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  George Dijmarescu Everest 2007 The Story : Part 4


We were half way down the snow pyramid when we encountered Pasang Kidar and his Japanese client Ishi part of a rather long line of climbers and Sherpa. The terrain was steep and they were moving slowly and carefully. Behind Pasang Kidar was Nima with Funashi, the 68-year-old Japanese climber.

I was very surprised and delighted to see that she had made it to this altitude.

We stopped for a short chat.

“You are an incredible guide, man,” I spoke thru the mask. I shook Pasang’s hand and patted Funashi left shoulder.

“I will buy you a beer at “Rum Duddle,” I encouraged her up.

She looked at me and said nothing. She looked relaxed and I surmised it was because she had sensed her proximity to the top.

Her distance was less than forty-five minutes from the summit for an average climber, but her progress was slowing. I could see the joy in Pasang’s face with his warm and welcoming smile when he removed his mask to speak.

I remembered when he told me that every year he had the difficult task to look after elderly Japanese climbers and could not always summit.

“Many times I have to come back from just above the second step,” he remarked.

Sherpa’s like to get a summit under their belt just like all climbers as it is an event of pride, but it also provides extra assurance that they will have more chance of being employed the following season.

“Members safety has to be the priority for me. I must make sure my father’s business is not suffering any embarrassment,” he remarked, referring to the possibility of losing a member by negligence on the part of the guide.

I later sat down with Pasang and Dawa Nuru for many hours in an effort to learn what had happened on this particular summit day and in an effort to shine light onto the Sherpa and Japanese climber relationship. We continued our discussion in Kathmandu in a more relaxed setting.

The Japanese method of climbing at high altitude is little seldom disclosed to the Western world. The Japanese mountaineering structure and loyalty to clubs is very different from everywhere else. Very few Japanese climbers will send reports to Western media and the Japanese language report are almost never translated except in cases where new routes are discovered.

But this following description is not about new routes in the Himalayas; it is a story of triumph and sadly of tragedy. It is a story like many others passed down through history without any notice: the Sherpa climbers attempting to save a client from a certain death while risking their own life in the process.

I’ve witnessed many of these stories unfold in my ten years on Everest and I try to get Sherpa to talk about their stories. Unfortunately I usually do not succeed in convincing many of the Sherpa to go public with a story.

In this case, Pasang was also reluctant to speak about his experience as he had concerns that publishing his story would antagonize the Japanese families. I agreed with him that he had a legitimate concern, but in the end I convinced him that there was a lot to learn from this particular story and it might save lives in the future.

By conveying this story I am not attempting to dissect the Japanese culture or to make a reader fully understand Japanese climbers. It is a frank report of what transpired on this particular climb and it comes from the memories of Sherpa directly involved with the climb.

This is how Pasang, Dawa Nuru, Nima Nuru remember it:

We started for the summit toward North Col with all three Japanese members on the morning of May 12 at 9:30 AM and arrived at camp one with Ishi, Funashi and the leader Okura at between 3:30-4:00 PM.

Dawa Nuru, and Nima Nuru were there and all the tents were set up and ready for the members.

According to their demands we gave them the Japanese rice and hot water for the dinner.

All three members shared the same large tent and we three Sherpa shared one of our own.

After dinner everybody went to their sleeping bags. No problem or discomfort was reported as all members reported that they were in great shape with only the normal fatigue from the ABC to North Col.

The next day we had an early breakfast and all Japanese members were on the move at 8AM with oxygen from that point on. Dawa Nuru, and Nima Nuru went ahead to erect the tents at Camp Two and passed the members at about 7300 meters.

I, Pasang, arrived at Camp Two with all three members at 2:30 PM (All given times are Nepali time)

Pasang and the three Japanese members had an evening briefing. Dinner was eaten and all reported that they were in good condition.

Dawa Nuru and Nima Nuru were sent at 2AM to Camp Three to make an extra load deposit. They returned at 7AM to Camp Two.

Wake up call came at 6:30AM, but perhaps the members were up already. Dry breakfast was the choice along with hot water. Tea was also served first. Ishi was always the one cracking jokes and Camp Two was no exception.

