Money or Mercy: Public Death of an Everest Climber

Reply Sat 27 May, 2006 12:15 pm
Scaling Mt. Everest is both dangerous and expensive. People pay a great deal of money for a chance to reach the summit. Even though the ascent is now relatively commonplace the climb is incredibly physically taxing and climbers must have dedication and focus to reach their goal.

Should compassion be sacrificed to reach the summit?

Everest Climber's Death Sparks a Debate

The Associated Press
Friday, May 26, 2006; 7:59 PM

KATMANDU, Nepal -- The story, an open secret in the crowded nylon city of Mount Everest base camp, trickled out from the high Himalayas: a British mountaineer desperate for oxygen had collapsed along a well-traveled route to the summit.

Dozens of people walked right past him, unwilling to risk their own ascents.

Within hours, David Sharp, 34, was dead.

The tale was shocking, an apparent display of preening callousness. Sir Edmund Hillary, who was on the team that first summitted Everest in 1953, called it "horrifying" that climbers would leave a dying man.

But in the small world of modern high-altitude mountaineers, there was barely any surprise at all.

That, in part, reflects the dangers inherent in climbing to a place where temperatures are so low that skin can freeze instantaneously and oxygen levels can barely sustain life. When things go wrong, there is little chance of rescue.

But, many climbers add, Sharp's death also reflects something else: a changed ethic in what was, until a couple decades ago, a tiny community where only the most experienced climbers would be found that high on a mountain _ and where a dying climber would be abandoned only when a rescue threatened other lives.

In Sharp's case, about 40 people are thought to have walked past him as he sat cross-legged in a shallow snow cave. The few who stopped to check on him _ and at least one team did give him oxygen _ said he was so near death there was nothing that could be done.

"We've been seeing things like this for a very long time," said Thomas Sjogren, a Swedish mountaineer who helps run ExplorersWeb, a Web site widely read by climbers. "The real high-altitude mountaineers, the top people in the world who are doing new peaks and going to mountains you don't know much about, most of these people have become completely disgusted by Everest."

Evidently Sharpe was climbing with inadequate equipment. Possibly he'd ignored expert advice. Should his stupidity have killed him?
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Reply Sun 28 May, 2006 04:33 pm
Wow! That's pretty cold hearted. I can't believe those that passed him even tried to justify their actions.
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Reply Sun 28 May, 2006 04:56 pm
Re: Money or Mercy: Public Death of an Everest Climber
Noddy24 wrote:
Evidently Sharpe was climbing with inadequate equipment. Possibly he'd ignored expert advice. Should his stupidity have killed him?

After Jon Krakauer's account of the Everest disaster in "Into Thin Air", I think it is obvious that no one should be allowed above the Everest base camp without a guide and approved equipment. If the Nepal government will not organize and regulate the climbing, the companies that run the base camp and organize the climbing expeditions should.
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Reply Sun 28 May, 2006 05:06 pm
There is no justifying that. And, it calls to mind an issue that disturbs me greatly, right here in Houston. Almost daily, we see and read of hit and run driving. It seems that people just don't care about the victims anymore. A few years ago, a woman in Dallas hit a man, who became embedded in her windshield, still alive. She hid her car in the garage, with the dying man still attached. I don't mean to attempt to hijack the thread, but, it just tells me that the problem is much more deeply ingrained in our behaviour than just mountain climbing or driving cars. As I grow older, I continually rate humankind lower and lower on the scale weighing civilized behavior.
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Reply Sun 28 May, 2006 05:32 pm
Edgar felt compeled to say something here. The thing in Houston - that's horrible - but sadly, not shocking.

Whenever anyone says that there cannot be intelligent life out there in the universe that is superior to humans - or else they would have visited us, I always laugh and say maybe they're intelligent enough not to want to.

But deep down I find the thought extremely depressing. If we're the best the universe has - then heaven help it.

We have seen a spate of knife violence here in Britain recently and I do believe that like children who swear if they hear their parents do so - the public, seeing their parental figures (Government leaders) showing a distinct disregard for human life - feel justified in behaving in the same way.
Maybe its an idea for another thread?

Not that I feel hopeful anyone can change anything - unless we decide to really educate ourselves. Fat chance.
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Reply Sun 28 May, 2006 05:50 pm
40 people! That's sick. What's the point of saying 'Yeah, I climbed Everest' if you had to give up your decency as a human being to do it?
Goes against the whole beauty of accomplishing such a feat!

