A beautiful view of a mountain and men (Justin Balding, Dateline producer)
It's 5 a.m. and, winding my way through the deserted alleyways of Katmandu, Nepal, I'm trying to find the American mountain guide, Dan Mazur, a man whose team had days before sacrificed its summit attempt on Mt. Everest to help a man in desperate need.
Dan is somewhat overwhelmed by all the media attention after his descent from Everest, and is eager to give credit to the others on his team, who helped Lincoln Hall: Candian climber Andrew Brash, British climber Myles Osborne (whose Everest climb raised a large sum of money for charity); to his Sherpas Jangbu and Dawa, without whom an assault on the summit would have been unthinkable; and to Phil Crampton, another expedition member, who'd abandoned his own summit attempt after rescuing another climber at 28,000 feet (Everest is about 29,000 feet high).
Dan says it's difficult to imagine the extreme effect high-altitude has on the human body. Never mind that you quickly lose body mass and may develop a rasping cough on your way up. Near the summit of Everest, in the so-called "death zone", the amount of oxygen in the air is only about one third of what we're used to breathing at sea level. Some climbers say just taking a few steps is like running a hundred-meter race flat out, and leaves you gasping. And supplemental oxygen tanks apparently don't make as much difference as one might think... not like oxygen tanks for scuba diving. Climbers say near the summit of Everest, supplemental oxygen allows you to go a few more steps than you might normally be able before you're out of breath again. So imagine trying to rescue someone... trying to pick someone up and carry them. It seems unthinkable— and maybe explains why some climbers might pass by another climber who's in trouble, not wanting to put themselves in jeopardy.
The sheer difficulty of trying to help another climber at altitude is made clear in Harry Kikstra's blog (www.sightoneverestcom <http://www.sightoneverestcom>). Harry gives a detailed and heart-breaking account of the tragedy that befell visually impaired climber Thomas Weber (who had been climbing at the same time as Lincoln Hall) and is a window into how quickly things can turn deadly.
Even Lincoln Hall's amazing story of survival has a bitter sting in its tail. Two days after Lincoln's rescue, a good friend of his, Sue Fear - a highly successful Australian mountaineer with whom Lincoln had recently published a mountaineering book called "Fear No Boundary" - tragically died on Mt. Manaslu in the Himalayas after falling into a crevasse.
On his return to Sydney, Lincoln shied away from any ceremony celebrating his survival. He instead attended a memorial service for his friend Sue.
In Katmandu, Nepal, as Dan is finishing telling his story, he talks about how disappointing it was for his team not to have made the summit after years of preparation. After he and his team were making their way down Everest, they decided to pay a visit to Lincoln Hall, who was receiving urgent medical treatment. As they were heading over to Lincoln's tent, they were all a bit nervous. What if we sacrificed the summit to save someone who's not a nice guy, they wondered? But they soon discovered they liked Lincoln very much, and it seems, some close friendships have come out of Everest's death zone.
Dateline's report, "Miracle on Mount Everest," airs Dateline Sunday, 7 p.m.
Australian mountain climber Lincoln Hall reached his life-long dream when he reached Mt. Everest's summit last May. However, on his descent down he had the fight of his life when he was presumed dead and left by himself on the frigid mountaintop. Now, one month into recovery, a thankful Hall tells his poignant story of survival and human kindness to NBC's Matt Lauer in an exclusive primetime interview, airing Sunday, June 25 on Dateline NBC, 7 p.m.- 9 p.m., ET.
The in-depth report includes footage from Hall's fateful climb up Mt. Everest never before seen on American television, and interviews with Hall's wife, Barbara, who was told her husband had died, and with American climber, Dan Mazur. While others passed Hall by, Mazur, who was leading an expedition just in reach of the summit, decided to stop and save Hall's life. Mazur tells Lauer that he never questioned whether or not to help the disoriented and frostbitten Hall, saying, "How could you sleep a good sleep at night thinking that you passed somebody who needed your help? I mean, that's just the way I was raised..."
The interview airs Sunday, June 25, 7 p.m. on Dateline.
Mountain morality eroding?
Mt. Everest has always drawn attention for what it represents: a challenge unrivaled anywhere on the planet. At 29, 035 feet, it is the world’s tallest peak. The people who climb it have always been cast as pioneers worthy of respect and admiration.
Yet for many, the image of the modern Everest community has changed. The climbing community is calling it “a circus.”
Last June, 34-year-old climber David Sharp died 1,000 feet from the summit as dozens of climbers passed him, refusing to stop their ascent to the top. Climbers asked, is mountain morality eroding?
Ten days later, two hours short of reaching the summit, American Everest guide Dan Mazur and his group halted their climb in order to save the life of 50-year-old Lincoln Hall. Hall had previously been thought to be dead, but had actually survived overnight exposed on the mountain.
A climbing explosion
Mt. Everest has lately been attracting climbers in record numbers. According to EverestHistory.com, 51 people reached the summit of mountain in 1994. In 2004, nearly six times as many people reached the peak.
Critics claim that this influx isn’t all positive: Climbers attempting to scale Everest have become less experienced than years past. “As climbers, we have seen clear moral erosion in the mountains when commerce and crowds arrive,” says Tina Sjogren of ExplorersWeb, who herself has also reached the peak of Everest more than once.
“Some unscrupulous operators sell base camp services to 'climbers' without checking that they are experienced enough to attempt the mountain,” adds Tom Briggs, Marketing Director for Jagged Globe & Adventureworks, a trekking company. An attempt to reach the summit costs anywhere from $15,000 to $65,000.
‘Climbers’ like those may care more about accomplishment over everything else.
Sir Edmund Hillary, who in 1953 with Tenzing Norgay, was the first man to scale Mt. Everest and survive, has been famously quoted in an interview with the New Zealand Herald, saying he is horrified by the ethics of the current generation: “They don’t give a damn for anybody else who may be in distress and it doesn’t impress me at all that they leave someone lying under a rock to die.”
A helping hand
For Dan Mazur, there was no question about helping out Lincoln Hall. “I don’t remember thinking should we help this guy or not, we just started helping him,” he says in an interview with Matt Lauer to be broadcast on Dateline Sunday, 7 p.m.
“How could you get a good sleep at night thinking that you passed somebody who needed your help? I mean, that’s just the way I was raised.”
Not all Everest experts will agree that there’s a moral erosion.
“That’s the popular thing to say-- the mountain has become commercialized,” says George Martin, General Manager of EverestNews.com, a Web site for mountaineers. “How many of us pull over now when there’s a car broken down on the side of the road? Everest is a mess somewhat. Society is mess somewhat,” he said, “It’s a reflection of society.”
--With additional reporting from Chris Tellet