Mount Everest (Chomolungma)

Triumph and Tragedy

2006-05-15

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  • Himalayas - Tibet/Nepal - Asia
  • 8,850 m / 29,035 ft
  • N 27o 59’ E 86o 56’
  • Expedition length: 55 days
  • Summit: May 15, 2006

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Formed about 60 million years ago, its summit, at an elevation of 8,850 metres above sea level, is the highest place on Earth, as well as one of the most dangerous to reach.

Mount Everest is the ‘Goddess of the Sky’ ac- cording to its name (Sagarmatha) in Nepal and the ‘Mother Goddess of the Universe’ as it’s called (Cho- molungma) in Tibet. It not only straddles both coun- tries, but also thrusts deep into the ‘Death Zone’, that region above 7,000 metres where body func- tions shut down and a lack of suf cient pressure – and therefore oxygen – results in loss of conscious- ness and, ultimately, death. To date, more than 200 climbers have succumbed to the conditions there, and most of their corpses still remain where they drew their last breath. Such is the dif culty of any rescue attempt, and of transporting their bodies amid the avalanches, icy temperatures, gale-force winds and often perilous terrain. Yet such is the at- traction, for many daredevil adventurers, of mak- ing it to the very top of the world.

Man versus nature – within the con nes of plan- et Earth, climbing Mount Everest stands as one of the crowning achievements. It is a place enveloped in Mother Goddess myths and personal dreams and, for many who stand in its vast shadow, it rep- resents a lifetime ambition, the ultimate measure of personal accomplishment. Certainly, despite be- ing as feared as it is revered, Everest continues to inspire and re people’s imaginations, just as it did mine when, although subjected to emotional good- byes from Poupa, Edgard, Kelly and many others, including my mum and dad, I ew from Beirut to Kathmandu on Tuesday, March 28, 2006.

While I was intent on giving Everest my very best effort, what made these goodbyes – and indeed, this whole expedition – different was the large question mark that remained in my head, especially after failing on the 8,000-er Gasherbrum: would Chomolungma be in a decent condition for climbing? Would it open its arms to us? Would I be strong enough, both physically and, more importantly, mentally? This mountain would hit me with the extremes of what the body can withstand, including a partial air pressure at the summit that tests the limit of human tolerance. Just a few metres higher and it might well have been beyond human reach. My apprehension was tangible, and this clearly rubbed off on my wife and kids as we bid each other an emotional farewell.

Having said that, I still felt characteristically con dent about my chances of reaching the summit and returning home in one piece, even after the ight transported me right by the mountain, almost at the altitude of its peak. Having booked the trip through Chamonix-based Himalayan Experience (a.k.a. Himex), I was part of an interesting climbing group, and this probably explained why the Discovery Channel had contracted Tigress Productions to feature us in a major, six-part documentary.

For them, one of the more interesting charac- ters on this particular expedition was Mark Inglis, a New Zealander who had lost both his legs just below the knee, after surviving for 14 days in an ice cave on Mount Cook during extreme bad weather. Fitted with state-of-the-art carbon bre and tita- nium legs, he had managed to scale Cho Oyu in 2005, which is where I had rst encountered an- other of my team-mates, Mogens from Denmark, back in 2003. Mons, as we called him, is a tness-freak asthmatic who was going after the ‘Big E’ once again without oxygen, after having failed on his rst attempt in 2005.

Additionally, there was Brett, a Los Angeles reman, and Terry, an ER doctor from Portland, both of whom had made it as far as Everest’s North Col in 2006; an Australian named Bob, who also had a failed summit attempt to his credit (or debit); Gérard from France and the Swiss trio of Kurt, Marcel and Julien, all of whom would be joining us later on; and last, but by no means least, a Hollywood resident named Tim. The latter customised Harley-Davidson motorbikes and, due to an accident that he’d suffered on his own Harley in 2001, had to manage with a permanently injured left leg.

