David Sharp (mountaineer)
15 February 1972|
15 May 2006 (aged 34)|
Mount Everest, Nepal
|Cause of death||Hypothermia or cerebral oedema|
Prior Pursglove College|
the University of Nottingham,
|Height||5 ft 11 in (180 cm)|
|Weight||150 lb (68 kg)|
David Sharp (15 February 1972 – 15 May 2006) was an English mountaineer who died near the summit of Mount Everest. His death caused controversy and debate, because he was passed by a number of other climbers heading to and returning from the summit as he was dying, although a number of others did try to help him.
Sharp had previously summitted Cho Oyu and was noted as being a talented rock climber, who seemed to acclimatize well, and was known for being in good humor around mountaineering camps. He had appeared briefly in season one of the television show Everest: Beyond the Limit, which was filmed the same season as his ill-fated expedition to Everest.
He had a degree from the University of Nottingham and pursued climbing as a hobby. He had worked for an engineering firm and took time off to go on adventures and climbing expeditions, but had been planning to start work as a school teacher in the autumn of 2006.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Expeditions and summits
- 3 Details of Sharp's 2006 Everest incident
- 3.1 Problems at high altitudes
- 3.2 Accounts of Sharp's fatal climb
- 3.3 Reactions
- 3.4 2006 Everest timeline
- 3.5 Fate of the body
- 4 About the 2006 Everest season
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
David Sharp was born in Harpenden, near London, and later attended Prior Pursglove College and the University of Nottingham. He graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree in 1993. He worked for the Global security company QinetiQ. In 2005 he quit this job and took a teacher training course, and was planning to start work as a teacher in the autumn of 2006. David Sharp was also an experienced and accomplished mountaineer, and had climbed some of the world's tallest mountains including Cho Oyu in the Himalayas. Sharp was more of a purist related to mountaineering, and did not believe in using a guide for mountains he was familiar with, local climbing assistance or artificial enhancements, such as high altitude drugs or supplementary oxygen, to reach the top of a mountain.
Expeditions and summits
In May 2002, Sharp summited the 8,200 m (26,903 ft) Cho Oyu with Jamie McGuinness and Tsering Pande Bhote. Cho Oyu is the sixth highest peak in the world and is near Mount Everest. The leader of the Cho Oyu expedition, impressed with Sharp's strength, acclimatization abilities, and rock climbing talent, invited him to join an expedition to Everest the next year.
- Misc. climbing in the Lake District
- Roseberry Topping
- Mount Elbrus
- Avicenna aka Ibn Sina (Lenin) peak (formerly Mount Kaufmann)
- Gasherbrum II in 2001 (did not summit)
- Cho Oyu in 2002
- Everest in 2003 (did not summit)
- Everest in 2004 (did not summit)
- Everest in 2006, may have summited on 14 May 2006 but died at Green Boots' Cave, either still on the way up or on the way down.
2001 Gasherbrum II expedition
In 2001, Sharp went on an expedition to Gasherbrum II, an 8,035 m (26,362 ft) mountain located in the Karakoram, on the border between Gilgit–Baltistan province, Pakistan, and Xinjiang, China. The expedition, led by Henry Todd, did not summit due to bad weather.
2002 Cho Oyu expedition
In 2002, Sharp went on an expedition to Cho Oyu, an 8,201 m (26,906 ft) peak in the Himalayas, with a group led by Richard Dougan and Jamie McGuinness of the Himalayan Project. They did make it to the summit, but one member died from falling into a crevasse; this opened up a slot on the group's trip to Everest the next year. Dougan regarded Sharp as a strong climber, but noted that he was tall and skinny, possessing a light frame with little body fat; in cold-weather mountaineering, body fat can be critical to survival.
2003 Mount Everest expedition
Sharp's first Mount Everest expedition was in 2003 with a group led by British climber Richard Dougan. The party also included Terence Bannon, Martin Duggan, Stephen Synnott, and Jamie McGuinness. Only Bannon and McGuinness reached the summit, but the group incurred no fatalities. Dougan noted that Sharp had acclimatized well and was their strongest team member. In addition, Sharp was noted for being a pleasant person at camp and had a talent for rock climbing. However, when Sharp started to get frostbite on the group's ascent, most of the group agreed to turn back with him from the summit.
