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May 5, 2009 1:23 AM   Subscribe

What the final hours of a Mount Everest climb are like, as written by a Canadian medical team last year (photographs enlarge nicely if opened in a new window). The month of May is the only safe window for climbing Sagarmatha, and this week Sherpas are desperately trying to get the route prepped. Journal entries from the mountain during the past day show excited teams awaiting the big push: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. The Discovery film crew got some nice shots last week, too. The climb is not without immense danger -- about 6 die on the mountain every year, and in 2006 David Sharp died right on the trail, raising a firestorm of debate.
posted by crapmatic (56 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'll add this link too... it wraps up the latest news quite nicely.
posted by crapmatic at 1:32 AM on May 5, 2009


Oh yeah, that Discovery Channel show is a real eyeopener. First double amputee Mark Inglis loses both his legs to frostbite in a major climbing accident in NZ, then 10 years later he staggers up Mt. Everest on two stumps. Okay. So then he has another accident, has to be piggybacked down and then they SAW OFF THE REST OF HIS STUMPS for his trouble.

Mountain-climbing has nothing to do with bravery. It's a mental illness.
posted by dydecker at 1:37 AM on May 5, 2009 [12 favorites]


I shall instruct my Sherpa to click on these links for me.
posted by fleacircus at 3:10 AM on May 5, 2009 [11 favorites]


The David Sharp link tells a disturbing story.

Sharp solos the summit without a radio (not smart), and then gets hurt on the way back down. "He collapsed while still clipped in to a fixed line used by passing climbers and lay just three feet from the route." Teams of climbers pass him, "almost stepping on him." Some pause to talk to him, but only on the way down, "after they had already passed him on their way to the summit." Sharp seems to have been lying there, conscious, for more than a day. No attempt is made to save him. He died alone in the snow.

Should these other climbers have given up on the summit to try to rescue him? Well, look at it from their point of view. Sharp was (probably?) doomed, so why give up on their dream of the summit to make that futile gesture?

As Daniel Sokol of the BBC points out, there was a third option: "to stay with him until the end. If saving his life was impossible, then surely the second best option was for some of the 40 climbers to comfort him in his last moments. This would have been a compassionate solution." The climbers and guides who blew past Sharp on their way to the summit might not have been able to save Sharp, but they could at least have done more than they did to comfort him.

"No morality above 8,000 meters" is a damned lie, a way of suppressing sympathy to such a degree that mountaineers are able to literally climb over a person who is suffering and dying on their way to the top. That phrase belongs alongside "collateral damage," "just following orders," "deus lo vult," and "just doing my job."
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:05 AM on May 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


"No morality above 8,000 meters" is a damned lie, a way of suppressing sympathy to such a degree that mountaineers are able to literally climb over a person who is suffering and dying on their way to the top.

I don't know. I don't want to judge people who have been through something I have not. A while ago I read "Into Thin Air" and became obsessed with Everest for a couple of weeks, tried to track down as many books/videos I could get my hands on. What happened to Sharp doesn't seem all that out of the ordinary and, in fact, the trail one climbs to reach the summit on Everest is littered with dead bodies. I find that incredibly strange and creepy, but that's the way it is. I'm guessing that once you reach a certain elevation, your brain just mentally switches into "survive + advance" mode and if the person in front of or behind you can't help you to the top or back down, then they are worthless to you.

Yes, of course mountain climbers are a self-selecting breed, and they often make decisions that seem ruthless or cruel to us. But again, I'm not sure we can compare the moral judgments that happen at the top of Everest to anything else, it is simply just too unique an experience.
posted by billysumday at 4:16 AM on May 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Mountain-climbing has nothing to do with bravery. It's a mental illness.

I disagree with this generally, but for Everest altitudes, I almost consider it apt. You're outside of the environmental ranges in which your brain and body can operate well, you're quite likely mentally handicapped while there. Mix in the economics of making the climb and the single-mindedness that most climbers have to have to even make it that far and you have a recipe for regular disaster. Before you even consider the other hostilities of the climb.

I think this has something to do with the problematic moral judgments, like those regarding Sharp. Bad judgment is apparently pretty common up there.
posted by weston at 4:34 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mix in the economics of making the climb and the single-mindedness that most climbers have to have to even make it that far and you have a recipe for regular disaster.