All three were helped with crampons and were given new bottles of oxygen.

At 8:30AM all three Japanese members were outside the tent and Pasang started climbing with the three members. Dawa and Nima started to load their backpacks with mattresses, sleeping bags, gas, food, burners, and all that was necessary for the summit push and the camp above.

The three Japanese members didn’t carry anything other than their own drinks and cameras. The Sherpa started few minutes later but caught up with the group at 7900 meters. They passed on their own speed in order to get ahead for opening the tents at 8300 meters.

Note: The tents at Camp Two and Three aren’t normally open until the day for occupancy due to the risk of loosing the tents due the high winds. 

The rock formations just above 7900 meters were passed without any problem or delay.

Okura, Ishi, and Funashi arrived at 8300 meters in that order at 4:20 PM.

It was clear all members were tired, although none complained. The long journey at high altitude drains all climbers regardless of their origin.

The camp was set, two tents were erected: one for the three members and one for us, the three Sherpa.

We took their harnesses down as well as their crampons. All three members went inside the tent almost immediately and we could hear them talking thru the oxygen masks.

The members didn’t ask for anything, but were given tea.

They drank between 1-2 cups of tea each. None went to sleep since we could still hear them talking.

Dinner consisted of dry soup and an energy jelly drink. Other snacks were available in their tent but we had no knowledge if they used any or how much.

After setting up the members, we Sherpa went to cook for ourselves.

Pasang had a discussion with Okura about departure time; the time of 9PM was not challenged by anyone.

The chatter lessened and after one hour, all was silent in the Japanese tent.

None of us Sherpa slept that evening.

Pasang went to the tent and asked the Japanese to get ready. None of them were asleep; they either woke up on their own or did not manage to fall asleep.

The Sherpa put on the new oxygen bottle for each member as well as for themselves.

Surprisingly, the three Japanese had already put on their boots.

Once again, all three Japanese members needed assistance with harness and crampons. Every member was started with a flow of 2 liter/min of oxygen and Sherpa with only ½ l/min. The oxygen flow for the members was increased at various points.

Dawa Nuru took charge of the leader Okura, Nima Nuru was Funashi’s guardian angel and I, Pasang, became Ishi’s partner and guide.

I decided on this combination based on the knowledge I had.

The six of us climbed in a line, but the larger Indian group consisting of more than 25 climbers and Sherpa got in front of us.

We all had to change the members’ safety carabineers and ascenders every time we arrived at an anchor point. This was repeated numerous times.

Once we arrived at the bottom of the wall there was no waiting and the oxygen was checked for the first time. No cold feet or fingers were reported.

At the top of the wall, the Ridge, the three Japanese members did not want to rest and the climb continued on.

Dawa Nuru was first, the leader Okura just behind, all followed by a few other unknown climbers, then Ishi and me, Pasang.

Funashi was just behind with Nima Nuru within shouting distance.

Making good progress, we arrived at the First Step and Ishi topped out before Pasang.

Dawa and Okura were still ahead and gaining more distance.

At the top of the First Step Ishi appeared a little tired, but there were no complaints to be heard.

Shortly after the top point, his left foot crampon broke. It was a Titanium toe tip that left his crampon unusable.

The Japanese Noguchi was behind and his cameraman passed.

Almost immediately, like a bad omen his headlamp batteries almost went out.

I asked Ishi who was now laying on his back what he wanted to do with a crampon broken and headlamp out?

Up, he replied.

I took a 6 mm line and started to secure his broken crampon back to his boot. I tightened it as hard as I could making sure it would not come out and put Ishi’s life in danger of falling or to being in a place where it is to difficult to repair again.

I had to do all this with speed because touching metal brings numbness to fingers very fast. Many climbers ended up in the past with frostbite and some with amputations when crampons broke. The instinct is to remove the protective mittens and gloves and gain dexterity by touching the metal directly. Unfortunately, some took too much time for the repairs and were unable to thaw their numb fingers.

Just as I was finished the repairs my headlamp went out as well.

