'Dead' climber's rescue fuels Everest controversy

Kathmandu, May 29 (IANS) The miraculous rescue of a climber left for dead by his companions on Mt Everest has revived the controversy about 'buying' one's way to the summit of the highest peak in the world.

The fresh controversy erupted after Australian climber Lincoln Ross Hall, who had summited Mt Everest Thursday as part of the 7 Summits Club commercial expedition, fell ill while descending and was left for dead by his climbing companions at a height of 8,700 metres.

However, despite spending the night in the open in freezing temperature and suffering from acute frost bite, Hall was found to be alive the next morning by an American climber, Dan Mazur, who was attempting the summit, and rescued with the help of Sherpas.

The desertion of Hall raises questions about the 7 Summits Club, headed by Russian Alexander Abramov. The giant 73-member expedition that included 30 clients and 43 staff lost two more clients: German Thomas Weber and Russian Igor Plyushkin.

'Everest for 10,000 euros. Let your dream come true without having to sell your house ' - ran Abramov's advertisement campaign in 2005 when it said the expedition would have 12 to 15 members.

However, this year, there was a gold rush on Mt Everest and 7 Summits Club signed up clients who might have been turned down by other more discriminating guides.

Thomas Weber, for example, suffered from a vision problem, turning blind at high altitude. While attempting the summit, Weber, predictably, was blinded when he was only 50 m away from the 8,848 m summit, and required a painstaking rescue operation with three expedition staff helping him down.

Despite the effort, Weber died after being helped to a camp at a lower altitude.

Abramov's expedition also included an Australian father-son duo with the son, Christopher Harris, aged just 15.

Since the Nepal government doesn't allow under-16s to attempt Mt Everest, the Harrises signed up with Abramov to climb through Tibet where government regulations are virtually non-existent.

Christopher collapsed near the advanced base camp and had to abandon his summit bid.

Questions are being raised whether such young and medically unfit people like Christopher and Weber should have been included in an expedition, thereby jeopardising the lives of the other clients as well.

Between 2004 and 2005, Abramov's expeditions lost three more members.

In 2005, the Russian displayed a serious error of judgment by choosing to travel by road to Tibet during an indefinite shutdown called by Maoist insurgents in Nepal.

His vehicle was bombed on the highway by the guerrillas in April 2005 and though Abramov was lucky enough not to have any serious injuries, his travelling companion Sergey Kaimanchikov, who was also a member of the expedition, had part of his sole blown away and needed surgery.

Commercial expeditions in which the climbers are indifferent to the fates of fellow members and are only intent on reaching the peak themselves came in for bitter criticism this year when it was discovered that a British climber, David Shap, had been left floundering on the high altitude by at least 40 climbers who did not stop to help him but proceeded with their summit push.

A shocked Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mt Everest in 1953 with Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, said he and his companions would have never left a fellow climber to die to pursue the summit.

Commercial expeditions where such considerations are vastly diminished came in for criticism in 1996 when two American expeditions lost eight climbers on a single day.

A decade later, 2006 turned out to be almost as black a year with at least 10 people dying on the Everest slope and three more on other lesser peaks.

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