots and bloodshed. Pasang realizes, despite her previous political isolation, she must attempt the summit again, her mission now bigger than herself.

She leads—for the first time ever—a Nepali-sponsored expedition. Through her charisma and political skill, Pasang becomes the person through whom a fledgling nation stakes its claim to a mountain commandeered by foreign adventure seekers.

With limited financial support, she attempts the mountain a fourth time. There is exaltation on April 22, 1993 when it is radioed she has reached the summit. The following day word spreads that she has not returned. Her husband and others desperately try to rescue her, but it is too late. When her body is finally returned to Kathmandu, it is an extraordinary cultural event. Throngs of weeping mourners carry her through the streets.

Today, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa is a Nepali icon. Young girls learn her story in school, and a new generation of Nepali women climbers look to her as inspiration.