Oh well, I said to myself, this is really something that has never happened to me before and I fear something bad will happen to us.

As Ishi was lying on his back, there was nothing said between us, Funashi came with Nima Nuru and passed us. I checked Ishi’s oxygen and his bottle was more than half full. Funashi was fitted with a new bottle of oxygen.

At the Mushroom Rock there was no rest and the climb continued on.

Ishi used only thin gloves despite being advised not to, but did not complain about cold.

By now, Dawa Nuru and Okura were climbing strong.

The traverse from Mushroom Rock to the Second Step was without any problems due to the extra snow that had accumulated.

Funashi went up the Second Step, followed by Nima Nuru who had to give her a boost at one of the ledges, then Ishi and Pasang.

Ishi had no trouble with the ledge and managed the Second Step climb on his own.

Funashi had more trouble on the ladder and had to pause and rest.

The total climb of the Second Step took about twenty minutes.

When we arrived at the top of Second Step it was starting to become daylight.

We were on the ridge again now and more light was coming as well.

We looked up and saw climbers on the Third Step as well as on the Snow Pyramid.

At this point I had to attend again to Ishi’s crampon. I had to refasten the 6 mm rope and add a new one as well. While working on his crampon, Ishi drank one of his energy jelly drinks but did not use any water or liquid after it. He had tea in his backpack but declined any.

The Third Step was overcome with no difficulties. At the bottom of the Snow Pyramid we rested on a rock ledge and made our way to the many Indian climbers who were coming down in scores. The Slovenian body was clearly visible but I didn’t direct any attention to it. We encountered many climbers from Cosmo Trek.

At 8:20 I arrived at the summit with Ishi, but his teammate Funashi was falling behind with Nima Nuru. After the top of the Pyramid we had to turn to the left and we lost sight of them.

Ishi and I shook hands; he was clearly a happy man.

Please take pictures, he asked, handing over to me his one-time use camera. I took pictures of him with his camera as well as five shots with my own.

Ishi asked me to take pictures of the Nepalese side and I obeyed.

After reaching the summit, Ishi was sitting all the time on oxygen.

Shortly after, Noguchi and his Sherpa arrived at the summit.

We spent between 10-12 min at the top, then I said: Let’s get down.

As we started to go down I met one man from the Cosmo Trek group who was going up.

At the bottom of the so-called false summit, just at the saddle, I met Funashi and Nima Nuru. He reported her as being extremely slow. I asked how long he was thinking she will need to reach the summit and the answer shocked me.

Between one hour and one and a half hour, he said.

This was a ten-minute finale for an average climber, but Nima reported that her legs were giving at the ankles. Her joints were buckling in a dangerous way.

Up, up she demanded.

Editor’s [George Dijmarescu] note: I remember a couple of years ago an almost copy-cat scenario of these circumstances involving yet another Japanese woman and the irony was that I witnessed with Lakpa the “Up” demand from that Japanese woman. It was also the same Nima Nuru who was pleading with her to get down. Unfortunately she convinced the Sherpa-sirdar in base camp to let her continue her ascent. Later this well-known Japanese brain surgeon died at the Second Step on her return from the summit.

Now Funashi was locked on with summit tunnel vision. She could still not see how close the summit was and that perhaps played a positive factor.

Now finish, please back down I pleaded with her, said Pasang.

The frail Japanese woman wanted to go up as she pointed upwards.

It took about 5-6 minutes of convincing, with Nima Nuru returning from the same more than one-hour distance to the summit.

With pressure applied from all sides she gave in and agreed to turn around.

We took our normal responsibilities, me with Ishi and Nima Nuru with Funashi.

As started down I realized that Nima’s descriptions were not an exaggeration, her ankles were buckling and she felt like she would eventually break them. The boot was perhaps what prevented her from breaking bones and tendons.

At that altitude, just fifty meters from the summit and without legs to move, she would have been in a real deep trouble and we the Sherpa would have been in a dire situation to save her. We all reached the top of Snow Pyramid, the gravitational pull was aiding our descent, the effort was less intense, but now a different set of muscles were put to work and this was not a positive thing. We slowly descended to almost the bottom of the Pyramid, just in the vicinity of the dead Slovenian climber when Ishi sat down on his right hip while leaning on the steep snowy slope.

