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  Mt Everest 2006: Sometimes, who lives and who dies depends on who cares


By Doug Fletcher, Sun Journal News Staff
Sunday, June 25,2006

If only David Sharp had ascended Mount Everest 10 days later, when Dan Mazur would have passed by, he might have lived.

Instead, early on the morning of May 15, Sharp crawled into a rocky cave next to the body of an Indian climber who had perished years earlier. In the cave, Sharp slowly froze to death.

While the blood in his arms and legs was turning to ice, 40 to 42 people passed the Briton that morning. All were on their way to the summit of the world's highest mountain.

Some looked the other way. A few paused, one long enough to hear him say, "My name is David Sharp, and I am with Asian Trekking."

Another climber, a double amputee from New Zealand named Mark Inglis, said his team stopped and radioed down the mountain to Sharp's expedition. Inglis says the team was told that nothing could be done, that Sharp was beyond saving.

"I knew David Sharp. We spent a lot of time hanging out with the guy," said Bill Yeo of Durham. Yeo and John Bagnulo of Freeman Township climbed Everest on May 10, with Bagnulo summiting on May 11.

"He was a great guy," added Bagnulo.

"It was sad when we learned it was him," said Yeo.
 

The Maine climbers were on their way back from Tibet to Katmandu in Nepal when Sharp died, but they didn't hear until their return to the U.S.

Yeo, who called off his summit bid less than 2,000 vertical feet shy of Everest's 29,035-foot-high peak because of a health concern, said he was stunned when he learned so many climbers had walked by his friend without helping.

He would have aborted his summit attempt, he said, rather than let someone die that way.

Bagnulo, too, said that if he encountered a climber in distress, he'd halt a summit bid to help.

That none of the May 15 climbers stopped doesn't surprise Dave Watson, though. Watson, a Vermonter, joined Bagnulo as the first Westerners on Everest's summit this season. He lingered at Tibet's base camp longer than the Mainers, though, long enough to learn of Sharp's death.

Initially, said Watson in an interview, there was little buzz about the death at the Everest camps.

"We all know the risk," he said. "People die on Everest every year."

Later, when the media picked up on comments by Inglis, no less an Everest authority than Sir Edmund Hillary - the first to climb the mountain - ripped those who hadn't helped Sharp.

"It's despicable," reports had Hillary saying.

"It's totally unforgivable," agreed Ed Webster of Topsham.

Webster attempted Everest three times in the 1980s, pioneering a route that today bears his name on the Webster Wall. He also knows how dangerous the mountain can be: Frostbite on one climb cost him eight fingertips and three toes. But he also led his team safely up and safely down.

Webster says the commercialization of Everest is largely to blame for an erosion of mountaineering ethics. When people pay anywhere from $20,000 to $65,000 to be part of an expedition, they often believe they've bought the summit.

"They're not climbers," said Bagnulo of such clients. He knows. He's had firsthand experience about competition between expeditions to put clients on the summit.

The day after he peaked, a trip leader congratulated him at Advance Base Camp, handing Bagnulo a cup of tea. However, the leader also lamented that now the pressure was on to put customers on Everest.

Webster, like Hillary, said mountaineering has always consisted of a "brotherhood of the rope." That brotherhood, he adds, would see climbers go out of their way to help other climbers, and scuttle summit attempts to mount rescues. It's because of that tradition that Sharp's death - and the lack of help from other climbers - has become so controversial.

Rescuing Sharp would have been next to impossible for a climber who had already summited, said Bagnulo; they'd be too exhausted and too low on oxygen by the time they reached him on their return.


But Watson said Sharp might have been saved by others. Fresh climbers who had left North Face Camp Three only two hours earlier for the summit could have helped, but didn't, he noted.

Sharp wasn't the first Everest climber left by others. In the 1990s, Bagnulo said, three Japanese mountaineers ignored pleas for help by two Indian climbers because the Japanese wanted to summit. The Indians died.