I have to say that apathy is one of the most chilling aspects of humanity I have encountered.

Even if you can't help - the bastards could have at least sat with the man in his last moments!

Have legal charges been filed? What would that be classified as, if anything? What happened to those bastards?
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Reply Sun 28 May, 2006 06:51 pm
None of this changes the story of the needless tragedy, its just perspective:

Sharp unrescuable, says Chinese mountaineer
Updated: 2006-05-28 09:14

Chinese female mountaineer Luo Lili regretted David Sharp's death in the Mount Qomolangma but said the British climber was at a nearly unrescuable height.

"Mountaineers all know the height above 7,000m is very dangerous and usually deemed as an unrescuable height," said Luo on Saturday, who just returned from a May 15 scaling of the world highest peak.

Sharp, 34, ran out of oxygen and died in a snow cave just 300 meters from the summit on his way down the Himalayan mountain. Dozens of people had walked right past him, unwilling to risk their own lives.

The world is angry. Sir Edmund Hillary, who was on the team that first surmounted Mt Qomolangma in 1953, called it "horrifying" that climbers would leave a dying man.

Luo disagreed with Hillary.

"At 8,534 metes where Sharp died, every climber feels worn out and was unable to offer help," she said.

"I had once been trapped at where Sharp died and a dozen climbers, including David Sharp, walked past me."

Jamie McGuiness about David Sharp: "Crying, Dawa had to leave him"

06:37 pm EST May 24, 2006
"What are the responses you are getting from climbers?" asked a NZ radio reporter ExWeb today. "There are three categories," we said. "The veteran climbers are outraged, the commercial expedition leaders are silent, and the Everest climbers are confused."

Thanks to media and a few brave individuals, the deaths of Everest climbers such as David Sharp and Vitor Negrete have not been in vain. Everest is currently doing what its ultimate purpose is: Not to give us a trophy summit, but to put a mirror before our face. "Who are we" is the ultimate question that gets an answer on Mount Everest.

Double treachery - death and silence

The world is outraged at a double-amputee who used his carbon legs to step over a dying man to reach the summit of Everest. A story hardly gets better than that. But it's easy to forget that Mark Inglis was the only one among 40 climbers who spoke up; the rest - the ones with both legs intact - remain silent.

Many years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a simple message to the world: "Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak."

They were not the charity climbers

Those who spoke up on Everest were not the healthy climbers, they were not the responsible commercial guides, they were not the authorities in charge of order, and they were not the charity climbs.

They were a man without legs; and one simple climber, Vitor from Brazil, whose last desperate dispatch revealed thefts on the mountain and his climbing buddy's death. And then there was a third word; arriving from commercial guide Jamie McGuiness.

"Had it not been for Jamie..."

Anne Parmenter dispatched yesterday.

"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."

Only hours before, we had published the details about David Sharp, and that same morning an email from Jamie arrived. The subject:

"Pls add to your story."

The Sherpa heroes

Here's Jamie's testimony of the nights David and Vitor died:

"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)."

"David was far too sensible to die"

"I will remember David as a strong and independent climber, for example on Cho Oyu, rather than pull on old ropes, he free-climbed a difficult section. We spent a glorious half hour eating lunch on top."

"Later when I was working as a Sherpa for the Team David was on he turned back around the Second Step with minor frostbite developing on his face. Little did he realize until later he had frostbitten feet from using plastic mountaineering boots. This time he was wearing the latest boots and was climbing with oxygen, apparently. He was strong at altitude, and I thought far too sensible to die."

"David was clean, easy company and a very likeable chap, I will miss him. I have a feeling that his personal wish may be to stay there and frighten-inspect every climber that goes by, although for the moment his face is covered by a classic Berghaus pack."

"Jamie McGuinness"

"Vitor motioned he was OK"

The Everest Peace Project team summitted the same day as Vitor (18 May). Jamie was at the back shepherding a climber along and they leapfrogged Vitor a few times; he seemed to be moving strongly for a no O2 ascent, says Jamie.

The team summitted ahead of Vitor but because of dramas with their climber Vitor caught up and passed them on the Second Step, "I waved him thru ahead of me so as not to slow him down. He seemed to be having an issue with his water bottle. Later we passed him, he was obviously tired but still seemed to be doing OK. He knew that he could ask us for help, I had motioned that. He motioned he was OK."

"It was just on dark and he was perhaps 200m behind us when a Sherpa went up fast to help him. We, with our tents 60m away on a windy night, knew nothing of the troubles of the night."

