This year’s National Geographic Adventurer of the Year isn't your average mountain-climber. Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita, 31, is both an accomplished climber and a dedicated supporter of her Sherpa community.

Pasang Lhamu was born in Lukla, Nepal, near the base of Mount Everest. Mountaineering was routine, not only for the adventure tourists passing through, but also for Pasang Lhamu’s friends and family, many of whom made a living on the mountain. When she was 15, her parents died, and Pasang Lhamu was left to raise her 6-year-old sister alone. She took up mountaineering as a way to make ends meet.

“Obviously, I had to be strong for both of us,” she said in an interview with National Geographic.

She was strong, all right. After climbing school, she became Nepal’s first woman mountaineering instructor, as well as an exceptional climber.

“I find that mountains are extremely fair, and they don’t differentiate whether you are a man or a woman, rich or poor. In addition, I feel a great sense of freedom up in the mountains, quite different from how the society imposes so many rules, especially on women,” Pasang Lhamu told National Geographic.

She climbed Ambladam and K2. She was the first woman to summit Nangpai Gosum. And, of course, she climbed Everest.

“When I saw her in 2007 after climbing the North Ridge of Everest, which was easy for her, it was clear she had the skills to excel,” renowned climber Conrad Anker told National Geographic.

“Adventure for Pasang is not just recreational but a means to an end for herself and her unconditional support for her community,” Norbu Tenzing Norgay, son of famed Everest guide Tenzing Norgay, said. “For Sherpas, especially, this is a very proud moment.

The last few years have been terribly hard for Nepal. The 7.8 earthquake that struck the country in April 2015 took many lives and destroyed cities. Now, with many of its citizens still homeless from the disaster, the little nation is facing the coldest winter in recent memory. Pasang Lhamu joined the relief efforts and has worked tirelessly to help provide communities in need with blankets and shelter.

Image Credit: National Geographic

For her next project, she hopes to pay her success forward with an educational foundation for Nepalese women and girls. “I believe education will [allow] them to accomplish many things and open the door to many opportunities even in a male-dominated society like ours,” she said. “This goal is what keeps me moving forward. My best moments are when I get messages from young girls who mention how they are inspired by my work.”

[h/t National Geographic]

Banner Image via National Geographic.