At 9.45 on the night of May 20, I left Camp IV (the last rest stop on the way up Mount Everest) with my Sherpa, a local guide I had hired, and we reached the summit at about five in the morning, just in time to see the sunrise. It was such a spectacular sight. But my Sherpa had to get back, so after half an hour of admiring the scenery and taking photographs, we started descending.
On the way down, we ran into another climber, Chuck, and his Sherpa, and we all stopped on a ledge to eat. My Sherpa and I then continued down when I spotted a woman below the ledge who didn’t look well. We were still in ‘the death zone,’ an area that’s so high and treacherous, there’s no possibility of a helicopter rescue if you get into trouble.
I went to check on her (my Sherpa had gotten ahead of me and was already on his way down) and saw that her mittens were on the wrong hands, her oxygen mask wasn’t on correctly, and her speech was slurred. It turned out that her oxygen tank had run out. At that altitude without oxygen, your brain starts to deteriorate, and I really thought she might die. Chuck and his Sherpa came by and we got her up and started to lead her. But it was like trying to walk someone who’s totally wasted down one of the most dangerous cliffs in the world.
Since we were moving so slowly, I suggested that Chuck and his Sherpa go for help while I stayed with the woman. I put my oxygen mask on her, and she started shivering like crazy, as if her body suddenly realised how cold it was. She was severely dehydrated, her lips were cracked, and her hands were freezing.
Soon after, another climber and his Sherpa came over to check on us, and it turned out to be Dave Hahn, an experienced guide. Luckily, they had dexamethasone, which is used to treat high-altitude cerebral edema (swelling of the brain), and they gave her a shot. Then Dave made me put my oxygen back on, he gave the woman his mask, and I carried her pack as they got her back to Camp IV, where she received treatment.
Since being back in Ottawa, I’ve corresponded with the woman, whose name is Usha. It turns out, the group of climbers she was with allegedly had left her there so they could continue to the summit. Besides suffering from frostbite, she’s okay. People ask her if I would have helped save her if I had seen her on my way to the top of the mountain, rather than on the way down. My response: How could I not have?