High altitude rescue’s and missing toes
In 2006 a well known Australian climber named Lincoln Hall got into serious difficulties while descending the North East Ridge of Everest – the route I will be attempting next year. Eventually in a severely weakened condition, he had to be left very high on the mountain by his climbing companions who had to descend to the lower elevations and the relative safety of camp 4. Being out overnight at 8000m, oxygen finished, in his weakened condition should have spelt certain death and indeed reports started circulating around the world (even reaching his family in Australia), that he had perished on the mountain.
The next morning – a climbing team on their way to the summit came past Lincoln and noticed he had in fact survived the night. He was in a terrible state, badly frost bitten, dehydrated and incoherent from the effects of cerebral oedema (altitude sickness), but alive none the less. As unfortunately seems to happen more and more these days on Everest – certain climbers offered minimal to no assistance and continued on their way either up and down from the summit. Luckily for Lincoln, a veteran American Everest guide named Dan Mazur did stop to lend assistance. Dan had built up a reputation over the years, of giving up his summit bids to help climbers in distress. Dan was able to put Lincoln onto oxygen immediately, feed him some hot water and juice and set the wheels in motion of a dramatic rescue which thankfully had a happy ending with Lincoln getting off the mountain alive – minus a few fingers and toes! (For the complete story read Lincoln’s book ‘Dead Lucky’).
On Sunday evening I was lucky enough to meet Dan Mazur in person and share a beer with him. He was in Singapore to give a presentation at the ‘Thick and Thin’ evening. In an unusual presentation style he gave a quite hilarious account of his first ascent of Everest, where he tagged onto a Russian national climbing team expedition who had a spare permit. Dan eventually summited together with the oldest Russian member who had only one lung and almost died on the descent! A very down to earth and unassuming looking chap, Dan at first appearances to be someone who works in a library rather than a high altitude mountain guide who has summited some of the most dangerous peaks in the world, including Everest and K2. I have a habit of discreetly observing the fingers and toes of high altitude mountaineers when I meet them, checking to see how many of them they have or have lost (through frost bite). Dan was wearing sandals and sure enough half of one of his toes was missing. It was refreshingly nice to meet someone so humble and down to earth who has achieved some amazing feats, as opposed to the commitment phobic, loud mouth, lycra clad dawks that the world seems to be filling up with these days.
Speaking of being bought down to earth, I was once again taught a lesson in climbing over the weekend, in a session with Alan Silva on the granite walls of Bukit Timah. He seemed to effortlessly wander up climbs that I sweat, struggle and curse on, and in some cases cannot even get up. He also taught me some interesting new techniques for self belaying (climbing solo). In early 2011, Alan and myself may be attempting a technical climb in the beautiful southern Alps of New Zealand. The North Ridge of Everest has a lot of rock scrambling and low grade rock climbing on it, which at extreme altitude with huge boots and overboots on is a real struggle. The route we will be attempting in New Zealand will be a long alpine technical rock route which will be great to get me in the ‘zone’ before I head to Everest.
With only 6 days left to our wedding in New Zealand, it’s a last minute scramble to finish up at work, pack the bags and jump on the plane tomorrow evening to head back to Taranaki. After 36 years and 11 months, the chapter of my life on being a single man is about to close and a new chapter on married life is about to open. I can’t wait.