I also think there is this attitude of "this is serious shit - don't fuck around with your lives, people, nobody is going to help you if you do." This is actually a good attitude to have to prevent people from acting recklessly, but in practice, it seems overly cruel and kind. For instance, a lot of people later get on the case of whichever tour operator was summiting at the time of such and such disaster. Well, why is it some random operator's responsibility, especially if the person took unnecessary risks to reach the summit at a particular time or in a particular way? For one thing, that particular tour operator and his/her sherpas and crew are legally, financially, and morally liable to the 5 or 7 or 10 hikers that have contracted their services. Stopping to help every hiker on the path would take time and attention away from their clients, who may very well need the services of the contractor/sherpas to survive their own hike. In addition, if it were protocol that the mountain would shut down and a rescue operation would commence each and every time a person was in trouble, then that would breed more risky behavior. But because the law of the land is "be safe, be responsible, communicate with others, work as a team, don't risk it," then the number of people doing what Sharp did - attempting to summit by himself, without communication - is considerably lower.

Having said that, this is one of those instances where it's certainly advantageous to punish people who take unnecessary risks, but not so extremely that you leave them on the summit to die.
posted by billysumday at 4:54 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


The moralities of it all aside, two book recommendations regarding climbing Everest are "Into Thin Air" (as noted above), and "The Kid Who Climbed Everest", by Bear Grylls (the Man Vs Wild guy).
posted by inigo2 at 5:24 AM on May 5, 2009


Worth pointing out, perhaps, that an awful lot of Everest summiters don't really like Bear Grylls, for he has at least lied about his claim of flying over Everest, and there were also mutterings that his record breaking climb (that which his book is about) didn't happen like that either.

I can only go off what's said there, but the fact his TV show not only promotes dangerous activities for survival (or otherwise) situations, but lies about the hardships he trudges through (the Hawaiian show in particular where he walks through five unconnected places, half of which are carparks) sort of help to persuade me his claims are invalid.
posted by opsin at 6:28 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, of course mountain climbers are a self-selecting breed, and they often make decisions that seem ruthless or cruel to us. But again, I'm not sure we can compare the moral judgments that happen at the top of Everest to anything else, it is simply just too unique an experience.
posted by billysumday at 7:16 AM on May


This wasn't an ordeal someone else put them through. They are going out of their way and ignoring the advice of others to have the experience. Have you ever been a MLB hitter? Then you can't judge someone for taking steroids to stay in the game, because its too unique an experience.

The notion of leaving someone injured at the top of the mountain to face certain death is disgusting. It is morally worse than leaving them injured on the sidewalk of a busy city street, but people in the article seem to be arguing the opposite. You could justifiably leave someone on a sidewalk, because it is very likely that someone else will help them or that they can get help themselves. Leaving someone injured at the side of a remote desolate mountain is morally equivalent to dumping an injured member of your party there and leaving them behind. Maybe the real challenge is not climbing the mountain but overcoming one's egocentrism and narcissism.

This is something they choose to do. "No morality above 8000 ft" is part of the attraction of climbing Everest. It's the place where they can openly be the people they have to hide down here. People who have the attitude "No morality above 8000 ft" have no morality at 6 ft. They like the idea that they can pursue their goal with ruthlessness and not have to hide that ruthlessness like they do in normal life. They like that this experience brings strength and weakness into sharp relief. Not all climbers are like this, but a lot of them are, even judging by their attitudes and behavior on the ground.

The irony is that climbing Everest is one of those things that is safer to do with 50 people working as a single team than 50 individuals or even 10 groups of 5. In a large enough group you can collect enough people with narrow but deeply specialized skills and get resource efficiencies that increase both the odds of success and the odds of survival. But there's no glory in being part of a huge group, I guess.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:47 AM on May 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


It seems to me that if anyone would understand the thinking behind stepping over a dying person to summit Everest, it would be someone who had set out to summit Everest themselves. That said, I agree with Pastabagel - you're exactly the same person at 8,000 feet as you are at sea level.

C.S. Lewis uses the analogy of a basement full of rats. If you make a lot of noise coming down the stairs, the rats will hide before you get there. Whereas if you approach stealthily, you'll be able to spot them. But the basement is full of rats either way.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:17 AM on May 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


ugh, that first paragraph was not well put...

I meant that if someone set out to climb Everest, knowing how dangerous it was, and then found themselves dying on the mountain, it would be slightly hypocritical for them to expect other climbers to abandon their own attempts to help them.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:21 AM on May 5, 2009


Pastabagel, it seems like you're making a contradictory argument here. You say, first of all, that "This is something they choose to do." That would imply that whatever outcome occurs from their risk, including death, is warranted, since this is "something they choose to do." You also rightly call out those who choose glory over safety and decide to tackle the summit by themselves. Well, that would be Sharp, the one who perished, and not the many others who were concentrating on helping those in their respective groups. So, by your own judgment, it's actually the biggest asshole on the mountain, Sharp, who finds himself in trouble. Yet it's the others on the mountain, you claim, who are truly morally bankrupt, because they chose not to help him. In the article, though, it mentions that most either did not see him as they tried to summit (it was still dark) or, when they did see him on the way down, they conversed with him and either a) assumed he was going to die, as he was in a hypothermic coma, or b) was part of another group and that that group's leader was aware of the situation.

