“To my right was the most amazing sunrise and to my left at eye level were stars, a sea of stars floating in the inky blackness pure, pristine night.” I was thrilled to read these lines from Sean’s book. He was near the south summit his way up to the summit, Mt.Everest. Until then I was wondering why some people want to summit mountains risking their life? When I read these lines I told myself, it is worth risking life to see such a magnificent scene. I have a special affection for Everest, I don’t know why. After reading Sean’s book for three times, watching a few television shows about Everest and reading about a disaster took place at Everest in 1996, I feel and I see it as an embodiment of life. Harsh, full of challenges but yet beautiful.
As everyone knows Mount Everest also known as Sagarmatha in Nepal is the highest mountain in the world. Andrew Waugh, the British surveyor-general of India named the mountain after his predecessor Sir George Everest. Mt.Everest has two main routes, the south-east ridge from Nepal and north ridge from Tibet. The south-east route is frequently used and this was the route used by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary. It is said while flying to Kathmandu one can see the mountain at eye level. Isn’t that amazing?!!
Climbers spend a couple of weeks at the base camp acclimatizing to the altitude. While some Sherpas set up ropes and ladders in Khumbu icefall. The ascent starts from the base camp to camp 1, passing Khumbu icefall most dangerous section of the route. Camp 1 to camp 2 and then camp 3 from there camp 4 on the south col. On the south, col climbers enter death zone (altitudes higher than 8,000 metres) climbers only have a maximum of two- three days can endure at this altitude. Every minute at that altitude mind and body deteriorates. Brain cells start dying. Blood grows dangerously thick and sludges-like. Even at rest, heart beats at a furious rate. After camp, 4 climbers reach Balcony, a small platform where they can rest. Continuing up the ascent they reach south summit, then Hillary step and finally ‘The summit’.
Mount Everest imposes a great many challenge like avalanches, storms, weather, low oxygen (only 33% of that at sea level is available), very low temperature (in minus degrees) and on top of all altitude illness. HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) extravascular fluids accumulate in the lungs and HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema) occurs when fluid leaks from oxygen-starved cerebral blood vessels, causing severe swelling of the brain, the next step is the coma. The cure for both is an immediate decrease in altitude. Few years before some have argued that climbers shouldn’t use bottled oxygen as it would be unsporting. To prove it Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler climbed Everest without supplemental oxygen. That was a great achievement!! But it is said without supplemental oxygen body would be more vulnerable to HACE and HAPE. Messner in his book stated that at the final meters to the top he felt utterly lifeless. No despair, no happiness, no anxiety. He had lost the mastery of his feelings, there were actually no more feelings.
Instead of plenty of challenges Mt.Everest attracts so many climbers like a magnet but everyone will not be fortunate enough to summit it. In march 1934 an Englishman Maurice Wilson decided to climb Everest from the north ridge route, Tibet. But he was denied the permission to enter Tibet. Wilson was adamant he disguised himself as a Buddhist monk and entered Tibet and began his ascent. He reached Rongbuk Glacier by then he was exhausted and he frequently lost his way, frustrated but didn’t give up. One year later when another climber came to summit from the north ridge route, at north col he came across Wilson’s frozen body!!!
It would be unfair to talk about Everest without mentioning Sherpas. They are very stronger than others at altitudes. They are hired by expedition leaders, they help in cooking, carrying oxygen canisters, tenting, setting up ropes and ladders etc. They call Everest as Sagarmatha and worship her. Whenever anything bad happens they say something immoral had occurred or someone has angered Sagarmatha. To appease Sagarmatha every year, Sherpas build more than a dozen beautiful meticulously constructed stone chortens at Base Camp. Sherpa men are extremely reluctant to admit physical infirmities. Sherpas aren’t supposed to get altitude illness, especially those from Rolwaling, a region famous for its powerful climbers. Those who do become sick and openly acknowledge it will often be blacklisted from future employment on an expedition.
I had been reading Jon Krakauer’s book “Into thin air” about 1996 disaster where he was also a member of the expedition. 1996 may 10-11 eight people caught in a storm and died. Rob Hall was the expedition leader and Jon was in his team. My eyes welled up when I read how Rob Hall died. Rob was helping his client Doug Hansen who was exhausted, to reach the summit. While descending, they caught up in the storm and Doug Hansen fails to pull through since his oxygen ran out and he was already weary and ill. Rob hall spends almost 24 hours in the storm without oxygen, without shelter and unable to walk. Since the storm was very fierce even the rescue team couldn’t reach him. He was caught in the storm on may 10th and on may 11th Rob’s wife was patched through a satellite phone to Rob and he says “ I love you. Sleep well, my sweetheart. Please don’t worry too much.” Those were the last few words heard from him. 12days later another climber on his way up to the summit found Rob Halls body half buried in heaps of snow.!!!
Rob Hall always cared and loved Sherpas in his team. When Rob stopped answering the radio calls and declared to be dead Ang Dorje, a Sherpa of Rob’s team sobs inconsolably standing alone in appalling wind!!! He blames himself that he couldn’t save Rob.
On the other hand, Stuart Hutchinson a climber from another team goes in search of some other climber in that storm somehow. Near the south col, he finds two bodies both were partially buried. He recognizes them as Yasuko Namba and Beck weathers. They were so close to death. Hutchinson and other sherpas presumed that even if they try their level best those two people not even reach camp4. So Hutchinson along with sherpas returned reluctantly. A couple of hours later Beck gets his consciousness and somehow finds a way to camp 4. By then he had severe frostbites and critically ill. No one believed that he could survive. When storm diminished he was brought to Western cwm and with the help of helicopter he was rushed to hospital in Kathmandu. Following his evacuation, his right arm amputated halfway below the elbow. All four fingers and the thumb on his left hand were removed. His nose was amputated and reconstructed with tissue from his ear and forehead. Even after everything he went through, he blame no one and still feels hopeful towards life!!!!
Another climber Neal Beidleman says it was hard to get over from that disaster. He couldn’t forget some yelling “don’t let me die here”. He had tried to save Yasuko Namba but failed. He says, “I can still feel her fingers sliding across my biceps.”
Everest is unpredictable. Sometimes it embraces with all the love and bestows the happiness for lifetime letting climber stand on top of the world. Sometimes gives scars for the lifetime. Like I said earlier, I see it as an embodiment of life harsh, full of challenges but yet beautiful!!