ExplorersWeb Week in Review - Special edition

Posted: May 30, 2006 01:09 am EDT

This Memorial weekend, ExplorersWeb's week-in-review compiles only the two stories of David Sharp and Lincoln Hall, and ends with an account of climbers confirmed lost on Mount Everest in 2006.

"Teams are reporting on climbers perishing almost on a daily basis now," reported ExWeb in the Everest wrap-up kicking off last week. And then we added, "More fatalities have been mentioned, without details. Apparently, climbers on the mountain say they don't want to upset the families."

But already later that same day, expedition leader Alex Abramov at least showed how it should be done: After notifying the family, Alex issued an official report detailing that Igor Plyushkin had died after a struggle for his life that lasted for an hour and a half. "Igor was buried in place on the mountain. His remains were photographed, and the body was wrapped in a sleeping bag and covered with rocks at 7800 meters. Igor Plyushkin, 54, was a skilled mountaineer and a Snow Leopard (he had climbed all 7000meters summits of the former USSR)," ended the press release.

The next day, May 23, the news came, Everest fatality silence mystery solved: British David Sharp left to die by 40 climbers. "For years, ExplorersWeb have been fighting the silence surrounding some deaths in the mountains. Each time, we have been told that the secrecy is only a concern for the victims' families and we have no respect. Time after time, it has turned out that the hush has served much less noble agendas: To cover up foul play in mountains without law," ExplorersWeb wrote in an editorial when it became known that British David Sharp was left to die by 40 climbers on summit push.

About David and Vitor. David vanished on his summit bid May 15, and the only reason the world knew was thanks to a blog entry by his team mate Vitor Negrete. Vitor dispatched that David had died, and reported 3 more climbers missing on the mountain. He was distraught by the situation, including the fact that his high camp had been robbed. All these events have affected me deeply I even considered calling the attempt off, he said. The next day, May 18, Vitor was dead, on descent after a summit without oxygen. A Sherpa went up for Vitor and brought him down, but Vitor succumbed to altitude in high camp that night.

In fact already last year, young Polish climber Marcin Miotk found several of his camps emptied in his lone climb of the mountain late in the season. Like the Brazilians, the unguided climber ascended without supplementary oxygen and his life was jeopardized by the thefts. Marcin summited and survived against the odds, but made a call at ExplorersWeb: "I got my summit and I will probably not visit Everest North Side again. But I care for other climbers' lives. So I wonder what we can do together - to change this?"

What can we do? Just what Marcin did. Death is a fact, but silence is the cancer. We must all speak up, ask questions and raise hell, wrote ExplorersWeb.

Almost a byline in an interview about double amputee Mark Inglis Everest climb, 8 days after David's death, it was revealed that David Sharp, 34, had been still alive in the rock cave at 8400 meters, only 100 meters of altitude from camp 3. Mark Inglis, told the news source: "He was in a very poor condition, near death. We talked about [what to do for him] for quite a lot at the time and it was a very hard decision. About 40 people passed him that day, and no one else helped him apart from our expedition. Our Sherpas (guides) gave him oxygen. He wasn't a member of our expedition; he was a member of another, far less professional one."

That same day, New Kerala received an official report from Beijing: The secretary General of the CTMA, Zhang Mingxing told Chinese news agency Xinhua that three mountaineers from Russia, France and Brazil had died on the north side of Mt. Everest: Plyushkin Igor, Vitor Negrete, and an "unidentified French climber".

Chinese Everest official reaches new rock-bottom level - forgets 3 deaths "2 years left to the Olympic Games and a potential passing of the Olympic torch over the summit of Everest, and the China Tibet Mountaineering Association is embarrassingly out of control (read interest) at Mount Everest," wrote ExplorersWeb in an editorial that night. The secretary General of the CTMA, Zhang Mingxing 'forgot' to mention three other confirmed fatal accidents at Everest North side: Swede Tomas Olsson, Briton David Sharp and a 'name-less' Sherpa. "Even though Nepal is in the midst of civil war, the office of tourism still manages to publish daily press-releases on summits and fatalities on its website, and helicopters regularly leave Kathmandu for rescues in Everest Base Camp," we wrote.

