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The bright side of Everest



PICS: HIROYUKI KURAOKA
SUN IN MY EYES: The sun comes up as climbers near the summit of Chomolungma on 21 May
High Crimes, Dark Summit, Mountain without Mercy, Left for Dead. These are all titles of books about climbing the world's highest peak. I have just come back from climbing Chomolungma, and I saw the mountain in a very different light.

Times have changed since the mountain was first climbed in 1953. This year around 40 expeditions from all over the world settled down at Base Camp on the Khumbu Glacier at 5,400m. I was among the hundreds of Everest aspirants.

I reached the top on 21 May and even though the summit push was extremely hard, probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, I was very lucky because it was perfect weather, an extremely competent and safe expedition leader and I was in good health all the way through.

Not everyone was as fortunate. Lhakpa Nuru from Thame died in an serac fall in the Khumbu Icefall when he was descending to base camp from Camp 2, and Sergey Lavrov from Kazakhstan, who was attempting to traverse from Lhotse to Mt Everest, was also swept away in an avalanche on the Lhotse Face.

There were sometimes long waits at bottlenecks such as the Hillary Step, the notorious rock climb at about 8,760m. "We had to wait at the Hillary Step for two hours and I got slight frostbite," said Gerry Moffatt, who reached the summit on 19 May.

Teams climbing Mt Everest receive a lot of criticism because climbers don't help each other. But I was amazed to see how climbers, Sherpas, doctors and expedition leaders worked together.

Billi Bierling poses on the top.
At Camp 3 at 7,200m during my summit push, I heard on the radio how two Argentinean climbers helped an Irishman, who had run out of oxygen and had troubles coming down. As the Irish climber was suffering from oedema and frostbite several doctors at the base camp advised the climbers what to do with the sick man. About 10 people were involved in that rescue and thanks to all the joined forces they brought the man down alive.

On 22 May, two mountaineers from Austria and the Netherlands, found an American climber sitting at the Balcony, just above Camp 4 at about 8,400m. He was clearly confused, and he had taken off his gloves and parts of his down suit. Had these two climbers not helped, the man would have died.

Several doctors saved the life of a Sherpa, who nearly died after he had consumed a bottle of whiskey adulterated with methanol.

There are gruesome books about Mt Everest: the commercialisation, greed, selfishness and crime. This season, I saw none of that, only humanity, generosity and courage. If I were to write a book about Everest (which I promise I will never do) I'd probably call it 'The Bright Side of Everest'.

Billi Bierling, Everest Base Camp


Mick Parker, 36

ROLAND HUNTER
Veteran Australian climber, Mick Parker, died in Kathmandu on 4 June due to dissipated pulmonary and cerebral oedema, two weeks after climbing Makalu, the world's fifth highest peak.

Two weeks earlier, Parker had summitted Makalu with British mountaineer, Roland Hunter. "I probably would not have made if he hadn't gone ahead and broken trail," Hunter said. "He was a very strong climber but never talked much about his mountaineering achievements."

Parker had been climbing in the Himalaya for about 10 years and scaled five 8,000m peaks, including Cho Oyu and Manaslu in Nepal, and Gasherbrum I and Broad Peak in Pakistan.

"Mick absolutely loved climbing and he focussed on climbing in good style - small teams, no gas," said Andrew Lock, a fellow Australian and accomplished Himalayan climber "With his recent successes, Mick was probably one of the
more successful Australian high-altitude climbers but he never made a big fuss about it," recalls Neil Bosch, who climbed on Manaslu with Parker.

Parker had become quite an institution in Kathmandu. Once you saw Mick wandering around the streets of Thamel you knew that the climbing season had started. The mountaineering world has lost a truly committed and dedicated mountaineer, who shall be greatly missed.

Billi Bierling

READ ALSO:
Khumbu after nightfall - FROM ISSUE #456 (19 JUNE 2009 - 25 JUNE 2009)



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