Dougan and Sharp helped a struggling Spanish climber who was heading up at that time, and gave him some extra oxygen. Sharp lost some of his toes to frostbite on this climb (including the big toe on his left foot), which led him to buy top-of-the line Millet boots for the 2004 season.
"My toes are worth more than $35 apiece,"— David Sharp on buying $350 boots
2004 Mount Everest expedition
In 2004, Sharp joined a Franco-Austrian expedition to the north side of Mount Everest, climbed to 8,500 m (27,887 ft), but did not reach the summit. Sharp could not keep up with the others and stopped before the First Step. The expedition's leader was Hugues d’Aubarede, a French climber who was later killed in the 2008 K2 disaster (his third attempt to climb that mountain), but who became, on this 2004 expedition, the 56th French person to summit Everest. D'Aubarede's group reached the summit on the morning of 17 May and included Austrians Marcus Noichl, Paul Koller, and Fredrichs "Fritz" Klausner as well as Nepalis Chhang Dawa Sherpa, Lhakpa Gyalzen Sherpa, and Zimba Zangbu Sherpa (also known as Ang Babu). When Sharp died in 2006, d'Aubarede was on an expedition to K2.
D'Aubarede said Sharp disagreed with him that it was wrong to climb alone and to attempt summiting without using supplementary oxygen. This is confirmed by Sharp's emails to other climbers in which he stated he did not believe in using extra oxygen. He joined four climbers on this expedition, so Sharp relented on that point of disagreement, but only for a time, as he would return in 2006 for his solo attempt. As a result of his 2004 attempt, Sharp incurred frostbite on his fingers during the expedition.
2006 Mount Everest expedition
Two years later during the 2006 climbing season, Sharp returned to Everest a third time in an attempt to reach the summit on a solo climb arranged through Asian Trekking. However, the attempt ultimately cost him his life on 15 May 2006. Sharp was climbing alone, and had intended to attempt reaching the summit without using supplementary oxygen, which is considered to be extremely risky even for very strong acclimatized mountain climbers or Sherpas. However, Sharp apparently did not consider it a challenge to climb Everest with supplementary oxygen. Sharp was climbing with a bare-bones "basic services" package from Asian Trekking that cost Sharp only about US$7,000 which does not offer support after a certain altitude is reached on the mountain or a Sherpa to climb with as a partner, although this option was available to Sharp for an additional fee. He was grouped with 13 other independent climbers – including Vitor Negrete, Thomas Weber, and Igor Plyushkin who also died attempting to summit that year – on the International Everest Expedition. This package only provided a permit, a trip into Tibet, oxygen equipment and then transportation, food, and tents up to the Mount Everest "Advance Base Camp" (ABC) at an elevation of about 6,340 m (20,801 ft). The group Sharp was with was not really an "expedition" and had no leader, although it is considered good climbing ethics that members of the group make some effort to keep track of each other.
Before Sharp booked his trip with Asian Trekking, his friend Jamie McGuinness, an experienced climber and guide, had invited him to join his organized expedition for only US$1,000 more than Sharp was paying Asian Trekking. Normally, McGuinness's expedition fee ranged from US$20,000 to $30,000, and Sharp would have realized a discount of more than US$10,000. Sharp acknowledged this as a good deal, but he would be tied into working with a group and would not be able to do things independently and climb at his own pace, so he declined the offer. Critically, Sharp opted to climb alone without a climbing Sherpa, without sufficient supplementary oxygen (reportedly only two bottles, which is only enough for about 8 to 10 hours of climbing at high altitude) and without even a radio to call for help if he did encounter problems.