The ignorance of Chinese authorities for anything but to charge permit fees has led to an over-crowded, lawless and dangerous situation on Everest North side, adding to the risk of the climb itself, wrote ExplorersWeb, adding: "Commercial budget expeditions are signing up clients by the dozen and BC has a bar and a mobile brothel. Individual climbers are robbed in high camps, which this year has contributed to at least one climber's death," we wrote and compiled a list of all confirmed deaths on Everest in spring 2006.

Everest fatality: Hillary - "We would never just leave him to die" The New Zealand Press Association reported that Edmund Hillary questioned the actions of Mark Inglis and others on the night David died. "In our expedition there was never any likelihood whatsoever if one member of the party was incapacitated that we would just leave him to die,'' Hillary, told the Otago Daily Times.

Hillary said people have completely lost sight of what's important and that the difficulties posed by operating at high altitude are no excuse. "I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mt Everest has become rather horrifying...people just want to get to the top, they don't give a damn for anybody else who may be in distress and it doesn't impress me at all that they leave someone lying under a rock to die."

Mark Inglis told television New Zealand that his group passed David on their summit push. "And it was like, what do we do? You know, we couldn't do anything. That's, he had no oxygen, he had no proper gloves, things like that. I believe I've copped a wee bit of" Television New Zealand reporter: "Well, yes. Someone has suggested that maybe you should have stopped the ascent and rescued this man."

Mark: "Absolutely. Yep. It's a very fair point. Trouble is at 8,500 meters it's extremely difficult to keep yourself alive, let alone keeping anyone else alive. On that morning over 40 people went past this young Briton. I was one of the first, radioed, and Russ said, look mate, you can't do anything. You know, he's been there X number of hours, been there without oxygen, you know, he's effectively dead."

People and climbers rallied to defense, pointing to the fact that climbing on altitude is exhausting. A poll run on The Press website showed 60 per cent of nearly 200 respondents thought Inglis should have stopped to help. That means that 40 per cent think he should have not.

Except...it was on their way up "An important thing to realize in light of all the comments," wrote ExplorersWeb, "is perhaps the fact that the climbers passed David Sharp on their way up. It was not a question of their lives against David's - but his life against their summit.

Not the first time ExplorersWeb compiled other examples: In 1996, when a number of climbers were missing, some climbers didn't even want to leave their tents in camp 4 to do a headcount. Their reason; they didn't want to jeopardize their summit push.

Two years back, a guide phoned from Everest BC to a daughter announcing that her father was dead. The guide offered to send some summit pictures. 2 days earlier, from C4, he had already phoned his webmaster - asking him to update the website with the good news of his own summit.

In 2004, 6 people died on the North side with a total 7 fatalities on Everest that year. Novice climber Andre Bredenkamp told a South African news source, about the night of Andre's ascent, when three Koreans died: "One of them, fell and broke his leg. No one was able to move him or do anything. We covered him up with snow and he just went to sleep." Park Moo-Taek had climbed 7, 8000ers.

There were no official reports regarding these deaths, and no questions asked.

May 24, ExWeb interview: Juan Oiarzabal, "They are not climbers" But people kept stressing that Everest is different. So ExplorersWeb called one who should know: Juan Juanito Oiarzabal, who have summitted 8000ers more times than anyone else in the world (21). He told ExWeb about the latest news from Everest. That mountain turned into a circus years ago, and it's getting worse I dont have the slightest interest in going back there, ever. Moreover, I actually try to avoid reading on whats going on there I simply dont care anymore. And about David Sharp, Its a classic - someone is in trouble, and people pass by, not even taking a quick look at him, Juan told ExplorersWeb. In my opinion, solidarity doesnt exist on Everest. And the reason is, that most of the climbers attempting that mountain are not experienced Himalaya mountaineers," he said. "I wouldnt even consider many of them climbers.