Ultimately, you seem to be saying that mountain climbers are amoral assholes who don't care about anyone but themselves. You say that "they like the idea that they can pursue their goal with ruthlessness and not have to hide that ruthlessness like they do in normal life." If this is so, then why do you care when one of those ruthless, amoral mountain climbers, particularly one who risked so much by attempting the summit on his own, dies as a result of his own hubris? When did that ruthless, amoral asshole morph into an innocent victim demanding rescue? And how were the other climbers supposed to know he was in trouble if he did not have communication, was not part of a team, and could not relay his situation to anyone else?

It doesn't seem nearly as cut and dried as you wish to make it. You seem to have a lot of contempt for mountain climbers, but only the ones who survive.
posted by billysumday at 7:24 AM on May 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


Also, this is not the description of a selfish, ruthless, amoral sociopath: "Though Brice can be gruff, the Chamonix, France - based New Zealander commands enormous respect in the climbing community. His Sherpas and climbers break trail each spring, fix ropes on the mountain, and on numerous occasions they've come to the aid of debilitated climbers. Brice has orchestrated 15 high-altitude rescues on Everest alone."
posted by billysumday at 7:31 AM on May 5, 2009


You say, first of all, that "This is something they choose to do." That would imply that whatever outcome occurs from their risk, including death, is warranted, since this is "something they choose to do."

It is transparently obvious from context that Pastabagel is separating "situations you can't understand unless you've been in them" into ones that matter -- when a war rages through your land and in the resulting privation you do terrible things to survive, or other situations you arrive in through no fault of your own where survival demands terrible sins of omission and commission -- and ones that don't, like taking an astronomically expensive vacation.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:54 AM on May 5, 2009


Sherpas are desperately trying to get the route prepped.

This has always been the LOL part for me. As I read "Into Thin Air", I got this picture of lightly equipped Sherpas going around putting up climing ropes and chiseling steps in the ice for the coming guests. The guests finally arrive with their expensive mountaineering equipment and oxygen bottles and the Sherpas gingerly help them up the mountain to the top, where the "climbers" exult in their victory while for the Sherpas it's just another day at the office.
posted by Mental Wimp at 7:55 AM on May 5, 2009 [14 favorites]


Chomolongma can kiss my warm, hairy, low-altitude ass.
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 7:57 AM on May 5, 2009


ROU-X, it seems as though you're arguing what Pastabagel is arguing - in essence, you're saying that those who choose to put themselves in an incredibly dangerous position by paying for and participating in an "astronomically expensive vacation" deserve their fates. So you're angry at the hikers who chose not to help Sharp, but you're not angry at Sharp, who himself was a hiker and in fact took more risks than than the other hikers.

My comment about "situations you can't understand unless you've been in them" had more to do with the fact that, according to those hikers who've reached the summit and returned, one's mind/body does odd things in such an extreme state of physical and mental exhaustion. Hallucinations, distortion of time, inexplicable euphoria, etc. So I just think that, in general, a person's decision-making abilities are going to be impaired while at the top of the world's tallest mountain - and that includes moral decisions, as well.

Further, if the argument is that no, these people are thinking clearly, and all mountain climbers are clear-thinking assholes who will leave you behind to die in the wink of an eye, then any climber who embarks on an attempt to reach the summit must understand that that is the environment he/she is climbing in, and should not be surprised when nobody stops to offer help as they lay dying. Of course, we know that that is not actually the case, and many people are rescued/helped down the mountain by other climbers all the time.
posted by billysumday at 8:04 AM on May 5, 2009


I got this picture of lightly equipped Sherpas going around putting up climing ropes and chiseling steps in the ice for the coming guests. The guests finally arrive with their expensive mountaineering equipment and oxygen bottles and the Sherpas gingerly help them up the mountain to the top, where the "climbers" exult in their victory while for the Sherpas it's just another day at the office.

Yeah, that was the image I was sort of projecting in my head until I read about how many Sherpas actually die, including (I forget his name) the 22-year old super-star Sherpa who died in an avalanche the year after the 96 expedition. Pretty short life-span for a lot of those guys.
posted by billysumday at 8:16 AM on May 5, 2009



What about the families of the men who die on Everest? The wives and children, left fatherless? The mothers and fathers who lose their children? They didn't ask for the grief.
posted by Xoebe at 8:16 AM on May 5, 2009


So, by your own judgment, it's actually the biggest asshole on the mountain, Sharp, who finds himself in trouble.

