Monday, May 22, 2006

KATMANDU, Nepal — Mark Inglis, an amputee who conquered Mount Everest on artificial legs last week, yesterday defended his party’s decision to carry on to the summit despite coming across a dying climber.

As his team climbed through the “death zone,” the area above 26,000 feet where the body begins to shut down, they passed David Sharp, 34, a stricken British climber who later died. His body remained on the mountain.

Mr. Inglis, 47, a New Zealander, said: “At 28,000 feet it’s hard to stay alive yourself. He was in a very poor condition, near death. We talked about [what to do for him] for quite a lot at the time and it was a very hard decision.

“About 40 people passed him that day, and no one else helped him apart from our expedition. Our Sherpas (guides) gave him oxygen. He wasn’t a member of our expedition, he was a member of another, far less professional one.”

Mr. Sharp was among eight persons who have died on Everest this year, including another member of his group, a Brazilian.

Dewa Sherpa, a manager at Asian Trekking, the Katmandu company that outfitted Mr. Sharp before his climb, said he had not taken enough oxygen and had no Sherpa guide.

“He had taken two 4-liter oxygen bottles and he told me he was taking it as backup,” said Mr. Sherpa. “A normal climber would take a minimum of five bottles. I presume he wanted to go to the summit without oxygen.”

Climbing Everest without oxygen is very unusual because of the rapid mental and physical degeneration caused by the thin air.

Mr. Sharp was climbing with a loose group. Mr. Sherpa said: “There would not be any leaders. All the people in the team would have taken Sherpa services up to base camp and advance base camp and, beyond that, they would do it independently.”

The company charges $6,000 to provide services as far as base camp — far less than the $35,000 or more cost of guided trips to the summit.

Other mountaineers have criticized the commercialism of climbing the 29,035-foot peak, with guides charging huge sums to climbers with minimal experience.

About 200 people have died on Everest since the first expeditions in the 1920s. The corpses are stepped over by climbers traveling the most popular routes.

Mr. Inglis, recovering in his Katmandu hotel yesterday, revealed blackened and swollen finger tips, which may be removed soon.

He also suffered injuries to the stumps of his amputated legs caused by the repeated impacts of climbing on prosthetic limbs. His legs were removed below the knee because of frostbite on an expedition in 1982.

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