Instead of climbing via the technically easier and far more frequently used south west ridge from Nepal – following in the hallowed footsteps of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay who, in 1953, became the rst people to summit Everest – we’d be negotiating the more dif cult but less danger- ous north east ridge from Tibet. We would be driv- ing all the way up to the main Rongbuk Glacier and setting up Base Camp just below, at 5,140 metres, then ascending the East Rongbuk Glacier to the base of the Changtse mountain at 6,100 metres, be- fore moving up to Advanced Base Camp which, at 6,400 metres, is located below the North Col that connects Changtse and Mount Everest.

From then on, we’d be using xed ropes to reach Camp I on the North Col at around 7,000 metres; climb the north ridge to set up Camp II at 7,500 metres; move on to the 7,900-metre Camp III before diagonally ascending the North Face to the base of the Yellow Band, where High Camp is located at around 8,380 metres; and then, if there’s any juice left, attempt the nal push for the summit. This commences with a torturous traverse from the base of the First Step at 8,500 metres to the far more daunting Second Step, some 75 vertical metres further on, where the aluminium ‘Chinese ladder’ – placed there by climbers in 1975 – assists most who take this route. Thereafter, the relatively easy Third Step at 8,700 metres leads to the summit pyramid, which is ascended via a 50-degree snow slope in order to reach the actual summit ridge en route to the top of the world.

Simple daily tasks such as walking from one tent to another or brushing one’s teeth can leave you winded, especially during the rst few days at ABC when your body hasn’t yet had time to acclimatise.

Our expedition leader was Himex owner/manager Russell Brice from New Zealand, who had summited Everest from the north side on more than one occasion. His guides for this eight-week expedition included Bill Crouse from the USA, with whom I had climbed Denali in June 2003, Shaun Hutson from the U.K. and Mark Woodward (a.k.a. Woody) from New Zealand. The accompanying Discovery team was made up of 18 very experienced, serious professionals, led by executive producer Dick Colthurst. We all met in Kathmandu and, while Dick returned to England for a couple of weeks, the rest of us reached Base Camp on Friday, April 7, after a week-long journey by air and road through the Tibetan Plateau.

Following several days of lying low at Base Camp and allowing our bodies to acclimatise, we packed the ‘barrels’ that would be transported to ABC on the backs of yaks, repacked our duffel bags several times, participated in a puja ceremony and tried to get used to the constant dust, wind and cold, be- fore nally moving to Interim Camp for a stop-over night at 5,800 metres. Situated halfway between BC and ABC, very close to the Eastern Rongbuk Gla- cier, Interim Camp is adjacent to some spectacular, 30-metre high, tooth-shaped ice formations that dwarf the mere mortals, who gasp for oxygen in the increasingly thinner air. By now, I wasn’t feeling so great and, aware of how I ‘hit the wall’ once I ven- tured above 6,000 metres on Cho Oyu, I made sure I paced myself on the increasingly steep terrain en route to ABC, where my problems with heartburn, fatigue and insomnia – all symptoms of ‘high al- titude discomfort’ – were exacerbated by the cold, windy and snowy conditions.

Life wasn’t pleasant at 6,400 metres and, while aware that few humans can survive for more than a few months at that elevation, I was also beginning to understand why some climbers give up long before that and return home halfway through an expedition. Simple daily tasks such as walking from one tent to another or brushing one’s teeth can leave you winded, especially during the rst few days at ABC when your body hasn’t yet had time to acclimatise. Despite having been to both Poles on skis, as well as up to 8,000 metres on Cho Oyu, I had never felt as cold as I did on Everest.