Sharp was transported by vehicle to the Base Camp and then his equipment was transported by yak train to the Advance Base Camp, as part of the Asian Trekking "basic services" package, where he remained for five days to acclimatize to the altitude. He then began making several trips up and down the mountain to set up and stock his upper camps and further acclimatize himself. Sharp likely set out from a camp high on the mountain below the northeast ridge to make a summit attempt during the late evening of 13 May 2006, and reportedly only had a very limited supply of supplementary oxygen he intended to use only in an emergency. Sharp either reached the summit or turned back near the summit to descend very late in the day on 14 May 2006, and was forced to camp out exposed, or "bivouac", during his descent in the dark at about 8,500 m (27,887 ft) under a rock overhang known as Green Boots' Cave. There he was overcome by the elements without any remaining supplementary oxygen, possibly combined with equipment problems, on one of the coldest nights of the season.
Sharp's predicament was not immediately known for several reasons: he was not climbing with an expedition that would monitor climber's locations; he had not told anyone beforehand of his summit attempt (although other climbers spotted him on his ascent); he did not have a radio or satellite phone with him to let anyone know where he was or that he was in trouble; and two other more inexperienced climbers from his group went missing at around the same time. One of the two missing climbers was Malaysian Ravi Chandran, who was eventually found but required medical attention after getting frostbite.
Some members of the group of climbers Sharp was with, including George Dijmarescu, figured out that Sharp was missing when he did not return later in the evening on 15 May 2006 and there were no reports of anyone seeing him. However it was not known where he could be. Sharp was a more experienced climber who had previously turned around attempting to summit when he started experiencing problems, and it was surmised that Sharp likely crawled into an unoccupied tent at one of the higher camps or decided to bivouac somewhere higher up on Everest, so his failure to return to camp did not initially cause serious concern. High-altitude bivouacs are known to be very risky, but are sometimes recommended in certain extreme situations; Mike Rheinberger and Mark Whetu had summited and successfully camped at high altitude just below the summit in 1994, as documented in the 1995 film "Mount Everest – The Summit of Dreams". However, Rheinberger became overcome by altitude sickness and died during the descent on the following day, and Whetu barely made it down, suffering from severe frostbite.
Sharp may have decided to bivouac or just rest at Green Boots' Cave due to the extreme cold and exhaustion, combined with problems with his equipment and no supplementary oxygen. He was likely also suffering some degree of altitude sickness due to a lack of supplementary oxygen. He was never able to get up and continue his descent, even with the help of other climbers and supplementary oxygen later in the morning on 15 May 2006, and he subsequently died in Green Boots' Cave.
Details of Sharp's 2006 Everest incident
Problems at high altitudes
The top of Everest is nearly 9000 m above sea level. The peak was officially recognized in 2010 to be at an elevation of 8,848 m (29,029 ft) with the usual presence of snow and ice. Above about 8,000 m (26,247 ft), which is approaching the cruising altitude of pressurized commercial jetliners, the air pressure is so low that the amount of available oxygen to breathe is less than one-third that at sea level, and there are significantly lower ambient air temperatures. The lack of oxygen, in addition to the extreme cold, leaves climbers bewildered and very weak, makes them very susceptible to hypothermia or getting frostbite, and can cause them to succumb to altitude sickness (or Acute Mountain Sickness leading to HAPE or HACE) and pass out.
Even using supplementary oxygen (with a mask connected to a tank of oxygen) only partially compensates for the thin air, and the only way that climbers experiencing the effects of altitude sickness can recover is to descend much lower as quickly as possible with supplementary oxygen. Above about 6,000 m (19,685 ft) is considered to be uninhabitable for any period of time as, physiologically, the human body is unable to survive such hypoxic conditions, much less adapt to them. Many climbers lose their lives due to the debilitating effects of very limited oxygen at high altitudes, and since the rescue of someone who is not mobile at high altitudes is extremely difficult and potentially fatal for the rescuer and the climber. Even for someone in trouble who is able to walk at high altitudes, rescue can be a monumental undertaking given that simple tasks, such as picking up a wrapper, can be a significant effort. However, the rescue of a stricken climber at high altitudes is sometimes possible, as the cases of Lincoln Hall and Usha Bista illustrate.
