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Part II: Near top of Everest, he waves off fellow climbers: 'I just want to sleep'
The Associated Press (apwire)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2006-07-18 10:07 (KST)   
Down from Everest's summit in the advance base camp, exhausted climbers returned to congratulations, drinks and blessed rest after the day's conquests.

But David Sharp, last spotted hours earlier near the mountain's pinnacle, was not among them that evening, May 14. Still, the experienced climbers who were his friends were not overly concerned.

Dave Watson assumed his friend had crawled into an unoccupied tent at one of the high camps to rest. Sharp had turned around just shy of the summit twice before, so Watson knew theBriton was a smart climber. But he also knew Sharp thought of this as his last trip to Everest and was determined not to leave in defeat.

He remembered a remark Sharp had made several days earlier while acclimatizing at the camp. Other climbers were snapping photos, but he told Watson he was saving the film in his disposable camera.

''I've got all the pictures I need,'' he'd said, ''except for the summit.'' Around 11:10 p.m., while many in the camp slept, on the mountain's highest reaches another group began its summit push.

Mark Woodward, a guide for Himalayan Experience, was escorting a camera crew filming fellow New Zealander Mark Inglis' bid to become the first double amputee to reach the summit. Shortly before 1 a.m., at about 8,412 meters (27,760 feet), the group reached a rock alcove where Woodward knew they would find ''Green Boots''--the frozen Indian climber who'd died there 10 years earlier. Woodward turned to warn a client when he got a shock: There was asecond pair of boots protruding from the cave.

In the glare of his headlamp, Woodward could see a man, still clipped onto the red-and-blue guide rope, sitting to the right of the dead Indian, his arms wrapped around his knees. He had no oxygen mask on, and ice crystals had formed on his closed eyelashes.

Cameraman Mark Whetu yelled at him to get moving, but there was no response.

''The poor guy's stuffed,'' Woodward thought, believing the man was in a hypothermic coma and beyond help.

No one radioed down to expedition leader Russell Brice about a rescue. After pausing just long enough to unclip from the rope, pass Sharp and clip back in, the group trudged on.

About 20 minutes later, a group of Turkish climbers from Middle East Technical University's mountaineering club reached the alcove and also saw Sharp. The group's Sherpa, Lapka, urged the climber to get up and keep moving.

Sharp did not speak, but waved them off.

Others among the three dozen or so climbers attempting the summit that day assumed Sharp was ''Green Boots,'' or didn't notice him at all.

Maxime Chaya had been first up the mountain that day and had passed the notch before the others, but had noticed no one. The beam from his headlamp was weak, and Chaya was focused on his goal of becoming the first Lebanese citizen to summit Everest.

Climbing with a young Sherpa named Dorjee who was also making his first summit attempt, Chaya reached the top at 5:50 a.m., just in time to see the sun rise. At this altitude, you can see the curvature of the Earth, and the light hitting the lesser peaks appeared like an arc of flame.

Chaya stripped off two of his three layers of mittens and gloves for a photo of himself flashing the victory sign, just before his camera froze. The temperature was minus 36 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 37.7 degrees Celsius) as he and Dorjee headed back down.

It was a joyous descent until they reached the rock cave around 9:30 a.m. The sun was shining brilliantly, and this time they could not miss Sharp and his red--not green--boots.

Chaya radioed Brice.

Sharp was unconscious and shivering violently, his teeth clenched. His nose had already turned a deep black, his cheeks and lips becoming that way.

He was hatless and without glasses or goggles, wearing just a thin pair of light-blue woolen gloves. (When the Turks had seen Sharp, he was still fully clothed.) Chaya could see his crooked fingers were frozen solid.

Sharp's knees were drawn up in front of him. In Sharp's pack, Chaya found only one oxygen bottle, the gauge on empty.

Chaya told Brice that Sharp's legs appeared to be frozen to the knees, his arms to the elbows. Dorjee had attempted to give the man oxygen, but there was no response.

''There's nothing you can do, Max,'' Brice said.

Brice reminded Chaya that he had only about 90 minutes' worth of oxygen left. All of his Sherpas were helping clients down the mountain, and there weren't enough people to carry an unconscious man down tricky passes of ice and loose scree.

For nearly an hour, Chaya sat on a rock a few feet from Sharp, crying and pleading into the radio. Down at the ABC, climbers clustered around the radios and wept.

Finally, Chaya and Dorjee got up to leave. Chaya, a Greek Orthodox Christian, stood by the dying man and began reciting the Lord's Prayer in French: ''Notre Pere qui etes aux cieux...'' Finishing, Chaya made the sign of the cross, and he and Dorjee walked away.

It is not your body but your mind that carries you to the summit and back, according to one climber who nearly died on Everest.

''Your body is exhausted hours before you reach the top,'' Beck Weathers wrote in a book recounting an expedition that killed two of the most experienced guides during the 1996 Everest season, the deadliest on record.

Weathers had been left for dead twice and made it down the mountain only because he was able to keep walking.

''It is only throughwilland focus and drive that you continue to move,'' wrote the Texas pathologist. ''If you lose that focus, your body is a dead, worthless thing beneath you.'' As for the dead or dying, Weathers wrote, ''you leave them.'' Wh_ walked down under his own steam.

Edmund Hillary was outraged after hearing that some climbers reported Sharp's condition during the ascent, but were told to continue to the summit. Suggesting he would have aborted his own historic climb to aid the young Briton, Hillary declared that human life was ''far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain.'' Brice, who has initiated or taken part in 15 Everest rescue missions, insists he didn't know about Sharp's predicament until Sharp was already beyond rescue. He says his radio logs and transcripts of his conversations reveal no calls about a stricken climber on the May 14 of frozen afterlife, his body will serve as a guidepost to the summit.

Another reminder of the price some pay for a chanceto stand on the roof of the world.
By ALLEN G. BREED and BINAJ GURUBACHARYA
KATMANDU, NEPAL
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter The Associated Press

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