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.”