Mon, Jul 24, 2006 - Page 9 News List

A climber's venture into the death zone on Mount Everest

In part one of this story, published yesterday, British mountaineer David Sharp had begun his third attempt on Mount Everest and was nearing the summit

By Allen Breed and Binaj Gurubacharya  /  AP , KATHMANDU

Down from Everest's summit in the advance base camp, exhausted climbers returned to congratulations, drinks and blessed rest after the day's conquests.

But David Sharp, last spotted hours earlier near the mountain's pinnacle, was not among them that evening, May 14. Still, the experienced climbers who were his friends were not overly concerned.

Dave Watson assumed his friend had crawled into an unoccupied tent at one of the high camps to rest. Sharp had turned around just shy of the summit twice before, so Watson knew the Briton was a smart climber. But he also knew Sharp thought of this as his last trip to Everest and was determined not to leave in defeat.

He remembered a remark Sharp had made several days earlier while acclimatizing at the camp. Other climbers were snapping photos, but he told Watson he was saving the film in his disposable camera.

"I've got all the pictures I need," he'd said, "except for the summit."

Around 11:10pm, while many in the camp slept, on the mountain's highest reaches another group began its summit push.

Mark Woodward, a guide for Himalayan Experience, was escorting a camera crew filming fellow New Zealander Mark Inglis' bid to become the first double amputee to reach the summit. Shortly before 1am, at about 8,412m, the group reached a rock alcove where Woodward knew they would find "Green Boots" -- the frozen Indian climber who'd died there 10 years earlier. Woodward turned to warn a client when he got a shock: There was a second pair of boots protruding from the cave.

In the glare of his headlamp, Woodward could see a man, still clipped onto the red-and-blue guide rope, sitting to the right of the dead Indian, his arms wrapped around his knees. He had no oxygen mask on, and ice crystals had formed on his closed eyelashes.

Cameraman Mark Whetu yelled at him to get moving, but there was no response.

"The poor guy's stuffed," Woodward thought, believing the man was in a hypothermic coma and beyond help.

No one radioed down to expedition leader Russell Brice about a rescue. After pausing just long enough to unclip from the rope, pass Sharp and clip back in, the group trudged on.

About 20 minutes later, a group of Turkish climbers from Middle East Technical University's mountaineering club reached the alcove and also saw Sharp. The group's Sherpa, Lapka, urged the climber to get up and keep moving.

Sharp did not speak, but waved them off.

Others among the three dozen or so climbers attempting the summit that day assumed Sharp was "Green Boots," or didn't notice him at all.

Maxime Chaya had been first up the mountain that day and had passed the notch before the others, but had noticed no one. The beam from his headlamp was weak, and Chaya was focused on his goal of becoming the first Lebanese citizen to summit Everest.

Arc of flame

Climbing with a young Sherpa named Dorjee who was also making his first summit attempt, Chaya reached the top at 5:50am, just in time to see the sun rise. At this altitude, you can see the curvature of the Earth, and the light hitting the lesser peaks appeared like an arc of flame.

Chaya stripped off two of his three layers of mittens and gloves for a photo of himself flashing the victory sign, just before his camera froze. The temperature was minus 37.7?C as he and Dorjee headed back down.

It was a joyous descent until they reached the rock cave around 9:30am. The sun was shining brilliantly, and this time they could not miss Sharp and his red -- not green -- boots.

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