The precipitous four hour climb up xed lines to the North Col was tough, very tough. Unlike anything up to that point, it required crampons, a harness and an ice axe, which would now be de rigueur all the way to the top, as well as a rest day back at ABC, during which Russell announced that three Sherpas, had just perished in the treacherous Khumbu Icefall on the mountain’s south side. This was in addition to one of our own Sherpas, who had died after being struck by altitude sickness, while hauling supplies at the very start of the expedition, before we even got to Base Camp. At that moment, I pitied them – or, more pertinently, their families – and wondered if anyone realises just how miserable, uncomfortable, dif cult and dangerous it can be to undertake what Sherpas do for a living. Without them, our mission would be that much harder to achieve and, if any of us made it to the top, it would be thanks to those people’s hard work and dedication.

Our team of six Sherpas painstakingly xed ropes all the way to the summit, which was quite a feat that early in the season.

Thursday, April 27, was our rst night spent at the North Col. By the time we set off for ABC the next morning, it was in near-blizzard conditions and, having again been unable to sleep, eat and drink enough, I was feeling extremely weak.I desperately needed to rest and recuperate, and this I did during the next few days, while our team of six Sherpas painstakingly xed ropes all the way to the summit. This was quite a feat that early in the season though, having come to the mountain several weeks before us, their bodies were already well acclimatized. On their return to ABC, we gave them a tumultuous welcome, like heroic soldiers marching back from a victorious battle. The fact was that, in the course of their regular work, they had just accomplished what the rest of us were still dreaming about and, in so doing, they had actually made that dream possible. They deserved all the acclaim, and more.

Following a carry to Camp I on May 4, there were several more rest days at ABC, as per the ’climb high, sleep low’ maxim. Yet, although my acclimatisation and health were improving along with the weather, I still had very little desire to eat or drink. Possibly, this was due to my tongue getting sunburned during the very rst climb to Camp I. The taste buds on the tip didn’t appear to be functioning and, consequently, everything tasted horrible. Add to this the fact that, at 6,400 metres, nothing tastes particularly good anyway, and I had the perfect recipe for a lost appetite. This was the last thing I needed when my body should be stocking up on energy supplies for the task ahead. Seemingly, the only thing I now hungered for was the summit.

On May 8, Russell assigned each of us a Sherpa. Mine was a 23-year-old Tibetan named Dorjee. He had never been to the top of Mount Everest, only to High Camp, but it was reassuring to know that he had done so without supplemental oxygen, and that, like me, he was apparently hungry for the summit. By now, we had been split into two teams. Team A, led by Bill Crouse and comprising Mogens, Brett, Terry, the Swiss and their Sherpas, as well as the cameramen Ken and Ed, commenced their summit push the very next day.

There were a few tears on the part of the climbers, and a few more shed by the rest of us who were waving them goodbye: Team B members Gérard, Bob, Mark, Cowboy, Tim and I, together with Woody and Shawn as our guides, Mark Whetu handling the high-altitude camera and our corresponding Sherpas. We moved up to Camp I on May 10, and I felt good on the climb, but not so Brett, whom I saw as soon as I walked into our huge ten-person tent up there. Although climbing on oxygen, he had become hypoxic while heading towards Camp II with his Team A colleagues, and an episode during which he’d been forced to tear off his mask in order to quickly puke had persuaded him to turn back and have the courage to say, “enough is enough”.

The next day, without supplemental oxygen, I experienced for myself what the climb up the endless north ridge from Camp I to Camp II is all about. Basically, that snow slope goes on and on and on. I struggled quite a bit before settling into my tent with Gerard at 7,500 metres where, because of unexpected gale-force winds, I spent the next couple of days trying to recuperate, while breathing through an oxygen mask. I did this even while I slept, which doesn’t happen too frequently at such altitudes. Having that cumbersome mask and its bladder strapped to my face put me even further out of my comfort zone, and I hoped it would be less unpleasant the next time this happened.

On May 13, we began the climb to Camp III in bad weather, with high winds driving the horizon- tal snowfall, yet I actually felt quite good breathing in the supplementary oxygen. I was somewhat sur- prised to hear over the radio that Mons – who was ahead of us with Team A – had decided to turn back because he felt sick before he reached Camp IV. Okay, he was the only one among us to be climbing without oxygen, but in 2005 he had at least reached the Second Step, and this time he had apparently been feeling tter and more determined than ever before.

