Dateline   |  September 06, 2013

Into the Death Zone, Part 5

Shriya Shah struggles to make her way down, as Kedrowski and Leduc witness the tragic aftermath of the previous day’s logjam.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> narrator: on may 19 at about 2:30 in the afternoon, at roughly the same moment as shriya shah was unfurling the canadian flag at the top of the world , jon kedrowski and sandra leduc had reached their camp at camp four.

>> here we are at camp four, we're about four hours away from our departure at 8,000 meters.

>> narrator: that's more than 26,000 feet, nearly five miles up. at that altitude, the air is exceedingly thin, breathing difficult. meaningful rest impossible.

>> you don't sleep at camp four, you just stay in your tent and melt water, so you're awake the whole time, six hours until your summit push.

>> narrator: leduc , kedrowski and their team had decided to wait a day to avoid the crowds. but they still thought they had enough time to reach the summit.

>> that's when the winds were forecast to increase, so you still could have gone up and come down within the window.

>> narrator: kedrowski poked his head out of the tent and took this picture of the climbers climbing down from the night before.

>> what did you realize about that?

>> if you've been in the death zone for more than 12 hours, these people are going to have trouble. literally every single one of these people's lives are at risk.

>> narrator: but despite the obvious warning signs and the certain danger head, leduc , kedrowski and their team made a stubborn decision.

>> we said, hey, we'll just leave at our start time and go up and be ready for anything.

>> narrator: they put on their head lamps and oxygen masks and along with their sherpas . they would learn that this day on everest had been one of the deadliest in history. shriya shah and her sherpas were making their way down. her sherpas say shriya was struggling to stay on her feet.

>> we kept saying, walk, sister, walk, sister, walk shriya , sister. please, walk, shriya sister. it was already dark, we were really worried.

>> narrator: the sherpas said she was pleading with the climbers on their way up.

>> she could only stand if the two of us were holding her up. she couldn't stand on her own without falling. she seemed paralyzed.

>> narrator: there was little the sherpas could do besides giving her a few breaths from their own oxygen bottles. they couldn't carry shriya to safety and they knew every minute spent with her endangered their own lives.

>> it's an absolute myth that sherpas could carry you or could somehow physically get you off the mountain. ultimately you've got to get yourself off of that mountain.

>> narrator: it was after 10:00 p.m . when the sherpas say shriya stopped moving and speaking all together. after 26 hours in the death zone and with little oxygen remaining t sherpas did what they were trained to do and what the code of the mountain demanded, they secured shriya to a rope line and went about the business of saving themselves. 500 feet below as jon kedrowski and his team trudged up the rope line toward the summit, their helmet lamp showed the disaster unfolding before their eyes.

>> so after that point, what are your options?

>> so, feeling that that person was dead, it was keep going up. and you know, a lot of people might have issues with that, saying how can you leave somebody there, you don't know if they're dead. the number one priority was going to be me that high up. and the second priority was to look out for my teammates and my third priority was to help others from other teams.

>> narrator: it was now midnight, almost four hours into their climb, kedrowski and his team had literally stared death in the face and started to fear for their own safety.

>> i said what's going on up here? people are dying up here.

>> narrator: the winds are gusting 70 to 80 miles an hour, the temperatures now minus 20 fahrenheit. after climbing for three hours, sandra leduc 's sherpa had had enough.

>> my sherpa just turned around and said we're going down now. and that was all he said. he just went around me and left. and that was it, i had to follow.

>> narrator: but leduc couldn't keep up and in a matter of minutes, she lost her sherpa to the darkness. now she was alone in a very dangerous place. higher up the trail at that very moment, jon kedrowski and another team member were battling a wicked wind on a narrow ridge.

>> a huge wind gust knocked me off my feet. and luckily i had just clipped on to a rope that was on the ridge or i would have been blown away probably.

>> so you literally were in danger of being blown off the mountain?

>> literally into tibet. because it just drops off to the right.

>> narrator: it was a spiral warning, and the mountain got through at last, everest had beaten them. kedrowski climbed down fast and soon passed all his team including sandra leduc who seemed to be managing well even without her sherpa. but shortly after kedrowski advantage initiated into the savage night , leduc discovered she was in dire trouble, her mask caked with ice and snow.

>> i had to take my goggles off. my eyelashes froze together, i literally had to break them off to open one of my eyes. i started to become dizzy and my legs started shaking.

>> leduc didn't know it at the time, but her breathing system had been broken for hours.

>> did you think that you may be like those bodies you passed on the way up?

>> i thought i was going to die. i thought there was a good chance i was going to sky.

>> narrator: she was getting close to camp, but now could barely walk.

>> i fell so many times. i really had no awareness where my teammates were at this time.

>> narrator: by morning's life, john kedrowski who had made it down to the safety of camp four decided to climb back up to see if he could help any stragglers. that's when he found sandra leduc . three or four climbers went to helper.

>> they each grabbed an arm.

>> i just put my arm around her and she gingerly made it down around the rocks and we made it back to the tent.

>> jon kedrowski gave you his oxygen at that point 134.

>> and that was the first air that i had had for a while.

>> narrator: kedrowski said they needed to get downing out of the death zone .

>> i said we have to leave as soon as we can, pack your stuff and let's go.

>> so we hightailed it, the goal for us was to get down as quickly as possible to be at an altitude where we could recover.

>> leduc and kedrowski were devastated. for years they had dreamed about climbing everest , told all their family and friends. now all that money and time was a waste.

>> what i had seen going up, i never wanted to come back to this mountain. this is the worst thing that you every want to see and i never want to see this again.

>> narrator: but defeat didn't go down smoothly. it wasn't long before both sandra leduc and jon kedrowski began thinking the unthinkable.