The sun was making the Pyramid a magical and glowing place with reflective mirrors in all places.

I was just couple of yards in front of him because I wanted to be in front just in case he fell. I would be able to stop the fall on time without any serious injuries.

I turned around and asked him if he was okay.

Hi, Hi, was the reply from Ishi. This can also be understood as “yes, yes” but has many meanings in Japanese and depends on the circumstances. I understood it that he was okay.

I paused for a minute and asked again if he was okay. This time there was no reply from Ishi. I called him again with the same result. I came next to him as he was still in the same position leaning against the wall with his crampons secured to the snow under him.

I touched his shoulder and got no response, then I removed his goggles and noticed his eyes were open but rolled up so much that only the whites were visible.

I reached back to his oxygen bottle and noticed it was almost full. I checked the oxygen dial at his hose and it showed a flow of oxygen. I turned his oxygen at maximum.

Realizing there was no change in the situation, I started to massage his chest and moved his head up and down in order to make sure his airways were not obstructed. I shook him and tried to talk with him. At this time I was almost yelling at him but Ishi gave me no indication he was hearing me.

I disconnected the oxygen hose from the regulator and heard a clear hissing sound of the oxygen flow. I also removed my gloves to feel the flow of oxygen, and everything appeared to work just fine.

I took another regulator I had as a spare and fastened it to a new bottle, and then put it on his face. I waited for a response, nothing.

I started to massage his chest even more and checked for pulse at the heart and found none.

Then Pemba Dorje of Rolwaling arrived.

Ken Noguchi was just above me and he was watching the whole scenario.

There are reports in the Japanese media that he attended to Ishi or Funashi. I just want to make clear that he did not assist in any way.

As I laid Ishi on his back, he was secured by the ascender I placed on him in order to prevent his fall. The weight of Ishi’s body was too great to release the ascender and Pemba Dorje helped me cut the rope. We placed Ishi just couple of meters from the fixed line and I stay with him for about forty minutes in hopes that he might come back.

I had a feeling he would just open his eyes, but the lack of pulse brought me to the cold reality there was no chance he will survive.

It then came in mind that the broken crampon and our broken head lamps were signs of a bad luck; we should have read into it and turned around.

I sat next to Ishi in this glowing place basking in the sun and hoped for a miracle.

It didn’t come.

While I was sitting there I decided to call Dawa Nuru on the radio. He was now with the leader Okura at the Mushroom Rock point. I explained what happened and asked Dawa to come back up in order to assist with Funashi who was now moving at a ridiculous speed.

I put Okura down at the Mushroom Rock and said:

You stay here, don’t move, you will feel down, Dawa said to Okura.

The leader nodded in response.

Okura wanted to know more about Ishi situation and I explained the best I could at that time, said Pasang Kidar.

As I sat next to Ishi, I checked for a pulse from time to time.

I decided that there was no point for me to stay with him. At this point his face and chest were cold. He was still in the sun but the lack of flowing blood chilled his body to the temperature I had no doubt his heart had stop.

Ishi died just fifty meters bellow the summit.

I was convinced he had lived his dream and I wished he had lived to celebrate with us. He was now gone forever and his body would be, at least for a while, part of the mighty Everest landscape. From where his last place was, there is no doubt he would fall down the Great Couloir all the way to the glacier. There perhaps his body would find a deep crevasse and be naturally buried in the bowels of the Rongbuk glacier.

I started to walk down. I had to pay attention to my descent, but Ishi kept coming into mind. I wanted to put his legacy to rest at least until I was safe in ABC, but the bond I had with this man was to great to let go.

I soon caught up with Nima Nuru and Funashi who was now almost a zombie.

Together we aided her the best we could, but she seem unresponsive. We had to literally move her legs like a child who was learning how to walk for the first time. Funashi still had a strong will to live and that was perhaps the reason she was still standing and not on her back. She wasn’t ready to give up her life on the slopes of Mt. Everest.