First, I made it clear that I wasn't painting all climbers with the same brush. But there is some truth to your statement about Sharp, but the argument isn't contradictory. Did Sharp consider that by going it alone, if he got injured he would be putting at risk anyone who subsequently came a long and would have to help him? Or did he assume that no one would help him, or that he wouldn't get injured? He probably did not consider it at all.

The fact that they choose to place themselves into what they view as an amoral environment is not the same as choosing to die because they chose to be there. But why would anyone want to be somewhere where there (a) are other people and (b) there is no morality among them?

The distinction is that no matter how much of an asshole someone is, they don't deserve to die, even from their own stupidity or hubris. The moral obligation to help an injured climber exists independently of whatever led to that climbers injuries. And yes, subsequent climbers are supposed to help him, even at increased risk to themselves. They are supposed to put themselves at risk to help him. Their increased risk is still speculative, his injury is not.

Likewise, climbers shouldn't be so cavalier that they shift a lot of the burden of the risks they take on people who have to rescue them.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:17 AM on May 5, 2009


I have always just figured that, adjusting for poor decision making ability due to altitude and exhaustion, when you get right down to it most people are there to summit, not to come home and say "Yeah, I saved a guy's life up there".

But I wonder, later, when the rush is over and there are no mountains left to climb, if there aren't a few people who would rather be the Guy Who Saved A Guy's Life On Everest than just another rich fucker who got dragged to the top?

I summitted Camelback Mountain once
posted by padraigin at 8:33 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


you're saying that those who choose to put themselves in an incredibly dangerous position by paying for and participating in an "astronomically expensive vacation" deserve their fates

No, I'm saying that people who pay vast sums of money for a vacation and in the course of that vacation leave people to die (if he could have been saved, which isn't clear) are assholes.

So you're angry at the hikers who chose not to help Sharp, but you're not angry at Sharp, who himself was a hiker and in fact took more risks than than the other hikers.

That's a false dichotomy. It's possible for them all to be assholes, or for me to be "angry" with all of them. I mean, I'm not really angry with any of them; it's all so abstract from my perspective that the most I can muster is a vague disapproval. But I have a similar vague disapproval of the whole lot of them.

My comment about "situations you can't understand unless you've been in them" had more to do with the fact that, according to those hikers who've reached the summit and returned, one's mind/body does odd things in such an extreme state of physical and mental exhaustion.

Yeah, well, I don't really care. When you choose to make yourself incapacitated, you're responsible for your conduct while you're incapacitated.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:56 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


You want to take a risk in life? Quit your job as an investment banker and take a job working with the mentally ill. We go nowhere as a race until we stop celebrating Narcissism and start celebrating altruism.
posted by any major dude at 8:56 AM on May 5, 2009 [4 favorites]


What about the families of the men who die on Everest? The wives and children, left fatherless? The mothers and fathers who lose their children? They didn't ask for the grief.

Women die climbing too.

And that grief is between the climbers and the people they left behind.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 9:04 AM on May 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's funny that this sentence: It's possible for them all to be assholes, or for me to be "angry" with all of them.

Is immediately followed by this sentence: I mean, I'm not really angry with any of them; it's all so abstract from my perspective that the most I can muster is a vague disapproval.

All those rich asshole clients (some of whom, like Sharp and John Krakauer and numerous other interesting people, simply have a passion for mountain climbing, and are not rich Republican proctologists - one of the sad deaths during the 96 expedition was a postal worker who had saved his money for years to make a final attempt to summit) aren't really responsible nor capable of rescuing people from the top of Mt. Everest. That is the territory of the expert guides and sherpas and, as has been noted, those people actually save other climbers all of the time. And they do it for no reward except to exercise the kindness of their small, black hearts.
posted by billysumday at 9:14 AM on May 5, 2009


No, it's not funny. It's me refusing to accept the words you were trying to force into my mouth.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:50 AM on May 5, 2009


No, it's still pretty funny. Shorter you: "They're all assholes. Except that they're not. Well, maybe. All I know is that I disapprove of the entirety of them. Except that, on further reflection, I don't really care." Strong argument!
posted by billysumday at 9:53 AM on May 5, 2009


That is the territory of the expert guides and sherpas and, as has been noted, those people actually save other climbers all of the time. And they do it for no reward except to exercise the kindness of their small, black hearts.