Astonishingly, at Camp III, I enjoyed my best night’s sleep since the expedition began, thanks to the half-litre per minute ow of pure oxygen from the blue cylinder that lay next to me. This, I thought, would in uence my summit bid favourably, espe- cially since I’d made it to the top of Cho Oyu while breathing the stuff, despite feeling awful at the 7,300-metre High Camp without it. Still, let’s not kid ourselves – the weakest link in the chain often determines the outcome, and I was well aware that any small mishap could jeopardise my summit at- tempt altogether.

While May 14 was the rescheduled summit day on Everest for Team A, those of us on Team B moved to High Camp at 8,380 metres and stayed there for a few hours before commencing our own nal summit push. This took place shortly after 11:30 that night, and Russell’s advice to start off at a quick pace by increasing the oxygen ow to the maximum four litres per minute instantly paid off as, stepping off the conventional path into windswept virgin snow at the edge of camp, I quickly overtook the climbers immediately ahead of me.

We led the way and, as the long line of trailing headlamps faded into the distance, we never looked back, just ahead at our goal: the summit of achievement, the top of the world.

From the moment I wished Gérard good luck and stepped outside our tent, I was struck by the bitter cold and the realisation that this wasn’t the kind of day for spending extra time on the mountain. We needed to ‘steal’ the summit and return as swiftly as possible, in order to minimise our exposure to the elements. Accordingly, as I moved ahead of everyone else, I felt concerned about Dorjee, but he too found the strength to start briskly, and soon he was just a few steps behind me. Together we led the way and, as the long line of trailing headlamps faded into the distance, we never looked back, just ahead at our goal: the summit of achievement, the top of the world.

For me, Dorjee’s mental and physical strength were nothing short of a gift from above, or from Chomolungma itself. I was extremely thankful, yet well aware that there might have been untold con- sequences had he been unable to keep up with the sustained pace I chose to set on this exception- ally cold day. Although very strong and resilient, Sherpas are only human, and if they struggle or have a bad day, it can ruin their climbing partners’ chances of reaching the summit. This is precisely what, in 1992, compelled my good friend Børge Ousland of Norway to abort his summit attempt and instead attend to his Sherpa.

Okay, so my headlamp was weak, and in the absence of moonlight – which was still concealed on the other side of the ridge – I struggled to see properly, yet the four litres of oxygen per minute enabled me to deal quite effectively with the rather steep, awkward and technical terrain. I felt like a nely tuned engine running on a high-octane fuel, and it was only once we’d advanced beyond this dif cult part of the route that I asked Dorjee, by way of gesturing and pointing at my regulator, to halve my oxygen ow to two litres, while I carefully did the same for him. At that point, using the same red and blue 7 millimetre xed rope that we’d been accustomed to since just below Camp I, we undertook a series of traverses on our way towards the so-called ‘Mushroom Rock’ that is located close to the Second Step.

Dorjee slipped while attempting a couple of those traverses and, if it wasn’t for the xed lines into which we were always clipped, he could have lost his life as a result of falling towards the steep valley to our right. As it was, a third slip on his part convinced me that I had to take the lead. Warmed by our brisk pace, we kept moving along the north east ridge until we reached what clearly appeared to be the most dif cult obstacle thus far: the infamous Second Step, which is a rock face, about 10 metres high, with some very awkward moves along it. Intuitively, I let Dorjee tackle it rst, but I was so close behind that, when he slipped and fell backwards while swinging on the rope, he almost hit my head with the back of his left crampon. A couple of centimetres closer and I could well have suffered an open gash on my head and face. Yet, as I watched him make unconventional moves to twist his way up the lower part of the Second Step, all I could think about was thanking God that my climbing partner and I were still safe.