Summit Attempts on Everest have gone from a few a year to hundreds per year since the '70s, with the past few years seeing incredible growth in the annual number of attempts. Its become fashionable, trendy, but even with today's equipment and techniques, dangerous to the point of threat to life.


From what I've gathered, Sharp knew the risks - knew them well - gambled, and lost ... lost it all. It appears, question of rescue feasability aside, there were issues - misjudgements, if you will - on the part of Sharp that contributed to his misfortune; questions pertaining to his physical condition as he pressed from his last base camp to the summit, the supplies he carried, the timing he chose for his final, successful summit assault and the subsequent failed descent attempt Is anyone really to blame? I dunno, at least in the conventional sense of 'Who's to blame?"; Sharp knew the mountain was a killer, challenged it, and lost.

Should he have been helped? Certainly, if he could have been helped, if the available help would have had even remote prospect of success. Was there any reasonable prospect of successful rescue, or did the circumstance present only the high potential of failure accompanied by further loss of life? Would a greater tragedy have been a more satisfactory outcome? Who's to say - those who weren't there, or those who were, and who, whatever else may happen, will always know they were there, and know what they did? That's not a burden I would welcome, whatever the reality of the situation as it unfolded.
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Reply Mon 29 May, 2006 12:08 pm
I have no hands on mountain climbing experience. From what I've read of the Everest Tourist Industry many of the tourists are not experienced, knowledgable climbers.

These tourists wouldn't be able to get up the mountain without the Sherpas functioning as cooks, bottle washers, nannies and pack animals.

These days an "I Climbed Everest" t-shirt is as likely to mean "I paid $100,000" for a memorable experience. Wearing that t-shirt simply means the survivor paid his money--not that he had the expertise to be heroic. Perhaps he didn't even have the inclination to be heroic.

One of the symptoms of severe altitude sickness is irrational behavior.

This might explain both Sharp's miscalculation and some of the focused-elsewhere indifference of the 40-odd climbers who ignored him.
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Reply Tue 30 May, 2006 07:21 pm
Climbing Everest has become a diletante's dream these days. No one who is not extremely physically fit should ever even try. At the kind of altitude you are talking about there, the brain has shut down, the lungs are filling with fluid, you are literally dying with every step you take on the final ascent to the top and back down to the camp. Remember the man who lied about his eyes, went on the climb, he had glaucoma and 3/4 the way up he's blind? Big help he's gonna be to a crew. That altitude leaves a person so dumb and numb that they are literally putting one foot in front of the other, holding onto a rope trying to get back down to their tents at the final camp. Even there, it's extremely dangerous weather. Even if someone had "seen him"? or attempted to save him, there would no doubt be 2 dead bodies up there instead of one. The only persons fit enough to help another one climb are the sherpas, the guides who grew up at the base camp of this mountain, some of whom can make that climb without oxygen. Now THAT is climbing Everest. The rest of these folks want a big thrill, but they seem not to realize that once you get above a certain height - your body begins to die, and getting back down to the last
base camp is essential otherwise you'll be out in the cold, fall asleep and
that's the end of your Everest story. I see people doing it who have no
business even being there, let alone attempting an ascent. Into Thin Air
was an interesting book about 2 or 3 teams all gone wrong, one group
wasn't supposed to even GO on that day, so their ascent blocked the others' descent. Two of the lead climbers died, a storm came up, one of the patrons had arranged a televised, satellite view of his group at the top of the world...& even though his crew boss told him that they HAD to turn back if they hadn't reached the summit by a specific time, this guy was so pushy he insisted they go on, that his lead man was just afraid. That storm DID come in and nearly cost him his life. It DID take the life of his lead man, and other members of his party. The lead men were way too soft & let all of the sherpas make the ascent too (so they could say they did it) when there are ALWAYS several sherpas left behind at the last camp in the event they are needed in an emergency. Well, when the
emergency came - there was no one left to help anyone. It was the
most ludicrous, foolhardy behavior you can imagine. These people are
supposed to be PROFESSIONALS with years of experience. But when a
storm drops in on you, it doesn't care how many years you've done this.
That changes the game completely. Not to mention that this sacred mountain ( to the local people) is littered over with the oxygen tanks,
the tents and other garbage (and bodies) of former attempts. It is like allowing lone kayakers & rafters to go rafting Section 4 of Chatooga in
the springtime & not expect trouble & deaths. I think that the only way to comprehend this tragedy as not being a cold, callous act, is to understand the condition that their bodies are in at such altitudes.That lack of oxygen makes you unable to think clearly, see clearly, even moving your legs is an almost inhuman effort. People are constantly climbing Everest so they can say that they've done it, but they end up just another number claimed
by the mountain. This is climbing for professionals ONLY. Not for a few
professionals and sherpas guiding people who aren't fit to make it. The only reason they do it is to make money at what they love - climbing. But there are risk evaluations that must be made. Standards that must be adhered to, time limits that must be obeyed...otherwise death on Everest is certain.
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Reply Tue 30 May, 2006 09:14 pm
I've never climbed Everest, but I've done some climbing. From what I've read of Everest attempts, the only thing there is the extreme altitude; apart from that, apparently, its not a particularly difficult climb ... a helluva physical challenge, no argument, but in the end not much more than a hiking stunt.