Well, the guides also like money. "Asked if he would have acted differently had Sharp been a Himex client, Mark Woodward says, 'I guess yes. Because as a guide I'm primarily responsible for the people on my expedition. So if he was part of our expedition, yeah, definitely.'" Granted Woodward was right not to abandon his tour group, but he could have stopped the tour to save a life, and presumably would have done so if Sharp had been in his group. Woodward is admitting that he would have tried to rescue Sharp if he had been paid to do so. Sharp's life was worth ~$20,000 to Woodward. There's your sociopathy for you.

I'm willing to cut the amateur climbers a little slack, particularly since some of then didn't realize how much trouble Sharp was in. I'm also quite sure that I would feel shatteringly guilty had I done what they did.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:05 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


jstyutk: I suppose I just read the article differently than you (and some others) did. I came away thinking that if the guides had known that Sharp was in trouble, and that he had attempted the summit on his own, they would have saved him. Because Sharp didn't bring a radio with him, and because he wasn't in communication with anyone, nobody knew who he was, how long he had been there, whether someone else was already helping him, or something like that. I take Woodward's comment to mean that if Sharp had been in his group, he would have had a responsibility to take care of him to the exclusion of anyone else. Meaning, there would have been no confusion as to who would/should have helped Sharp. So perhaps I'm being too charitable here but I chalk it up to poor communication on Sharp's part and, subsequently, poor communication amongst other groups and guides. I don't think that guides non-chalantly chalk up incapacitated hikers that are not part of their group as "good as dead" - in fact, I think past events pretty clearly show that a lot of them go out of their way to save people they are not responsible for. I also don't think every person who pays money to hire a guide to climb Mt. Everest is automatically an asshole.

I wonder how you view Sherpas here - they, too, passed by Sharp and did nothing to save him, though they are the fittest of the fit and, along with the guides, were the only ones to really have done anything to save him. Are they culpable, too?
posted by billysumday at 10:19 AM on May 5, 2009


they are the fittest of the fit and, along with the guides, were the only ones to really have done anything to save him.

er, were the only ones who could have really done anything to save him.
posted by billysumday at 10:22 AM on May 5, 2009


I'm always minded to think of Göran Kropp when people mention Everest, even though it makes me feel slightly unfulfilled in reading his exploits.

In 1993 he climbed K2. In May 1996, he cycled 8,000 miles from Sweden to Everest. He climbed Everest solo, but 300 ft from the summit turned back. 3 weeks later he tried again, without sherpa support or oxygen and succeeded. 3 years later, he summited again with his girlfriend. He also attempted to ski unsupported to the North Pole and South Poles and apparently had a modestly successful motor racing career.

Rather sadly, he died in 2002, at the age of 35. In a climbing accident.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:27 AM on May 5, 2009


I just finished reading Into Thin Air last month. One of the most appalling parts for me was when the petite female climber from Japan was left behind, along with another male climber, because they were so near death--and then the other male climber stumbled into camp on his own afterward, but still no one thought, "Hey, let's give rescuing this poor Japanese woman another try now."

Not only that, but the near-death male climber was later left in a tent alone overnight, which was subsequently blown down, and no one checked in on him until the morning. The climber lost his nose, several fingers and toes to frostbite, but he lived. That Japanese woman died, even though at one point she clung to the legs of another climber, who strode away, shaking her off, and left her behind.

The writer of Into Thin Air himself would not go on a rescue mission to help his fellow climbers though he was one of the first down the mountain, and he erroneously reported a downed climber was alive and well, for which the man's family never forgave him.

So now, reading what happened to Sharp--it's awful and it's tragic, but it's not as shocking to me any more. I really do think people's mental processes are so impaired from the height and the mental fatigue that they become entirely different people on Everest.
posted by misha at 10:30 AM on May 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


Rather sadly, he died in 2002, at the age of 35. In a climbing accident.

You've got to have the details with Goran's death, since it doesn't really fit into the high altitude "danger danger" category. He died at Vantage, in Washington, on a single pitch 5.10a climb (Air Guitar) on poor quality basalt rim rock. His protection blew out and he fell 50-60 feet to his death. Immediate first aid didn't do anything for him.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 10:40 AM on May 5, 2009


There seems to be a lot of misunderstandings about the exact scenario on the mountain with respect to David Sharp. That's understandable, because the article is rather winding and unclear in places, but maybe people should read a little more carefully. Or maybe everyone did and we just disagree, but I feel like clearing some things up anyway.

