The summit is only halfway. The team did well, but altitude, fatigue, and the low-oxygen levels got the best of some. A dangerous helicopter mission was launched trying to save a life.
In the real world, the Chinese survey team summitted and the national team is expected on Thursday. After weeks of delays due to deep snow, the Tibetan rope team finally got to the summit. This one of the latest dates ever to reach the summit on the Northside. Mingma G posted on Facebook that the Tibetan team included Dorjee Tsering, Tenzing Norbu, Dunpa, Tashi Gombu, Tsering Norbu, and Dorjee.
Virtual Everest 2020 – Support the Climbing Sherpas is a joint project of Alan Arnette and several global guide companies. Our objective is to entertain Everest fans during the Coronavirus spring closure and raise money to help the Climbing Sherpas who are not working this spring. While there will be accurate historical references, this series is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Please join us by making a donation using the links below plus by adding your Everest experiences in the comment section.
Climbers in Trouble on the Descent
“Let’s get down ASAP.” Guide said to Nawang and Girlfriend. They had arrived at the summit of Everest five minutes ago only to learn that Boyfriend was in trouble at the South Col and needed to be flown to Kathmandu.
“What happens now?” Girlfriend asked Guide as they approached the top of the Hillary Step on the descent. “Dawa has a lot of experience in dealing with HAPE. He knows what to do.”
Dawa began organizing the difficult effort it would take to get Boyfriend down to at least C3 if not C2 for a helicopter rescue. He used the sat phone to call Adventure Rescue. “Yes, we have one of your clients at the South Col. He needs a helicopter evac as soon as possible. He has pulmonary edema and is struggling to breathe. I already gave him 10 mg of Nifedipine and have him on Os at six lpm.”
On the other end of the phone, the nurse made a few suggestions but agreed that a helicopter rescue was needed. “We’ll contact our chopper company immediately. They will call you on your sat phone to arrange the details. Can you manage a long-line rescue from 3?” Asked the alpine rescue specialist at the firm.
Long-line helicopter rescues are the most dangerous and difficult rescues in high-altitude mountains. They are regularly performed in the Alps, Canada, and around the world. However, those elevations are significantly lower than the 23,000-feet at Camp 3. The air density there is 60% less compared to sea-level, and the helicopter has trouble just flying, much less picking someone up. The chopper is stripped of all seats other than the pilot’s and loaded with minimal fuel – all to lower the weight and increase the lift.
In a long-line rescue, a 200-foot line made of synthetic fiber is attached to a bracket on the belly of the helicopter. Sometimes there is a platform attached to the line, but in these high-altitude cases, it’s a simple industrial-sized ring called a Welded Keeper Ring that the ground crew clips a locking carabiner onto. The ring is clipped onto the victim’s harness or a rescue harness if available.
On May 19, 2013, helicopter pilot Maurizio Folini executed the highest long-line rescue ever. While Maurizio piloted the chopper, Simone Moro and Armin Senoner coordinated events from the ground. He flew a Eurocopter AS350 B3 to Camp 3 and rescued a climber who had no arms and had broken his ankle using the long-line technique to take him to base camp.
To rescue Boyfriend would require similar coordination between the pilot and the team on the ground at C3.
She and Mingma overheard the unfolding drama on the radio. “Let’s go as fast as we can.” She said, “I want to help get him down.” Mingma nodded but added. “Didi, he is good with Dawa and the four Sherpas at the Col. They will take care of him.”
She understood but also put herself in Girlfriend’s situation. It would take her at least three hours to get to the Col. Hopefully Boyfriend would be at C3 or lower by then. But if he was still at the Col, She wanted to see him for herself so She could tell Girlfriend about his condition.
All the climbers from Mount Everest Guide’s were aware of the situation and were moving down mountain. Old Man was struggling. “Guide, I think we have a problem with Old Man,” Passang called over the radio. Pertemba checked his oxygen flow rate and turned his regulator up to six lpm.
The latest generation of regs allowed for higher rates than in previous years. Old Man stumbled climbing back up to the South Summit. His legs were failing; he felt extremely weak. “OK, get some calories in him, and water. Just take it slow and easy. We don’t need another rescue. Keep me posted every half hour.” Guide instructed the two Sherpas.
Boyfriend was drifting in and out of sleep or consciousness while Dawa sat in the tent beside him monitoring his oxygen saturation levels. He was in the low 70s, very dangerous. He called back to the nurse at Adventure Rescue, who gave him more advice on additional meds to administer.