Now, Yosemite's El Capitan,


that I've done, with a 4-person team. A multi-day effort, 2 nights sleeping in a hammock suspended from a sheer rock face (sharing the moment with little hamster-like critters called picas - they really like M&Ms Shocked ), destroyed a good pair of boots and several pairs of gloves, along with a pretty fair investment in use-once gear. A stunt? Yeah, I s'pose. A physical challenge? You betchya - I doubt I could do it at my age and shape now, though some guy in his 80s did it once, its been done by a paraplegic and by a blind climber, its been free climbed (no climbing gear), and its been speed-climbed (something like 4 or 5 hours up, a couple down, I think). A climb? You betchya - all the way - 3900 feet up, and 3900 feet back down ... climbing all the way - not much like a hike. A signal achievement of skill, luck and endurance? I think so.

One thing I'll acknowledge; tough climbs are dangerous - you can do everything right and still get hurt or worse - it ain't like golf.
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Reply Wed 31 May, 2006 09:01 am
Not that this is right, but I was wondering if perhaps others did not help as this person was beyond and help and by assisting him, they could be endangering themselves. From what I read, many people are inexperienced climbers with guides. Unfortunately these inexperienced climbers are in the worst position to assist another climber. In my opinion they should not be climbing themselves.
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Reply Wed 31 May, 2006 09:01 am
Agree with edgarblythe. It happens everywhere. Even this same sort of attitude on A2K. I once wrote about an accident I witnessed. I also mentioned how I would have stopped to help in any way, however, I had two small children and couldn't risk their safety on a busy fast road (or leave them alone). I was shocked at the amount of responses I received from people saying - it was a good thing you didn't try to help - they could sue you. More people were of the opinion of NOT helping than of helping.

I also don't think this is strictly a "US thing". As the subject here is not and also I experienced this non-helping situation in London. I was staying at a small cheap B&B in London. I looked out the window and witnessed a man being beaten in broad daylight. We were staying on a side street, however, it was rather busy. People were walking right past and ignoring this man on the ground while another was kicking his head. Who butts in, but me a petite young woman in her 20s. Seeing was up several flights I began screaming at the man to stop - I told him I had called the police, etc. He better the f* out of there. When I called the front desk, the woman didn't even want to call the police so I ran out the door and down the stairs. Some men in the lobby in the mean time did call the police. By the time I got out there, the man did take off. I was the only one willing to even give an account of the situation to the police.
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Reply Fri 2 Jun, 2006 10:59 am
I can see some parallels between the hapless Everest climber and the recent influx of Chinese students asking for help on A2K.
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Reply Sat 3 Jun, 2006 09:27 pm
Linkat has a valid point. At that altitude the human body is actually in the process of DYING, the lungs are filling with fluid, the brain is starving for oxygen, even with their oxygen tanks, they must be very, very careful to conserve greatly. They can only carry a certain amount of oxygen with them and if it runs out, what then? This condition makes intelligent thought an impossibility. The only thing a person can do after making an ascent to the top, and are on their way down, is put one foot in front of another and hold on to the rope connecting them to the group. I don't think they would have even have SEEN this man, let alone made sense of what it meant. If they did, what kind of thought is possible to them, given the condition of their body, the physical and mental shape they were in?
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Reply Sun 4 Jun, 2006 09:04 am
In the same season, another climber in danger was rescued by a team which gave up their own chance to summit (the goal of all mountaineers) and all the money and effort that they had laid out to be able to do so.

within 200 metres of Everest summit

(The news article is written for a Canadian audience, and is a little unbalanced, but unfortunately I couldn't find another decent source.)

I have yet to see the differences in these two cases, other than one man was very lucky and the other was not.
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