She had spent all her energy to go up and had almost no reserves of energy to get down. Still very high up the ridge, we managed to get her down the Third Step. She had to be lowered down by us as there was no way she could do it on her own.

Soon after, Dawa Nuru surprised us how fast he had come up to meet us.

He brought a 9 mm line and we tied her to it and us, front and back.

Dawa Nuru is a unique climber, he had proven himself as a strong and loyal Sherpa and he wasted no effort to help save Funashi’s life.

We arrived at the top of Second Step, rigged her to a fixed line and I decided to get down first, said Pasang.

Then from the top Dawa Nuru and Nima Nuru lowered her down to us. We decided not to use the radio; instead we used a loud voice for communication and coordination. I guided her crampons on the ladder runs and at the middle point she stuck one of her crampons on my down suit. The down was blowing all over the place and I was not happy to see my expensive Rab down-suit ruined.

See what you did, I exclaimed, but there was absolutely no response from her.

She sat on her harness as she came just below the ladder.

Dawa and Nima came down very fast and set up the new anchor for the second belay.

Once again, I went first and the two Sherpa lowered her down just the same way.

At last she was below the most technical part of the descent.

It took us more than thirty minutes to lower Funashi down the Second Step

Exhausted, we all rested for few minutes, it was getting late, but this was the fastest we could safely move her.

The traverse from the Second Step had places where we had to be very careful moving her; we had to place every crampon booth for her. On oxygen, she said nothing to us.

We arrived at the Mushroom Rock and found Okura as he was left hours before.

Almost immediately, he started to ask question about Ishi and what had happened.

I once again briefed him. He then decided to call Japan.

He called the well-known Kondo and Koya Sun.

After he briefed them, he wanted me to speak with them and explain myself, but I was too tired to carry on the conversation. Besides, there was no serious reason why should I have done so at that altitude. The Funashi situation called for an immediate descent and I declined to speak with Japan.

All this time Funashi was standing and I was surprised she didn’t want to sit down. Perhaps she knew that sitting was not necessary a good thing when you are tired and at high altitude.

Between 1-2 PM we were at the top of First Step and followed the same procedure as we did at the Second Step. We managed to lower her in one belay; unlike the Second Step we had a clear view of the Step from top to bottom.

The Step procedure worked without any glitches and from the bottom we only had to get her moving. I felt for the first time that she had a much better chance to survive. She would rest sometimes ten minutes at a time on one side.

I decided to get down first and start making the precious water for Funashi and us.

Dawa and Nima were confident that they would manage to get her down by themselves.

It was not an easy task to complete. Funashi would make repeated resting stops and the two Sherpa had to constantly encourage her to move lower, one meter at a time.

At the bottom of the wall Funashi could walk no more. Her legs finally gave up and we were grateful she ran out of standing energy there and not above as the terrain was less steep. I decided to carry her on my back, said Nima Nuru Sherpa.

She did not oppose the idea and she wrapped her arms around my neck. She was responsive enough to hang in there and there was no need to set a harness for her.

We arrived just above the camp and Pasang met us with hot tea.

At the tent, she drank two cups of tea and ate some biscuits.

We took her harness and crampons off and put her inside the tent. Okura went inside as well. Both Japanese were on oxygen and finally resting after more than twenty hours of continuous climbing.

After about one hour, we gave them two full thermoses of hot water and dry food.

We also gave them two full bottles of oxygen.

At between 7:30-8:00 PM I checked once again on Funashi, said Pasang. She was sleeping and I asked for the sat phone in order to call Rolwaling Trek and report Ishi’s death, but they already knew of it. News travel fast when it comes to a tragedy.

The three of us drank tea but could not manage any food. On oxygen and very tired we felt asleep and wake up at 8AM.

Once again we made hot water and gave the two Japanese two full thermoses of hot water. A light breakfast was served and I announced that we would move down at about 9AM. There agreement on all sides that the time was reasonable; however, no matter how time conscious you are at that altitude, time stretches longer than anticipated and our actual departure was at 9:20 AM.

