Sunday, April 26, 2015

Death on Everest

“We do not conquer the mountain,” Edmund Hillary said.  “We conquer ourselves.”

He and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa, were the first two humans ever to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, the highest point on earth.  Now, 62 years later, thousands of people have reached that summit — but Everest remains unconquered.

Last year it loosed an avalanche that killed 16 Sherpas, the ablest climbers in the world. Until yesterday that was Everest’s deadliest day.

The tolls are still climbing from Saturday’s monstrous earthquake in Nepal and the avalanches it triggered on the world’s highest mountain.

One climber estimated the Everest toll at 17; a doctor with an expedition at Base Camp said he had counted 14 bodies.  Many people are still missing. Frequent aftershocks have been frustrating the search and rescue efforts.  More than 100 climbers were believed to be trapped somewhere on the dangerous icefall high above  Base Camp. “There are so many people up there,” one climber said, that as a practical matter, “it’s impossible to get them all off with helicopters.”

Jon Reiter, an American mountaineer, survived the latest disaster.  “They were massive avalanches,” he told CNN. Carsten Pederson, another climber, said, “Immediately after the shock, we heard avalanches from all the mountains around us."  An immense wave of rocks, snow and ice engulfed Base Camp. People, Pederson said, “were trying to outrun the avalanche and you cannot. So many people were hit from behind, blown off the mountain, blown into rocks, hit by debris, tents were flying off."

Most  of the best Everest guides are Sherpas, like Norgay.  One of them, Pasang Sherpa, who lost friends and relatives in the 2014 disaster, said,  “This is our job.  There is always a risk of death.”

Fellow mountaineer George Lowe was among the first to greet Hillary and Norgay on their descent from the top of the world back in 1953. 

“Well, we knocked the bastard off,” Hillary said.

He didn’t say “conquered.”  He knew better.

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