When my turn came, I also required a couple of attempts, and then resorted to some awkward moves myself in order to scramble up. This I did while grabbing any old bits of rope – and there were plenty of those – to avoid looking down to- wards what looked like an abyss. It was still dark and I really didn’t want to look down to my right and see how steep and deep it was. At this point, Dorjee and I took a short breather, during which I announced twice over the radio, as clearly as pos- sible, “Max at the top of the ladder.” Now climb- ing the north east ridge, we were actually heading westwards, meaning that the sun’s rst rays would hit us almost straight in the back while the cold, biting wind blasted us from the right side.

Moving on, we eventually reached the snow slope below the summit, and it was there that we encountered a slight problem: the xed rope had been buried by the nightly snowdrifts. This was hardly a catastrophe, yet on the mountain any problem is greatly magni ed when you’re trying to deal with the cold, the wind, the dif cult terrain and a lack of oxygen. Still, every problem has a solution, and the simple one in this case was for me to free the buried rope by slowly and meticulously pulling it out of the snow with both hands and, when that proved to be impossible, using my ice axe to carefully dig it out.

Dorjee and I took turns doing this, and eventu- ally we were able to climb the snow slope while re- maining clipped-in. We then traversed to the left at the pyramid-shaped dihedral – where two planes of rock intersect – and, after a short, steep climb, turned right towards the summit ridge. I was now back in the lead, with Dorjee right behind me. Al- though I could see that there were no further obsta- cles along the rest of the way, I maintained a slow, yet resolute pace, while also taking time to stop and try to x the camera that the Tigress Productions lm crew had attached to Dorjee’s helmet.

Here I was, on the rooftop of our planet and a mere hundred metres from its supreme summit, listening to instructions over the radio regarding which colour wire to plug into which socket – what a place to be doing such a thing! Still, I recall being very lucid and quick in my actions, which isn’t always possible at that altitude, while also remaining focussed and well aware of everything that was going on around me. This included constantly reassessing the situation with regard to simple but essential matters such as my breathing, keeping my ngers warm and moving my toes.

Besides relaying images to the makeshift edit- ing suite down at Base Camp, the light yet complex lming apparatus that Dorjee carried was also capturing footage that would later be used in the Discovery Channel series Everest: Beyond the Limit – to be aired around the world – and so I did my very best to get it working. Unfortunately, I couldn’t, and as my own video camera succumbed to the cold, Dorjee and I continued our trek towards the top without anyone taping what was an epic moment for both of us.

Dorjee and I stayed at the Earth’s pin- nacle for no more than 20 minutes. This was suf cient for the view to be permanently stamped on the inside of my eyelids. Witnessing the sunrise from there, alone with just my climbing partner, was a magical moment that I’ll never forget as long as I live.

For years, I had thought and dreamt about this moment, but now that it was upon me I was hardly ecstatic, let alone in a mood to rejoice. I was far too exhausted and, as I struggled to climb the last few steps towards the top of the world, there was a moment when I actually wondered if I would ever make it. That’s how drained I was, both physically and emotionally.Yet I wasn’t dreaming. I did make it and, after sitting down on the ledge at the summit, I summoned up the strength to untangle the spiral cord of the radio’s microphone and call ABC.

“Summit! Summit! Summit!” I announced as slowly and clearly as possible. Later, at Advanced Base Camp, someone told me that my repetition of this solitary word brought tears to everybody’s eyes. It was bitterly cold; far too cold for me to remove my goggles and oxygen mask long enough for the customary photographs. Protecting my eyes and face from frostbite was a lot more important to me than striking the perfect pose, and it was because of the frigid conditions that Dorjee and I stayed at the Earth’s pinnacle for no more than 20 minutes. This was suf cient for the view to be permanently stamped on the inside of my eyelids. Witnessing the sunrise from there, alone with just my climbing partner, was a magical moment that I’ll never forget as long as I live, and the same applied to my raising of the Lebanese ag. Here I was, the highest person on planet Earth, and the rst from my country to be in that position.