Funashi appeared much stronger and she was now only on the safety carabineer; however we had to change it for her at every anchor point.

When we reached the 7500-meter point Funashi showed signs of fatigue and became very slow.

I called the kitchen staff, Tshiring Sherpa and Min Bahadur, for help as we needed more manpower and I knew the two were skilful and strong enough to meet us and aid our descent.

The two met at the 7200-meter point and all of us collected the packed camps.

The two kitchen staff brought up hot tea, fried potatoes, and Tibetan bread, but the two Japanese only managed to drink tea.

We all Nepali eat a good deal of the freshly-brought food and share some with other teams’ Sherpa.

Even with the two additional helpers, I felt the need to seek more help, said Pasang.

Nima Gyldzen and Nima Sherpa came to our aid and Nima Gyalzen carried her on his back on the last leg to North Col.

Outside the tent we all sat drinking and eating.

I engaged Funashi in a conversation in order to check her mental status.

I asked her about her camera as I knew she left it in Camp Two. She told me the exact location of her possession.

I was now more confident and satisfied with her situation.

We spent about forty minutes at the North Col and Funashi drank two cups of black tea.

We departed just before darkness and it caught up with us just minutes below the top of the Col.

Although Funashi’s mind was better, her gas tank ran dry and she had no more energy to stand up, let alone walk.

I was carrying her on my back and Nima Gyalzen belayed from behind.

I recruited more Sherpa. Now present was Tamging Sherpa, Ang Dawa Sherpa, Pemba Gyalzing Sherpa, Chiring Sherpa, and the kitchen boy and Dawa Nuru who made it to ABC and back with head lamps and more tea.

All Sherpa were carrying Funashi on their backs in a rotating order.

Even the backpack with the oxygen bottle had to be carried by us walking side by side next to her. She was utterly exhausted.

The march toward the ABC was rather fast and it took about one hour. I went ahead with Okura.

Funashi arrived in ABC at 9PM and we sat her on the dining tent.

Ten minutes after the long back ride she entered the dining tent appearing nearly fine. She drank and managed to eat two large bowls of Thukpa (sherpa soup). The richer oxygen air at ABC will not only bring better feelings but also bring back a superior appetite for food.

We took her finally to her personal tent, took off her down suit, gave her a rubber bag of hot water, and zipped her inside the sleeping bag. On oxygen she fell asleep quite fast.

The next morning she arrived at the dining tent on her own with her eyes wide open and a big smile on her face.

With Everest still in sight but with no intention on putting a foot on it, Funashi was cured of the mighty mountain, at least for now.

As a Sherpa guide for these old Japanese folks, I felt I gave them the love and care I can give to anyone. I care for them as I care for myself and more. We all were in this group against a big mountain, the biggest of all, and we lost one of our friends and colleagues, but saved one that was near death. The sad loss of one member propagated to the entire team. If only Ishi listened to our advice to turn around when I felt he should have. He wanted so badly to reach the summit and only he knows if he was planning a one-way trip. He was cured of his ambitions but left sadness on our hearts.

We hope, as Sherpa with extensive experience on height altitude mountaineering, potential climbers will be more disciplined and come to Everest to have good time but not push themselves beyond their own capabilities. We know that not everybody can recognize the turning point and that’s why we are with them: to make crucial decisions for them, decisions called life and death decisions. We are good at recognizing the dangers and are employed to guard climbers or steer them clear of points of no return.

I wish I was more forceful in convincing Ishi, his life was far more important than the summit of Mt. Everest. There are no losers against Everest, those who try and fail to reach the summit are to be called brave to try. Those who make it to the top are to be called the lucky ones who got away with it.

In conclusion I will say to those who want to top Mt. Everest, it is big, it can be very difficult and it will be there far longer than you will be. If you don’t reach the summit, fine, there are other mountains to climb in life. Height is not the most important thing, think of your family and the ones you leave behind. Carry a picture of the most loved person in your life and it will remind you where you belong.

Pasang Kiddar Sherpa

The End : George Dijmarescu Everest 2007

Part one if you missed it is here...





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