Jamie McGuiness about David Sharp: "Crying, Dawa had to leave him" An email arrived from one commercial expedition leader. Turned out, David was helped by at least one climber: A Sherpa. Jamie McGuiness reported, "Dawa from Arun Treks also gave oxygen to David and tried to help him move, repeatedly, for perhaps an hour. But he could not get David to stand alone or even stand resting on his shoulders, and crying, Dawa had to leave him too. Even with two Sherpas it was not going to be possible to get David down the tricky sections below. Dawa, who did not summit because of giving his oxygen to David, told this to me less than 24 hours later when I met him on the fixed ropes. He was close to tears even then."

"Had it not been for Jamie..." In fact, Jamie sent over his report returning from a rescue himself - Everest climber Anne Parmenter dispatched: Our sister expedition 'The Peace Project,' summited on the 18th but have had an almost 36 hour rescue effort for one of the members. With the support of 10 of our Sherpa's and at least 8 Sherpas from the Peace Project, the member was carried in a litter all the way from the North Col. If it hadn't have been for the efforts of Jamie McGuinness and two Sherpas who managed to walk the member all the way from the summit of Mount Everest, this person would not have survived.

May 25, Thomas Weber and Lincoln Hall lost Now another press release from Alexander Abramov arrived, confirming that 2 more climbers had been lost on Mount Everest. The detailed log showed a horrible tragedy. Lincoln Hall and Thomas Weber died within hours of each other, and were left at the same spot - the second step on Everest north ridge. And there was more, "Conclusions: In the season of 2006, a record amount of climbers have died on Everest. Under our information - 15 people have been lost," reported Alex, busting even ExplorersWeb's own count of ten at the time.

According to APP, Mark Inglis now wanted to talk in private to Sir Edmund Hillary. Mark said he was disappointed by the debate that had been raging since it was revealed his party walked past David Sharp, who later died. Inglis blamed altitude, and said that people were judging without facts. "I would like to speak to Sir Ed personally, because I think that is better than it being played out in the public forum," he said in the APP report.

More details But it was too late, additional reports showed that David had been speaking, and alive also when the climbers returned from their summits.

Tales from the grave: Rescues at Altitude There are many examples of high altitude rescues," we wrote, "although far from all end up well. It's not a matter of succeeding but of trying." We published examples of high altitude rescues, including those from Aussie climber and polar skier Damien Gildea about the legendary Rob Hall and Gary Ball, almost speaking from their grave.

"Everest and Himalaya are tough places and people die there, but this season the biggest debate was not about that. This year, Everest displayed a weakness much more dangerous than death to human kind: Lack of compassion, selfish ambition, and silence," wrote ExplorersWeb, unknowing that just as we published the story, Lincoln Hall was waking up from the dead.

Breaking News - Lincoln Hall still alive, after 1 night out Only 9 hours after our story, at 02:28 am EST May 26, 2006 the news arrived. Lincoln Hall was found still alive by climbers on summit push, and this time the entire mountain joined in an effort to take him down. One day later Lincoln Hall walked into Everest Base Camp, and called his wife.

Aussie climber reported lost on Manaslu But it wasn't over yet for Australia. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) confirmed to Australian media that an Australian woman died on Manaslu. Media pointed to Australian Sue Fear, 43, who shared permit with a Japanese expedition. Only one day after Lincoln Hall, a close friend of Sue, walked into Advanced Base Camp on Everest North side, after being declared dead and spending 12 hours alone in the deathzone on Everest north ridge, Sue was climbing the normal route on Manaslu. According to media reports, Sue and her climbing partners were descending when they fell into a crevasse. The other climber survived and climbed down, while Sue remained in the crevasse. Information was unconfirmed by the expedition leader, and the wording should have been missing, as a rescue attempt seems to be going on. But this time at least, people asked.

Today, May 29, the north side has claimed 7 climbers, and the south side 3 plus one on the Lhotse face (shared route with Everest). Climbers on the mountain however mention 4 more fatalities on Everest North side this season, all unaccounted for.