“A Cedar Where Nothing Grows” read a headline in one of the local newspapers back home. I felt extremely proud to be brandishing the Cedar tree ag which, at that moment, was without a doubt the highest anywhere on Earth. However, I also had to remind myself that this was only half the journey and that I still needed to descend safely, in order to be reunited with loved ones and be able to call it a success. After reciting “The Lord is My Shepherd” I commenced the return journey.

At various points on the way down, Dorjee and I encountered my fellow team-mates, who were still heading for the summit. I encouraged them all, sometimes with as little as a tap on their back- packs – at such altitudes, breathing through an oxygen mask and wearing plenty of cumbersome gear, a small gesture like a nod of the head or tap of the hand can mean more than a thousand words. In this case, all of our colleagues would make it to the high- est place on Earth, with the exception of Tim, Brett and Gérard. In the process, Gérard would lose a com- bined total of 16 ngers and toes to frostbite, while others such as Mark and Shaun who did reach the summit lost digits, too. Meanwhile, having aborted his initial attempt, Mons decided to have another go after regaining strength at Base Camp, and he sum- mited also, albeit with supplemental oxygen.

Although Dorjee and I were moving slowly, taking several breaths for every step, the fact that we kept going without interruption amounted to a fast pace by Death Zone standards. We were both extremely tired, and took turns to help each other through the more technically dif cult parts of the descent. At Mushroom Rock, we switched back to our very rst oxygen bottles, which we had left there on the way up, with a few bars remaining. I kept reminding myself that, even though High Camp wasn’t all that far, any mistake could still prove fatal. Little did I know that a terrible surprise awaited us just a short distance below.

I had heard about the infamous ‘Green Boots Cave’, so named because of the green boots of an Indian climber who still lay there about ten years after his death. As Dorjee and I headed past there, still clipped to our xed line, I noticed a large man sitting to my right, adjacent to the trail, next to the corpse with green boots. To my amazement, he was still alive and shivering. His knees and elbows were bent, his back was at against the snow, his bare head was slightly raised and he was facing north east, in line with the trail leading to Camp IV. At the same time, his arms and legs were hardened, his ngers were clearly frozen inside his thin, light- blue wool gloves as they were visibly crooked, his nose had turned a deep purple, his eyes were nearly shut, his teeth were tightly clenched and, although he was shaking, he appeared to be unconscious.

For a moment, I thought I was having a bad dream. I pulled off my oxygen mask and immediately radioed Russell down at the North Col: “Russ, this is Max... I’m at the halfway stage between the First Step and Camp IV, and there’s a man here under a rock. I think he’s about to die!”

I am usually a calm and controlled person, espe- cially in the face of dangerous or critical situations such as the one I now faced. But in this instance, with a human being slipping away before my very eyes, I began to lose my cool and act a little more hastily. Deep down, I probably knew there was little I could do, but as Russell asked me a few relevant questions, I answered them to the best of my abil- ity, audibly affected by the unfolding situation. Not only was everything I said being heard by anyone with a radio that was tuned to our frequency, but it was also being recorded, since the Discovery Chan- nel team had tted me with a small microphone and transmitter.


Russell:
“Yeah, roger, Max. You know, it’s tough, but, er, you can’t do much to help, can’t shift a big man like that... Can he talk at all?”


Max: “Negative, negative. His oxygen bottle is depleted... and it’s got ‘2006’ written on it.” Russell: “Well, then, Max, there’s not much you can do. We don’t know what team he’s from... Come down.”


Max: “Listen, I’m gonna try and give him some oxygen from my bottle... I can even come down to Camp IV without oxygen. I know that. I’m just gonna try that, okay? He’s shivering and he’s... he’s still alive, but he’s unconscious and obviously he’s not hearing...”

Russell: “Max, you can try giving him your oxygen, but it’s not going to get him down the hill... You can try to revive him, but what are we going to do with him after that?”

