Nepal's 'Super Sherpa' on Wednesday voiced amazement at the pace of change in the country's remote Himalayan communities, as he celebrated his return from one of the world's most difficult treks.
Apa Sherpa (52) arrived in Kathmandu earlier this week after leading the first expedition to complete the Great Himalayan Trail, a 1700-kilometre trek spanning the entire length of the Nepalese Himalayas.
Sherpa, who earned his nickname for scaling Mount Everest a record 21 times, said the world's highest mountain range had undergone a "transformation", with improved transport links, communications and education.
"I was happy to see kids going to schools and people better connected through mobile phones," Sherpa told reporters.
"But I was saddened to see children working as porters when they should have been going to school," he said, adding that he found many schools shut so that pupils could work as labourers.
Sherpa and three companions set off in January on the Climate Smart Celebrity Trek, an expedition promoting tourism and highlighting the effects of climate change.
The adventurers set out from the shadow of the world's third-highest peak, Mount Kanchenjunga, in the east and finished at Nepal's border with Tibet in the west, 20 days ahead of schedule.
Along the way they traversed some of the world's most rugged landscapes, ascending beyond 6000 metres.
They said they received letters of support from former US vice-president Al Gore, British actress Joanna Lumley and Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner.
Dawa Steven Sherpa, a member of the expedition who has climbed Everest twice, said the group found mountain communities that rely on subsistence farming were suffering the effects of climate change.
"The soil fertility has gone down, the rains arrive late and this is affecting the farmers," he said.