Like Lazarus
 

Ten days after Sharp died, an expedition leader called Lincoln Hall's wife in Australia to tell her that her husband, a veteran mountaineer, had died a night earlier on Everest.

Hall had summited, accompanied by two Sherpas, but on his descent fell victim to a form of altitude sickness, becoming disoriented and belligerent. His Sherpas tried to get him to continue down, until one of them suffered from snow blindness and both began running low on oxygen. When they radioed the expedition leader, they were told to save themselves and abandon Hall, according to reports.

Twelve hours later, a three-man team led by Dan Mazur was making its way toward the summit. At a landmark between the First and Second Steps called Mushroom Rock, the trio and their Sherpa were flabbergasted when they spotted Hall.

"I imagine you're surprised to see me here," Hall told Mazur and his team.

The Australian was sitting cross-legged about two feet away from an 8,000-foot drop-off. His down suit was unzipped to the waist. His arms were out of the sleeves. He was hatless. He was without gloves, sunglasses, oxygen mask, food and water.

He had spent the night at an altitude of 28,000 feet in freezing temperatures and was severely frostbitten.

But he was clearly alive.

Mazur didn't hesitate to offer help. Soon, he and his two companions - Myles Osborne of Cambridge, Mass., and Andrew Brash of Calgary, Alberta, Canada - had Hall dressed and were giving him oxygen and hot tea.

And they got on their radio, telling Mazur's SummitClimb expedition to raise Hall's Seven Summits team for assistance.

There was no hesitation, but Mazur noted there was a price.

"They were so disappointed," he said of Brash and Osborne at the thought of giving up their summit attempt.

"I was disappointed ... I didn't do my job" of getting them to the summit.

Both Yeo and Bagnulo got to know Mazur, Brash and Osborne well over the three months at Everest. In fact, the Maine men climbed under Mazur's permit. Yeo acknowledged that "Andy (Brash), in particular, really wanted to summit."

Webster said he sent Brash, whom he also knew from previous expeditions, an e-mail congratulating him on his part in Hall's rescue.

"Thanks for saving the life of one of my heroes," Webster wrote.

Webster met Hall in the '80s when both men were climbing Everest. He said Hall had shown great courage in getting teammates out of harm's way when a storm came up.

Osborne wrote up SummitClimb's report on the Hall rescue. "Coming back down the ridge," he noted, "to be honest, feelings were of nothing but disappointment at not making the summit; Everest is a peculiar mountain in that the summit is so highly prized and sought-after that nothing else seems important."

Later, though, "I could not help but wonder how in any way is a summit more important than saving a life?"

Brash, writing an account of the rescue for the Calgary Sun, said that while disappointment over a missed summit bid was expected, "I've had time to reflect on what happened up there, and I feel like we reached the best conclusion ... Knowing we had helped to save Lincoln's life, and having Lincoln give his sincere thanks was all I needed to feel everything was OK."

Mazur, meanwhile, is being heralded by some as a hero, by others as a true mountaineer. The praise is being heaped on, particularly in light of how Sharp died.

And Webster says Mazur shouldn't worry about losing clients. "He's proven himself a humanitarian. Anyone who values their life, or the life of others, should want to climb with him."

Mazur himself downplays the rescue.

"I just did what I thought was the right thing to do. It's the way I was raised. You help people when they need help. I used to be a Boy Scout," he said.

"That's typical of Mazur," said Bagnulo. "He's a very humble guy."

He's clearly part of Webster's "brotherhood of the rope."

And, says Mazur, he'll return to Mount Everest and continue to lead climbers to its summit.

"It's what I do," he said.

Footnote: At least one climber who passed Sharp on May 15 regrets doing so. T. Ravichandran, a Malaysian who claims he soloed Everest (by him definition of solo) that day, told the newspaper Berita Wilayah, "I have been going through some sleepless nights thinking ... I should have taken the other decision to help ... I still feel some guilt for not having done so."

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