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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.

June 10, 1997: Back Home (27)
May 25, 1997: Climbers Return to Base Camp (26)
May 24, 1997: Descending Toward Base Camp (25)
May 23 PM, 1997: NOVA Climbers Safely Off the Summit (24)
May 23 AM, 1997: NOVA Climbers Reach the Summit! (23)
    Hear the archived live audio broadcast from the summit
    Read the transcript of the broadcast from the summit
May 22, 1997: Bid for the Summit (22)
May 21, 1997: Helicopter Crashes at Everest Base Camp (21)
May 20, 1997: Moving On Up (20)
May 19, 1997: Poised at Camp II (19)
May 18, 1997: Departing for Camp II (18)
May 17, 1997: Dead Sherpa Found on Khumbu Glacier (17)
May 16, 1997: Jet Stream Winds Blast Camp II (16)
May 13, 1997: Receiving News from the North Side (15)
    May 13, 1997: RealAudio Interview with David Breashears
May 11, 1997: Five Climbers Presumed Dead on the North Side (14)
May 10, 1997: The Waiting Game (13)
May 9, 1997: Pulmonary Edema Evacuation from Base Camp (12)
May 8, 1997: A Hasty Retreat to Base Camp (11)
May 7, 1997: Sherpa Falls To His Death On The Lhotse Face (10)
May 6, 1997: Spin: A Passenger to the Summit (9)
May 5, 1997: Delayed at Advance Base Camp (8)
May 4, 1997: NOVA Climbers Leave Base Camp for Their Summit Attempt (7)
May 1, 1997: NOVA Team Prepares for Summit Attempt (6)
April 26, 1997: Indonesian Expedition First to Summit in 1997 (5)
April 23, 1997: Expedition Leader Dies at Everest Base Camp (4)
April 22, 1997: Japanese Expedition Pulls Out (3)
April 16, 1997: Traffic Reports on Everest (2)
April 14, 1997: Rescue Season Begins (1)

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