Boyfriend opened his eyes, “Where am I?” He asked. Dawa gently talked to him. “Can you walk? Gyalzen, Tenzing plus the other Sherpas and me will take you to Camp 3 where a helicopter will fly you to base camp, and then to Kathmandu. They cannot fly to the Col; it’s too high for a rescue.” Boyfriend nodded his head as the additional meds began to take effect. He knew enough to know he was in trouble and had to participate in his own rescue.
Dawa put Boyfriend’s big boots on his feet and zipped up his down suit. He reached around the young man to fasten his climbing harness. Gyalzen found extra fixed-line. He and the other Sherpas tied one end onto their harness with a figure-eight knot and began wrapping most of the line around their shoulder. They left about 30-feet free, but most of the coil would be in their hand while leaving about 15 feet between them and Boyfriend. They tied the other end onto his harness. He would be held tight by the Sherpas. If he fell, he would go nowhere, certainly not down the Lhotse Face.
The plan was to short-rope him to the Geneva Spur, where they would have to navigate down-climbing the rocky buttress. At the Spur’s base, they would use a tent fly to rig a sled of sorts to do a controlled drag down the steep Lhotse Face to C3. The thin nylon layer should work well against the hard snow. There would be two Sherpas behind and two in front to keep him in control. Dawa would oversee the operation.
Old Man stood up but was wobbly at the South Summit. Passang pulled a section of rope out of his pack and rigged a short-rope on him. Pertemba started going lower, mindful of being no more than two steps in front of their charge. At each anchor, Pertemba managed the move of the safety carabiner across the protection. Old Man was on automatic now, almost in a hypoxic daze. “Go ahead and give him the shot,” Guide told the Sherpas at their next check-in.
It was a short distance from the tents at the South Col and the top of the Geneva Spur, but it took the group an hour and a half. Boyfriend moved slowly and had to stop every few minutes. Each Sherpa had two bottles of oxygen in their packs. Before downclimbing, they swapped his almost empty bottle for a new cylinder.
Climbers and Sherpas from other teams passed them. The weather forecast called for high winds and snow starting tomorrow, so everyone needed to get down to at least C2. Also, this meant the helicopter could only fly today, not tomorrow. The situation was becoming critical.
“Can we help?” Said the same guide who did crowd control at the top of the Hillary Step. “Yes,” said Dawa. “Can you find and mark a flattish section at Camp 3. We are doing a long-line rescue. We should be there in about three hours, faster if the sled works well.” Dawa said, stretching out his hand to thank the Swiss guide. Being from Switzerland, he knew exactly how this type of rescue worked and how dangerous it was at this altitude.
At the top of the Spur, the four Sherpas were roped to Boyfriend; now the ropes were two-feet long. They held him tight as he took small steps down the rocky face. It was slow, but Boyfriend did well. He was helping to save himself. At the base, he sat down exhausted. “Wake up, don’t sleep!” Dawa screamed at him. If he fell asleep, he might never wake-up. Dawa had to be firm.
Gyalzen pulled the tent fly out his pack. The Sherpas used their ropes to tie onto the fly, putting Boyfriend in a nylon cocoon. He was about to take the ride of his life.
“We are, Old Man and us, we are at the Balcony,” Passang said in the radio microphone. “Great job!” Guide radioed back. The meds were helping along with the high oxygen flow. “Old Man, stay with it, stay with us. Let the Sherpas help you, but also, you have to help them help you.”
She arrived at the South Col. “He’s gone.” A Sherpa from another team who had been helping Dawa and Boyfriend told Mingma. “He’s gone? What do you mean, he’s gone?” She asked with fear in her voice. “They took him to C3. They are on the Lhotse Face now.” The Sherpa told them. “OK, I thought you meant, I thought you meant that he was gone.” She began to breathe again.
Loner, Snorer, Buddies, and Dutch all arrived at the South Col. Everyone was back except for Girlfriend and Old Man and the Sherpas in support.
Guide, Nawang, and Girlfriend were flying down the Southeast Ridge. They caught up with Old Man as he was leaving the Balcony. “Nawang, please stay with Passang and Pamba to help with Old Man. I’ll take Girlfriend down. We will try to catch Dawa and help.”
The section between the Balcony and South Col was short in distance, only about 1,200-feet. While it takes around three hours to ascend, going down is less than a third of that. If they got to the South Col, took a very short water and food break, then went fast, they might catch them as they arrived at C3.