In the case of David Sharp, he had collapsed at 800 vertical meters above the highest camp-- only 200 meters below the summit. He was climbing alone and with no radio contact, he had no connections farther down with resources necessary to help him to alert. He made his summit bid on the 14th but was moving far too slow. This would be okay if he had people to talk him down via radio or a team to check up on him and tell him to turn around, but as it was no-one knew his scenario. The people who had noticed him on their way down from the summit at sometime after 9 am, while David was still going up, had no huge reason to be concerned, because technically if he were moving fast enough and not just taking a break he could make it to the summit by the (typically) 2 pm cutoff time.

It was only on the next morning as the first teams to make their summit bid were going up that anyone really knew he was in any trouble, and by that point he was unresponsive and essentially in a coma, and the team that found him assumed that if it was at all possible that he could survive, his team would be doing everything they could to help. But of course he didn't have a team. The climbers who moved past him in the morning, on their way up to the summit, likely all came to the same conclusion.

He was responsive again when other teams were coming back down from the summit, but by this point all of the available resources were tied up with helping other climbers out of trouble they had gotten themselves into.


"...there was a third option: "to stay with him until the end."

He was alive and out in the open for over 25 hours by the time it was first noticed that he was in real trouble. The article states that multiple people did stop and sit with him for varying periods of time, up to two hours. But there is no stopping on the side of a mountain when time and all of the elements are against you 'until the end', because you are going to lose fingers, a hand, the ability to keep walking, any warmth you had left in your body, etc. And then you'll be on the side of the mountain, too, and people will have to try to help you, as well. Who knows how long 'the end' would have taken? How would you even tell? The climbers going up on the morning of the 15th couldn't even get him to respond. They waited for a half hour (1:30 am) before leaving. Chaya found him at 9 am and sat with him for an hour before leaving.

To say they should have made a rescue attempt because Lincoln Hall was rescued from around the same elevation is still not quite fair. Hall was delirious, but he was also capable of moving. And there were many well-outfitted teams there and available to help him. Sharp wasn't doing anything but shivering and would not move by the time anyone even noticed him, and even then they were in no position to help because they were tied up elsewhere with helping others with a much greater chance of getting off of the mountain alive.

I am not saying everything was done right on the mountain or that all should be forgiven. The article makes it pretty clear that there were mistakes. But the 'all climbers are assholes' vibe and the application of that 'no morals above 8000 meters' mantra (I guess?) seems ridiculously unfair. I don't think 'most climbers are assholes' is much better. These are extreme circumstances, and that doesn't excuse inhumanity, but much of this was just misunderstandings of the situation, which led to some less-than-optimal choices, and in the end came down to the physical inability to do much else to help him. And much of it could have been avoided if Sharp had worked with a team.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 10:50 AM on May 5, 2009 [12 favorites]


billysumday, you seem to be having more fun having a discussion with whatever version of me you're dreaming up in your head than with me, so I'll just leave both sides of the conversation to you. Feel free to conjure up whatever shorter, longer, or alternate versions you want to.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:53 AM on May 5, 2009


ROU_X: Well, you seemed to be making the claim that the people who paid to climb Everest on the same day that Sharp reached the summit are, to the person, rich assholes who don't care about the lives of other people. That seems like an extreme view, and so I took issue with it. If that's not what you meant to imply or argue, then I'd be genuinely curious as to what, exactly, your point is.
posted by billysumday at 11:17 AM on May 5, 2009


The mountain with the biggest tits in the world.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 11:33 AM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


My understanding of the David Sharp case wasn't that people were saying, "Oh well, he's a dumbass, screw 'im for being so stupid. I'm on my way to the summit." The journey up and down Everest isn't a footpath. It can take hours to traverse a couple of feet. A rescue, even on the main path, can be a logistical nightmare, especially with someone who went without any oxygen. Still, attempts were made to rescue Sharp:

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.

At the time I thought the climber may be David Sharp, who had climbed with me twice, but it was only when I was on the way to the summit I had this confirmed when we passed him. A very sad moment. He was dead by then (18 May).


There certainly was a lot of contradictory testimony made my other climbers on Everest. But it seems to me that a combination of Sharp's poor planning, weather conditions, and bad timing made for an awful situation were hard decisions needed to be made.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:09 PM on May 5, 2009


I would also like to note that, in all accounts of disasters on Everest, there is typically some aspect of a language barrier no doubt made worse by the scrambling that gets done to your brain at high elevation. The teams making the ascent on a given day are of multiple nationalities, and an individual team might also have different nationalities that do not always all speak a common language. This was a significant issue in 1996 with the Russian and Korean teams; trying to communicate within and between teams to figure out what was going on with all the missing people and with the people in trouble was difficult and, in some cases, didn't happen.

