Sherpa saves Everest climber in ‘almost impossible’ rescue

Astonishing footage has emerged of a sherpa’s “almost impossible” rescue of a stricken climber from near the summit of Mount Everest.

Gelje Sherpa was guiding a Chinese climber up the mountain when they stumbled on the Malaysian climber clinging to a rope and almost freezing to death in the mountain’s so-called “death zone”.

He was at a height of more than 8000 metres, where temperatures can fall below -30 degrees, on May 18.

In the “death zone”, atmospheric oxygen is so low that cells in the human body die in the absence of any supplementary oxygen. Climbers’ judgment becomes impaired and they can experience stroke, heart attacks, and severe altitude sickness.

“I made the decision to cancel our client’s summit push so that I could bring him down to safety before he died up there alone. I carried him myself all the way down,” Gelje, 36, said in footage posted to Instagram.

He spent more than six hours hauling the stricken climber, whose name has not been released, 600 metres down from Everest’s Balcony area to South Col. There he was joined by another guide, Nima Tahi Sherpa.

“We wrapped the climber in a sleeping mat, dragged him on the snow or carried him in turns on our backs to camp three,” Gelje said.

From camp three, at 7162 metres, a helicopter flew the ailing climber down to base camp.

“It is almost impossible to rescue climbers at that altitude,” Department of Tourism official Bigyan Koirala told the Reuters.

“It is a very rare operation.”

Gelje said he convinced his Chinese client to abandon his own attempt to reach Everest’s summit after they found the Malaysian man. He said the rescue was more important than reaching the summit.

“Saving one life is more important than praying at the monastery,” said Gelje, a devout Buddhist.

Tashi Lakhpa Sherpa of the Seven Summit Treks company, which provided logistics to the Malaysian climber, declined to name him.

The man flew home to Malaysia last week, and is now reportedly safe and well.

His “almost impossible” rescue came just two days before Australian climber Jason Kennison died while descending Mount Everest on a fundraising expedition.

Mr Kennison, 40, became unwell as he began his descent.

“He achieved his goal of reaching the peak … he stood on top of this world but sadly didn’t come home,” his family said.

“He was the most courageous, adventurous human we knew and he will be forever missed.”

Mr Kennison, an engineer from South Australia who had been living in Perth, was helped from the summit before collapsing on a platform below. Poor weather prevented rescuers from reaching him, and his body is yet to be recovered.

This year has been one of the worst for fatalities on Everest. There have already been 12 deaths reported in 2023, the highest number in eight years.

They include Awang Askandar Ampuan Yaacub, a senior officer in Malaysia’s civil defence force. He died on his final ascent on the same day as Gelje’s rescue.

A second Malaysian, 33-year-old Muhammad Hawari Hashim, who was on the same expedition as Awang Askandar, reached the summit but was reported missing the next day on May 19. He has yet to be found.

Nepal issued a record 478 permits for Everest for this year’s March to May climbing season.

-with agencies

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