 

At this point, I began to cry like a kid. The last time I had done so was some 30 years before, as my grandmother’s cof n was being lowered into the ground. I am not the type to easily shed a tear, and I had just a achieved a lifelong ambition, yet, here I was, weeping uncontrollably over the airwaves while hundreds of people across the mountain listened to our sad exchange.


Russell:
“Er, yeah, Max. You can try giving him your oxygen, but, you know, it’s not going to get him down the hill. I can see where you are, and er... you can try giving him your oxygen or you can just walk on over.


Max: “Gosh, it’s hard. Um, I’ll see what I can do... Oh, okay... He’s stopped shivering now. He’s gone...” Russell: “Max, I know it’s tough. It’s very, very tough, but we can’t do very much about that. We don’t know who this man is and which team he comes from, so what I suggest is that you try and see if he’s got anything in his pocket that you can bring down to identify him with.”


Max: “Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay.”


Russell: “Sorry, Max. It’s tough, man, but the two of you can’t do much with him, so you’d better look after yourself.”


Max: “He’s still breathing! I’m just going to try once more to revive him. Don’t worry, I’ll be ne.”

 

That was wishful thinking, and before long I was forced to acknowledge that Russell was right; at that point, there was absolutely nothing that either Dorjee or I could do. In fact, with hindsight, I would even go so far as to say that, had the poor man been in the emergency room of a reputable hospital, he still couldn’t have been saved. That’s how close he was to death, and it was subsequently speculated that his renewed shivering may well have been the result of more glycogen becoming available in the liver and being released into his bloodstream.

As it turned out, the victim was a 34-year-old Englishman named David Sharp, and it would later be reported that more than 40 people passed him by as he lay dying on the side of the world’s tallest mountain. On the way up, Dorjee and I must have been the very rst of them, but in the dark, without an effective headlamp, we simply didn’t see him or even green boots. I can only assume that, after hearing Dorjee and I, the rst climbers to pass him by shortly after midnight, David, still conscious, clipped-in to the xed line. That’s why subsequent climbers, including my own team-mates, did actually see him when they had to unclip around his carabiner.

Now, as Dorjee and I stood before him, I began to recite the Lord’s Prayer in French:

 

Notre Père qui êtes aux cieux, Que ton nom soit sancti é, Que ton règne vienne,
Que ta volonté soit faite

Sur la terre comme au ciel...

 

Wiping away my tears, I replaced my oxygen mask before Dorjee and I resumed our descent. It had been an hour since we’d rst encountered David Sharp and, throughout that time, I had done everything I possibly could to try to save him, but unfortunately he had been much closer to death than he was to life. When we arrived back at High Camp, I was inconsolable. Collapsing inside my tent, I cried for two full hours, unable to get a grip on myself and refusing to see or talk to anyone who came by. It was May 15, 2006, and I had just turned my dream of climbing Mount Everest into a reality, yet this was hardly obvious to anyone who ran into me that day and saw my glum, grief-stricken demeanour.

My Seven Summits odyssey was now drawing to an end. I had seen the midnight sun at both poles, watched the sunrise from the rooftop of Africa and the sunset from high in the Andes; I had fallen into deep crevasses on the southern Alps and skied through the lifeless, frozen desert of Antarctica; I had felt the scorching altitude heat of Pakistan’s Karakorum and the frigid cold of the Arctic Circle; and in the end, I had rejoiced, viewing the curvature of our planet from the Earth’s summit, only to weep when confronted with death just a few hours later.

In the nal analysis, our world’s spectacular physical attributes and daunting forces of nature are no more remarkable than the strengths, qualities and complexities of the human mind, body and spirit. Yet, how fragile life is. My four-and-a- half-year journey from the base of Kilimanjaro to the top of Everest, by way of both Poles, had taught me many invaluable lessons and, as I moved on to the next phase of my life, feeling as if I had been reborn with a whole new perspective, I did so in the recently acquired knowledge that, in the words of Gibran Khalil Gibran, “When you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin the climb.”