Here is a record of the fatalities confirmed so far this season:

May 25, Becoming completely blind on ascent, at 8800 meters, only 50 meters below the summit, Thomas Weber was turned back at 9.15 am by Harry and two Sherpas. 3 hours later, at 12:20 pm, Thomas had a collapse on the Second step (8700 m). He said, "I am dying" and lost consciousness. At 12:40 pm death was verified. Alexander Abramov provided a report the same day.

May 22, Russian Snow Leopard Igor Plyushkin, 54, complained that he didn't feel well at 7800 meters. Guides administered supplementary oxygen and adrenaline shots in a struggle for his life that lasted 1,5 hours. Igor died at 1.45 pm local time due to AMS. Expedition leader Alexander Abramov released the details the same day.

Around the weekend of May 20/21, French climber Jacques-Hugues Letrange died on descent from the summit. The French mountaineer had climbed Everest from its North side with his wife Caroline. No details have been released.

May 18, Brazilian climber Vitor Negrete perished on descent after a no 02 summit. Vitor climbed alone but managed to call his Sherpa who went up and helped him to camp 3, where Vitor later died of altitude. Brazil media found and released the details the next day.

Vitor died only 3 days after learning that his team mate British David Sharp had vanished on his summit bid, on May 15. According to an interview with Washington Times, Double amputee Mark Inglis said that David Sharp, 34, was still alive at 28,000 feet, but was left to die at around 8000 meters by about 40 people who passed him that day. Both climbers were outfitted by Asian trekking, and climbing the north side. British and US media were first to find and release details on David Sharp's death, on May 23 - 8 days after his death.

May 16, Swedish Tomas Olsson died on Everest North face in an attempt to ski down the Norton couloir with team mate Tormod Granheim. Tomas' snow anchor broke loose at a rock outcrop section and he fell from 8500 meters. Tormod free climbed down after his mate but found only gear scattered around. Details were published by the home team within 24 hours and a search party was dispatched the next day. Tomas body was discovered by a Sherpa at 6700 meters. Both climbers were unguided, sharing permit with an international group organized by Arun Treks & Expeditions.

April 21, three Sherpas died in the Everest south side icefall, in a massive serac collapse: Ang Phinjo Sherpa was hired by IMG, Lhakpa Tseri and Dawa Temba were employed by Asian Trekking on an expedition listed as led by Douglas Tumminello & Apa Sherpa (Team No Limit) climbing the south side. Details were released by IMG the same morning.

April 4, 2006 at 11:40 PM, Tuk Bahadur Thapa Masar, age 32, died from complications due to HAPE or high altitude pulmonary edema. Tuk Bahadur was from the Solo Khumbu region of Nepal and was on his first expedition. After his second ascent to the North Col, Tuk Bahadur felt ill and the decision was made for him to make a rapid decent back to BC at 17,500 ft. Once at BC his condition improved however he suddenly was afflicted by acute HAPE and died. ExplorersWeb learned the details May 29.

May 5, Czech climber Pavel Kalny fell to his death on the Lhotse wall (shared route with Everest south side). Pavel Kalny was on his first 8000er, climbing with seasoned Czech climber Martin Minarik at the time of the fall. Polish media reported that Martin left Pavel after he fell, agreeing with him he should go ahead and make tea in camp. Pavel was found by a team of Sherpas and a Chilean doctor still alive on the wall the next day, but died hours later. When ExplorersWeb published the story, Martin asked for a retraction offering to compile a first hand report within days. No such has been provided yet.

In terms of fatalities, the 2006 Everest season is now second only to the 1996 spring season which claimed 12 lives.



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At today's date, the north side has claimed 7 climbers, and the south side 3 plus one on the Lhotse face. Climbers on the mountain however report 4 more fatalities on Everest North side this season, all unaccounted for. Image of Buddhist candles in Kathmandu, ExplorersWeb files.


The story was poignant as it followed shortly after another set of events, where a large party of climbers on summit push left another mountaineer to die.
Image by Photo SeracFilms/Graphics by ExplorersWeb courtesy Explorersweb, SOURCE

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