Climbers Return to Base Camp
May 25, 1997 by Liesl Clark
You know it's an auspicious day when you awake to four inches of snow and it's
May 25th. Okay, so we're in the Himalayas and it IS the beginning of the
monsoon. All of our climbers are off the mountain and back at Base Camp,
celebrating a successful season on the highest mountain on Earth. Even Hugo,
the Mexican climber who spent a night out, alone, above 28,000 feet is safely
back at Base Camp.
But miracles here are inevitably followed by tragedy, and this mountain will
continue to take its toll on the strongest of climbers. Today, a Sherpa fell
in a crevasse in the Icefall on his final trip down to Base Camp. A large
rescue effort was launched and he was pulled out alive, with a broken arm, a
severe head injury, and possible internal bleeding. A helicopter will lift him
off the Khumbu Glacier later today, if weather permits.
Celebrations here are always hampered by the grim reality of the accidents,
deaths and near losses of those that are close to us. Everest, in its
ever-demanding way, reminds us constantly that this is not a place to stay
long. Soon after climbers David Breashears, Pete Athans, Jangbu Sherpa, Ed
Viesturs and Dave Carter returned to Camp IV after their successful summit
attempt, our own near-tragedy began to unfold.
Just at the moment when we thought all of our worries were over, Dave Carter's
toughest moments in his life were about to begin. A two day round-the-clock
vigil of climbers and Base Camp doctors who were communicating with Dave and
Ed by radio as they slowly progressed down the mountain, was the smallest part
of what took place. Dave had an airway blockage that occurred several times,
completely obstructing his airway passage, leaving him unable to breathe. A
simple upper respiratory infection that Dave had acquired at Base Camp was
compounded by the effects of climbing in extreme altitudes: malnurition,
dehydration, sleeplessness, and his immune system was gravely impaired. "I
wasn't sure I was going to make it," confesses Dave, who is now safely down at
Base Camp and should be able to walk out. "I haven't even thought once about
making the summit, it's just not what is important to me anymore. Being here,
being in the mountains and climbing is something I love and will always do.
But it will take a long time before it sinks in that I summited Everest." For
Carter, as for all of us who seem to keep coming to altitudes where no human
populations can thrive, we all ultimately have to come back down.
Watch the NOVA documentary detailing this story of humans at high altitude,
scheduled for broadcast next winter. Check the TV Schedule in September
for an exact broadcast date.
And log on here for the complete account of our climbers' journey into the
Death Zone and back, available online beginning Wednesday, May 28.