“I’m so worried,” Girlfriend told Guide. He blinked his eyes and took a step off the flat Balcony area. Clipped into the rope, they moved with urgency in the bright morning sun. They had been on the move for ten straight hours.
“He’s on the Lhotse Face,” She said, hugging Girlfriend hard as she arrived at the Col. The Sherpas here said he was in tough shape but felt he would make it. Dawa and the Sherpas are doing a great job.” Tears were pouring down Girlfriend’s face. She held her tightly. “Let’s leave in 15,” Guide told Girlfriend. “I want to come.” She told him. Seeing the two women together, he knew it was the right thing. She could help. She was strong. “You bet, could use the help.”
Guide, Girlfriend with Nawang and She with Mingma left the South Col, all still on Os. They arm-wrapped down the Geneva Spur; it was faster than rigging a rappel. Now on the snow of the Lhotse Face, they had a clear view of Camp 3, albeit, the few yellow tents that remained this late in the season were tiny specs in the snow.
“Chopper eta is 1 hour, fueling in Luka now.” Came the update over the radio. Dawa looked at Gyalzen. Both men had a look of resolve in their eyes. They made good progress to the Yellow Band. “This might be rough,” Dawa told Boyfriend. He had closed his eyes but was mindful not to go to sleep. “I understand.” The five Sherpas drug his body across the rocky band and onto the hard-packed boot track that led to C3.
Old Man now had two ropes attached to him as he and three Sherpas made their way to the South Col. All the other members that remained at the Col were resting in their tents before leaving for C2. “I’m feeling better.” Old Man grumbled, “Hell, I might just make it!” He added. Pamba replied, “You will.” The Sherpas smiled, happy that his crusty character was re-emerging.
“Guide radioed to Passang, “You need to get everyone back to 2 today, no exceptions. Weather is moving in late tomorrow, and I want to get back to base before it hits.” All the Sherpas heard the instructions and began to dismantle Camp 4 on the South Col. They would leave one tent standing for Old Man to rest then bring it down with him. They knew it was going to be a long haul to get him back to C2 today.
Dawa, Gyalzen, Tenzing, plus the other Sherpas paused for a break. They were at the highest tent platforms at C3. The Swiss guide called them on their radio frequency, “I marked the pad with a red X at 7,000-meters.” That was the operating limit for this helicopter. It would be tight. “I’ll stay here and manage comms with the pilot. I know him. He trained in my hometown of Chamonix.”
The team moved Boyfriend lower. Spotting the Swiss guide, they moved faster, skipping a desperately needed rest break. The Sherpas were breathing heavily; their legs were tired. The three-hour haul of ‘dead-weight’ was taking a toll on them. In hindsight, it was good that Guide and Dawa placed four Sherpas on standby at the Col. If they had summited 15 hours earlier like the others, the rescue might have been impossible.
“Listen.” Dawa said as they reached the red X. “Rotors.” The sound of pulsating helicopter rotor blades became louder and louder as it crested the top of the Khumbu Icefall, then moving quickly above the broken ice of the Western Cwm.
“OK, let’s be ready to clip him to the rescue line. The pilot will hover the chopper about 200-feet above us for one minute, no longer. We must be quick, but safe. The line is already deployed, so all we have to do is grab it and clip him in.
Tenzing, you are responsible for grabbing the line. Gyalzen, back him up and help if needed, but it’s really a one-person job. Dawa, you stand on the right, and I’ll be on his left.” Then looking at Boyfriend, Swiss shouted, “This is it, you must help, but don’t fight. It will be frightening. We will clip you onto the line; I will give the pilot hand signals that he will see through the windows on the chopper floor. Then he will fly you back to base camp. Another chopper will come to get you for Kathmandu. Understand?”
Boyfriend was overwhelmed. Was this really happening? His energy level was low, The meds had helped stabilize him, and the lower altitude helped, but he felt that he was fighting to stay alive. He thought of Girlfriend.
Nawang, Passang, and Pamba escorted Old Man to a tent at the South Col. One of the other Sherpas brought a large thermos of hot lemon drink. Snorer walked over and gave Old Man a huge hug, “Hell, I thought you were going to kiss me!” he said with a scowl on his face, then smiled. “You OK?” Snorer asked his friend. “Yeah, but really beat up. I’m feeling better getting lower, plus they shot me up. Now I need to get to 2.”
Guide, Girlfriend with Nawang, and She with Mingma reached the top of Camp 3. The roar of the hovering helicopter was deafening, echoing off the walls of Nuptse and Lhotse. The chopper bobbed a bit but was remarkably still in the thin air. The pilot was an expert.