Apparently a Turkish team reported that Sharp was awake and responsive at 1 am on the 15th, but another team reported he wasn't. I could understand quite easily if some of these teams either didn't realize just how much trouble Sharp was in due to a language barrier or if they attempted to communicate to another team that he needed help and, once again, didn't manage to get through.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 12:20 PM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I really do think people's mental processes are so impaired from the height and the mental fatigue that they become entirely different people on Everest.

It is also probably some basic human animal instinct to, well, survive yourself and not die with someone who is going to die in such harsh and unnatural conditions as the slopes of Everest in a freaking blizzard. This is probably not something you (nor I) can comprehend at your keyboard in your home or office and you should probably not judge it so easily, cozied up with a book in your hand.
posted by xmutex at 12:24 PM on May 5, 2009


I've been above 7000 meters without oxygen and it really it true that if you haven't been there, it would be difficult to understand. There is very little you can do to help someone if they are not capable of walking on their own. To carry someone is impossible. You are panting for 10 seconds just to move one of your feet. Think of running a 5-minute mile and how you collapse at the end out of breath, and then imagine being in that state continuously for 12 hours to the summit and back. Everyone is on the verge of death so you have little capability to help others. If they can't stand up and walk on their own, there is nothing you can do for them. You are barely able to move your own body. To mount a rescue party from camp is difficult. Everything happens in slow motion. Just getting out of your sleeping bag, putting on clothes, putting on boots, etc might take an hour of painful effort. The idea of climbing back up the mountain, even 100 meters might be unthinkable.

As far as staying with them to the end, there is no point. Imagine. You are in no pain, you don't feel fear, you don't feel loneliness, no one can comfort you, you barely know anyone is even there. Your body is shutting down and your conscious mind is shutting down. Your thoughts retreat into your own head in a dreamlike state.

Think about a national emergency, say a hurricane, earthquake or nuclear attack. You have a very small amount of water for you, your spouse and child. Would you share it with your next door neighbor? How about the jerk at the end of the block? How about some people on the other side of the city you don't even know? What about the people in another country or continent? Your loyalties are weaker the farther you go from your closest circle. You could save the life of a starving child in Africa with a dollar a day. Will you even lift a finger to do so? It requires infinitely less effort than trying to save someone near coma on a mountain.

When you are at altitude and in hypoxia, your higher mental functions are greatly reduced and your mental universe shrinks the same as your vision shrinks to a tunnel. Your only family member is the guy on the other end of your rope. The mental gap to even others in your group is as if they are strangers on the other side of the city. People from a different expedition group are as far away as those starving kids in Africa. All of the abstract discussions about how you would behave in an emergency are brought into focus on the mountain. They become very real, not just a dormitory bull session.

Once on a descent I encountered a woman alone sitting in the middle of the trail. She had apparently been left behind by her party as they continued their ascent. She had been sitting there for a half-hour tying to figure out how to operate the buckle on her loose crampon, a classic sign of either severe hypoxia or incipient cerebral edema. We stopped to help her with her crampons, gave her some Diamox and water, but she was unwilling to descend with us. She did not appear to be in imminent danger. We left her behind because there was nothing more we could do. Eventually her party picked her up later in the day on their descent and she was okay.
posted by JackFlash at 12:50 PM on May 5, 2009 [30 favorites]


The people who are talking about how other climbers should have stopped and stayed with David Sharp do not fundamentally understand the operational environment on Everest.

Summitting Everest is a matter of finding a vanishingly small window of survivable weather within a marginally larger window of survivability that governs your escape route. It takes literally hours of maximum exertional effort to achieve, under extreme conditions of hypoxia, hypothermia and constant environmental danger.

I have not personally summitted Everest. I never will. I have never known anyone who has, and I count among my acquaintances world-class mountaineers who have repeatedly summitted mountains like Ama Dablam and engaged in activities like paragliding off mountains. To a person, these people regard Everest as something where the risk far, far outweighs the reward. They tend to say things like "yeah, the people who do that are insane".

If you make a mistake on Everest, you will most likely die. You will definitely sustain severe injury. And one of the mistakes you can make up there is stopping to "help" someone who is beyond your assistance and already dying. The people who didn't stop weren't thinking about David Sharp. They were thinking "if I stop, I will probably die too". And they were largely right.

And this is a perfect place to stop, because JackFlash is in a better position than anyone else in this thread to talk about this situation: he has real-world experience where the rest of us just have books or extrapolations.
posted by scrump at 1:25 PM on May 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


“Worth pointing out, perhaps, that an awful lot of Everest summiters don't really like Bear Grylls”

Does anyone with any real experience outside the comfy chair in front of the T.V. like Bear Grylls?