In late May 2006 Lincoln Hall (another Asian Trekking client) was rescued from a height of about 8,700 m (28,543 ft) on the northeast ridge, after being left by the four climbing Sherpas who were trying to rescue him. The Sherpas were running out of oxygen and could not get him down before nightfall, as at that time Hall was not mobile. After surviving the night (which was about 25 degrees Celsius warmer than the night of Sharp's bivouac), and regaining consciousness, Hall was rescued on the following day – involving over a dozen rested climbing Sherpas, about 40–50 bottles of oxygen for Hall, and taking over 20 hours. Hall descended in reasonably good health although suffering from frostbite and the lingering effects of altitude sickness. Hall ultimately lost the tips of his fingers and a toe to frostbite, but otherwise eventually fully recovered. However, similar to other successful high altitude rescues, Hall was able to walk even though he was suffering from exposure and altitude sickness.
Also, on 21 May 2007 Canadian climber Meagan McGrath initiated the successful high-altitude rescue of Nepali Usha Bista who was suffering the effects of altitude sickness on the south side of Everest at a height of about 8,300 m (27,231 ft), just above the high camps at the South Col around 8,000 m (26,247 ft) high. McGrath realized Bista was in trouble and flagged down two other climbers to start assisting Bista, and called down to the high camps for additional climbers to assist. However, it was daytime and Bista was initially mobile. In addition, unlike where Sharp and Hall became incapacitated (around the First Step and above the Exit Cracks on the north side of Everest), Bista was discovered in trouble at a location where there were not very technical sections below to reach a higher camp where additional help was available. The rescue climbers were eventually able to help Bista descend down and then put her in a sleeping bag to drag her down to a location where further help was available.
However, other rescue attempts of stricken climbers high on Everest who were not mobile have resulted in not only the death of the stricken climber, but also resulted in the death of those attempting to rescue them. For example, in 1996 climber Doug Hansen became incapacitated during a descent at a high elevation on the south side of Everest. Rob Hall, an experienced Everest climber and expedition guide with Hansen, was able to assist Hansen down to a point below the base of the Hillary Step on the south side around the South Summit, but could not continue due to Hansen being immobile and a severe storm, combined with Hall being exhausted and likely suffering from exposure from helping Hansen down, even though they had supplementary oxygen. Hall refused to leave Hansen, and instead requested that additional supplementary oxygen be brought up to them. Fellow expedition guide Andrew Harris, who was lower on the mountain, turned around in an attempt to reach Hansen and Hall with additional supplementary oxygen. However, the rescue attempt was not successful and resulted in death of Hansen, Hall and Harris.
For stricken climbers above 8,000 m (26,247 ft) some experienced climbers have said that if you cannot walk at such a high altitude, you might as well be on the moon in terms of a possible successful rescue. That is why the area above 8,000 m (26,247 ft) is referred to as the "death zone". Even attempting to move a dead climber's body takes significant effort, and the recovery of a dead climber's body at high altitude is a monumental effort at a very slow pace. The recovery sometimes must be abandoned, and risks the lives of those attempting the recovery since these attempts have resulted in additional deaths while just attempting to move a dead climber's body. That is why bodies of dead climbers high on Everest are left where they died or just moved off the main climbing routes.
Also, the human body's response to increasingly high altitudes is difficult to predict, regardless of prior instances of functioning at lower altitudes or previous experience at high altitudes. For example, Igor Plyushkin, a Snow Leopard award-winning climber (having summited all five 7,000 m (22,966 ft) mountains in the former Soviet Union), died on 22 May 2006 while attempting to summit Everest, despite being with a group who gave him extra oxygen and medicine at just 7,800 m (25,591 ft). Another climber, Brazilian mountaineer Vitor Negrete, died on 19 May 2006, having written about his difficulties on his blog. Negrete had summited Everest In 2005, and was attempting to do so again, but without the aid of extra oxygen. Negrete was aware that Sharp had died as he set out on his own fatal summit climb. Just days after Sharp's demise, and after several unfortunate occurrences, he reached the summit alone — without oxygen, a sherpa, radio, or a satellite phone — but died during his descent. The fate of climbers like Negrete illustrates why climbers are advised to bring a radio, use bottled oxygen at higher altitudes and have at least one climbing partner: altitude sickness can occur suddenly and without warning, leaving a climber disoriented and "nutty".