“There he is!” Girlfriend said, pointing towards the group of men, all standing together, the long line dangling from the helicopter. The line went taught, the whine from the rotors raised up a pitch.
She watched her future husband, dangling 200-feet under a helicopter at 23,000-feet on Everest, fly away.
Memories are Everything
Climbing Sherpa Support
Who, how much, and how often you donate is a personal decision. Maybe you climbed with one of the guides, or plan to one day. Perhaps you have followed them for years and want to support their Climbing Sherpa team, or maybe you support by geography – Nepali, American, Austrian, British, New Zealand. It’s up to you and will be much appreciated.
My sincere appreciation to those companies who accepted my invitation to join Virtual Everest 2020 – Support the Climbing Sherpas:
- Alpine Ascents International: Click to Donate to Alpine Ascents’ Climbing Sherpas
- Adventure Consultants: Click to Donate to Adventure Consultant’s Climbing Sherpas
- Alpenglow Expeditions: Click to Donate to Alpenglow Expedition’s Climbing Sherpas
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- International Mountain Guides: Click to Donate to IMG’s Climbing Sherpas
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For an overview of the Virtual Everest 2020 – Support the Climbing Sherpas, please visit this post.
Previous Virtual Everest 2020 posts:
- Virtual Everest 2020 – Support the Climbing Sherpas
- Virtual Everest 2020: Leaving Home
- Virtual Everest 2020: Flying at the Summit of Everest
- Virtual Everest 2020: Weekend Video Update April 5
- Virtual Everest 2020: Hello Kathmandu!
- Virtual Everest 2020: Kathmandu
- Virtual Everest 2020: Exploring Kathmandu
- Virtual Everest 2020: The First Team Dinner
- Virtual Everest 2020: Lukla Drama
- Virtual Everest 2020: The Trek Begins
- Virtual Everest 2020: Weekend Video Update April 12- Guy Cotter Interview
- Virtual Everest 2020: Everest View
- Virtual Everest 2020: Blessing in the Khumbu
- Virtual Everest 2020: Leaving the Trees
- Virtual Everest 2020: Remembering
- Virtual Everest 2020: The Trekker’s Summit
- Virtual Everest 2020: April 18, Honoring the Fallen
- Virtual Everest 2020: Weekend Video Update April 19- Gordon Janow Interview
- Virtual Everest 2020: Settling into Base Camp
- Virtual Everest 2020: Puja at Base Camp
- Virtual Everest 2020: It Takes a Village
- Virtual Everest 2020: First Steps in the Khumbu Icefall
- Virtual Everest 2020: Weather Day and Tough Conversations
- Virtual Everest 2020: Weekend Video Update April 26- Lukas Furtenbach Interview
- Virtual Everest 2020: In the Western Cwm
- Virtual Everest 2020: Camp 2
- Virtual Everest 2020: Acclimatization at C2
- Virtual Everest 2020: Sherpas at C2
- Virtual Everest 2020: Difficult Times
- Virtual Everest 2020: Base Camp Life and Summit Schedules
- Virtual Everest 2020: Weekend Video Update April 26- Greg Vernovage Interview
- Virtual Everest 2020: Base Camp Tour
- Virtual Everest 2020: Doubts at Camp 2
- Virtual Everest 2020: Climbing the Lhotse Face
- Virtual Everest 2020: Storm at Camp 3
- Virtual Everest 2020: Back to Base Camp and A Narrow Escape
- Virtual Everest 2020: Weekend Video Update May 10 – Garrett Madison Interview
- Virtual Everest 2020: Summit Fever in Base Camp
- Virtual Everest 2020: Special Video Interview with Tendi Sherpa
- Virtual Everest 2020: Personality Clash
- Virtual Everest 2020: View from Pumori and Doubts
- Virtual Everest 2020: Summit Plan
- Virtual Everest 2020: Weekend Video Update May 17 – Ryan Waters Interview
- Virtual Everest 2020: Summit Push and Special Video Interview with Michael Fagin of Everest Weather
- Virtual Everest 2020: Weather Decisions and Video Interview with Simon Lowe of Jagged Globe
- Virtual Everest 2020: A Stormy Lhotse Face
- Virtual Everest 2020: Crossing the Yellow Band and Video Interview with Mike Hamill of CTSS
- Virtual Everest 2020: Trapped at the South Col
- Virtual Everest 2020: Summit Push Begins
- Virtual Everest 2020: Summit!!
- Virtual Everest 2020: Descending from the Summit and a Rescue