“People who have the attitude "No morality above 8000 ft" have no morality at 6 ft.”
&
“you're exactly the same person at 8,000 feet as you are at sea level.”

Sounds like you’ve never made a water decision.

six-or-six-thirty and JackFlash have it.

Some things are not a question of morality when you’re in a survival situation but ability.
There is an argument to be had about the situation being an artificial one – that is – no one *needed * to be there. But in terms of once you’re there, yeah, latitude in decision making becomes strictly curtailed. I’m not at all saying morality changes, I’m saying the scope of what’s possible for you to do in its service is greatly narrowed - to augment JackFlash's assertion - it goes beyond proximity. You simply cannot share a great deal of effort/resources in certain straits without greatly endangering yourself and abandoning your responsibility for the survival of others in your outfit.
People might forgive you, nature won't.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:22 PM on May 5, 2009


Everest is a joke in the climbing world. It's a place where rich douchebags who have little real experience climbing mountains go to have something to brag about at cocktail parties. I'm sorry, but you did not climb the mountain if you did not carry your own gear, set up your own camps, cook your own food, melt your own water, essentially do all the work that goes along with climbing. Clipping into a fixed rope and walking slowly uphill is NOT climbing. It is, however, really lucrative financially for the guides and that's about it. Everest as it exists now is a zoo and should be completely closed to guided climbing due to the horrendous environmental toll these expeditions take.

Also, the Himalaya have a post-monsoon season in the autumn that can provide stable climbing weather and nine of the fourteen 8,000m peaks have been climbed in winter, often by Polish teams who are tough as shit.
posted by alpinist at 2:51 PM on May 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Discovery documentary Everest:Beyond the Limit was a harrowing and eye-opening watch for me, with the Sharp controversy having been big news here in New Zealand given Inglis' involvement.
six-or-six-thirty and JackFlash summarise it well. Attempting a rescue of Sharp would have put many, many more lives in peril, and probably would have resulted in further deaths. Waiting with him out of a misguided sense of compassion, same result. I couldn't get over the paralysing effort of the final push, and how close to death the climbers are at all times. Nothing would make me want to put myself in that situation, and I can't really relate to those who do. But I don't think any of us here on the ground can judge the "morality" of this.
posted by szechuan at 3:12 PM on May 5, 2009


Does anyone with any real experience outside the comfy chair in front of the T.V. like Bear Grylls?

What's wrong with Bear Grylls?
posted by xmutex at 5:13 PM on May 5, 2009


Have you seen his show on Discovery? That should be enough...
posted by Pantengliopoli at 5:44 PM on May 5, 2009


Who cares anymore anyway? Let's go to Mars.
posted by ChickenringNYC at 9:01 PM on May 5, 2009


"Everest is a joke in the climbing world"
Totally, that's why I won't climb it. *cough* *adjusts tie*
Done a bit of climbing myself. (Quite literally - tiny bit). Thrown myself out of perfectly good airplanes. But you high altitude climbers are a rare breed.

"What's wrong with Bear Grylls?"

Dunno. He's climbed Everest... *cough* *adjusts tie*

Look, all I'm saying is, when I stay at Bass Lake I rent a cabin or stay at one of the four star condos. You've got a boat dock, it's private, you can ski up in Badger Pass. The Pines Resort is for tourists, man. Oh, and I do enjoy raw snake myself. I wouldn't eat much rabbit (if we're talking his show is a "how to" more than a "documentary") and I'd supplement it if I did (maggots, beetles, grasshoppers, and especially grubs - high in fatty acids - yum!)
But some guy wants to get up to kinky stuff in the forest with people in bear suits, who am I to say anything?
Interestingly, we've had similar parachute accidents. Course mine killed me. But y'know, I'm a bit more hardcore.
Aaah, he does a lot for charity. So he can't be a bad guy. And he himself is for real. Just not, y'know, on t.v.
Money.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:51 PM on May 5, 2009


I read Smedley's last post in Christopher Walken's voice and I cannot stop laughing.
posted by Mikey-San at 3:24 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Everest is a joke in the climbing world.

Reminds me of when fans turn on a band when it gets popular.
posted by smackfu at 6:48 AM on May 6, 2009


Your favorite mountain sucks?
posted by misha at 9:58 AM on May 6, 2009


Everest is a joke in the climbing world.
Yeah, well, 911? In your town? It's a joke.
posted by scrump at 11:12 AM on May 6, 2009


Mikey-San, it's nice to get something received in the spirit in which it was intended. :-)
posted by Smedleyman at 3:35 PM on May 6, 2009


Everest: Beyond the limit. (Discovery Channel) has footage of this event.
posted by RufusW at 6:32 AM on May 7, 2009


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