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Ten high altitude deaths on Everest confirmed for 2006 climbing season

Ten years after the tragedies of the 1996 pre- monsoon season on Mt. Everest, it is happening again. Ten deaths are confirmed this spring.

Two cases, both on the north side of the mountain, stand out as the most unfortunate. Up to 40 individuals are said to have passed the British climber David Sharp as he lay dying below the summit. Days later, Australian Lincoln Hall was left, considered dead, only to be found alive and rescued on the following day.

These episodes, devoid as they seem of mountaineering’s tradition of cooperation and concern for others, cast a nasty shadow on our sport. The media attention that these events attract exposes the worst for all to see. But these are isolated cases on a unique mountain. Both in the mountains and in my daily work here at the Club, the ethic of helping others in mountaineering remains strong.

Everest is our planet’s highest peak, a highly coveted summit. An infrastructure of fixed ropes, bottled oxygen and Sherpas who set camps and carry loads makes it possible for less practiced climbers to attempt the peak. The resulting large numbers—as many as 500 may summit this year—includes many who are ill prepared.

The two most reasonable routes up the mountain are the South Col Route from Nepal and the North Ridge from Tibet. Very few expeditions go to either of these routes without plans to use oxygen, fixed lines and Sherpa support to aid their ascent. According to AAC member Eric Simonson, who has guided many successful expeditions to Everest, “In David Sharp’s case, he basically got a couple bottles of O2 and a space in a tent at 27,000 feet—that is it. He was obviously not ready to handle the terrain
above by himself, or to get himself down when he ran out of oxygen.”

We have yet to learn many of the details, so it is too early for a thorough analysis. I know how hard it would be to manage a rescue up high. Still, the concept of passing a dying man by, en route to a summit, is unfathomable to me.

While these events were unfolding in the Himalaya, a literal who’s who of American mountaineering history gathered here in Denver to celebrate Dr. Charlie Houston and the founding of the Altitude Research Center at the University of Colorado. Dr. Houston’s mountaineering achievements include attempts on K2 (28,254 feet) in 1938 and 1953. Like so many from his generation, he was also accomplished in other arenas; we all know of his pioneering research on the effects of altitude and hypoxia on the human body. His son Robin reports that he also built an artificial heart in his basement.

The list of people here to celebrate Dr. Houston’s life and the establishment of the Center included Dr. Tom Hornbein, Nick Clinch, Jim Wickwire, Congressman Mark Udall and the four other living members of the 1953 K2 expedition: Bob Bates, Bob Craig, Dee Molenaar and Tony Streather all the way from England.

These men represent the tradition of mountaineering that still dominates our sport today. In 1953, the K2 team famously abandoned any concern for the summit to attempt the rescue of fellow climber Art Gilkey. Their teamwork and concern for one another during the struggle for survival that ensued is legendary.

Our David A. Sowles Award is conferred from time to time on “mountaineers who have distinguished themselves, with unselfish devotion at personal risk or sacrifice of a major objective, in going to the assistance of fellow climbers imperiled in the mountains.” The members of the 1953 K2 expedition were among the first recipients. After the 1996 Everest tragedies, three individuals were singled out to receive the prestigious award.

In 2001 seven climbers gave up their summit on Lhotse to rescue two who were near death from a substantially more difficult location than David Sharp’s. They received the award in 2002.

If you dig deeply enough, you’ll find glimpses of the best in mountaineering even in this year’s terrible chapter on Everest. The men that eventually came to Lincoln Hall’s aid—Dan Mazur, Dawa Sherpa, Myles Osborn, Andrew Brash, Jangbu Sherpa and Phil Crampton—gave up their summit to save his life. Even in the midst of some of the most sickening stories of selfishness and ego, the spirit of mountaineering remains strong.

Respectfully yours,
Phil Powers
Executive Director
The American Alpine Club



Joint effort never before seen on Everest’s North side: Lincoln Hall in C1

Lincoln is now in the North Col C1 tent. “In our big dining tent at the North Col, the expedition’s doctor Andrey Selivanov has prepared a field hospital. The tent has tables, chairs, and electric light," Abramov reported earlier. Image of the camp at North Col, courtesy of the expedition (click to enlarge).
May 26, 2006

Early this morning, climbers on their way up the mountain found Australian Lincoln Hall still alive - after his spending one night in the open at 8700m. A rescue operation was immediately launched – resulting in an unprecedented joint effort from all teams still on Everest’s north side.

Sherpas reached Lincoln who, after receiving O2 and drugs, regained consciousness but remained in extremely serious condition. He was transported down across the technical upper sections of Everest.

At 10.00 this evening local time Lincoln is in camp at North Col 7000m; he even made the snow slope from 7500 m without assistance, Abramov reports. With him now in the makeshift hospital tent is doctor Andrey Selivanov . Lincoln is confused, due to acute brain edema and hypoxia. The doctor examined his hands, frostbitten 2-3 degrees. Lincoln remains in critical condition, but on a question regarding the outlook, the doctor said, "We shall overcome!".

"Now Lincoln Hall is in a warm, spacious tent with electric light, looked after by ten people. Descent to ABC is planned for tomorrow morning," Abramov said.

Australian Lincoln Hall (50) is an Everest veteran and one of Australia’s most renowned climbers. He was a member in the first Australian expedition to summit Mount Everest back in 1984, following a new route across the North face and Norton Couloir. The team climbed in light style, without supplementary O2. The resulting route was called White Limbo, also the title of a book written by Lincoln afterwards.

This year Lincoln was accompanying teenager Chris Harris, who hoped to become the youngest Everest summiteer ever at 15 years old. However, Chris called off his attempt due to health reasons. Lincoln felt strong and thus decided to give the summit a try. On May 24 he departed C3 with Harry Kikstra, visually challenged climber Thomas Weber and three Sherpas.

Thomas went completely blind on the way up. He turned back, but couldn’t make it to C3 and perished on the mountain.

Meanwhile, Lincoln reached the summit, but became ill on descent. At 8700m he couldn’t go on. Three Sherpas tried to help him for 9 hours, but eventually Lincoln lost consciousness and the Sherpas declared him dead at 7:20 pm (Nepal time) yesterday. Running out of O2, exhausted, and both of them snow blind, team leader Alex Abramov told the Sherpas to return to C3.

This morning, Dan Mazur reached Lincoln on his way to the summit with some clients, and found him still alive. He gave him oxygen, tea and lent him his radio, so Lincoln could speak to his team. Dan then proceeded to the summit* while Abramov and other teams on the mountain immediately dispatched all resources up the mountain to save Lincoln.

(Ed correction May 27: In a rescue debrief on May 27 it turned out that the two stayed with Lincoln until help arrived.)




Read more . . .
Bend's Mountain Link team summits Everest!
Mountain Link website
The Balsiger Mount Everest Expedition
Bend team set to scale Mount Everest
Dispatches from Mountain Link's Everest summit
Photos from JJ's expedition to the top of Everest
Robert Link autographs a poster
Senior Guide Garrett Madison moves to Bend, Oregon

Ed Viesturs
Steve House
Conrad Messner
Tomaz Humar

  About Alpine Mountaineering:
  The Sport of Alpine Mountaineering
  Climbing Together
  Following the Leader
  The Mountaineers' Rope
  Basic Responsibilities       Cuatro Responsabiliades Basicas de Quienes Salen al Campo
  The Ten Essentials         Los Diez Sistemas Esenciales

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