Finally, the importance of travelling with a reliable partner and using proper insurance [precautions] is emphasized in treks to the Himalayas.— Case Report: Delirium at High Altitude 
The high altitudes of Everest can have a dramatic effect on the human body. One climber who summited Everest in 2016 described his coming back down this way:
Words can't describe how tired you feel. You want to do one thing, you want to sit down (and) go to sleep, and yet from all the things you have read, your experience and the lessons you've learned from others' mistakes, if you sit down and rest for a long time you are never getting up again. Especially if you should fall asleep. You'll just never wake up.— Robert Kay
There are significant risks associated with climbing into the "death zone" of Everest, which has claimed many lives, as well as many limbs. One survivor of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, Beck Weathers, was left on the mountain exposed at a high altitude on the south side of Everest because he was overcome by the elements and initially could not walk any further or be rescued after descending to about 7,900 m (25,919 ft) during a storm following an unsuccessful summit attempt. He miraculously woke up later and was able to stumble into a nearby camp. Although it was a monumental effort to bring him further down the mountain and airlift him off the mountain by helicopter where that was possible at a lower altitude, he would ultimately lose his nose, parts of both feet and his hands due to frostbite, but he did survive. Afterwards, Weathers said that his view on climbing Everest had changed "fairly dramatically. If you don’t have anyone who cares about you or is dependent on you, if you have no friends or colleagues, and if you’re willing to put a single round in the chamber of a revolver and put it in your mouth and pull the trigger, then yeah, it’s a pretty good idea to climb Everest.”
Accounts of Sharp's fatal climb
It is believed that Sharp set out to make a summit attempt during the evening of 13 May 2006. His high camp was just below the Northeast Ridge, and he needed to first climb what is referred to as the "Exit Cracks", and then traverse the Northeast Ridge including the Three Steps before being able to reach the summit, and then climb down to return to his high camp.
American climber and Himex guide Bill Crouse and his group encountered someone, later believed to be Sharp, at the base of the Third Step in the afternoon on 14 May 2006 as they descended from the summit, and then later during their descent saw him higher on the mountain. Other climbers had also observed a lone climber, later believed to be Sharp, beginning his ascent along the northeast ridge on the way up to the summit late in the day on 14 May 2006. Back at base camp, other climbers who knew Sharp felt he was experienced enough to turn back if he became fatigued or had a problem, as he had done in previous expeditions.
Sharp likely either reached the summit very late in the day on 14 May 2006 and then began to descend, or he turned back near the summit to descend very late in the day on 14 May 2006. Due to how late in the day Sharp was descending along with other potential problems, such as issues with his equipment (problems with his head lamp descending in the dark as well as frozen oxygen supply equipment reported by others later), along with potential exhaustion and running out of oxygen, Sharp apparently had to seek shelter on his way back down. The extreme cold that day, fatigue, lack of oxygen and darkness likely made a descent to the high camp very dangerous or just not possible for Sharp due to the circumstances.
Sharp ultimately died under a rock overhang below the summit along the Northeast Ridge known by climbers as "Green Boots' Cave" near the First Step at 8,500 m (27,887 ft) along the northeast ridge approach to the summit, sitting with arms clasped around his legs, next to and to the right of a green-booted body, who is commonly believed to be Indian climber Tsewang Paljor who died 10 years earlier in the same place in 1996, under somewhat similar circumstances related to seeking shelter in the harsh environment near the top of Everest, and whose body remained on the mountain. The overhang or "cave" at about 8,500 m (27,887 ft) is located alongside the main northeast climbing trail approximately 350 m (1,150 ft) below the summit and approximately 250 m (820 ft) above the high camps, commonly called Camp 4 above ABC, with the high camps located below the "Exit Cracks" that are just before the beginning of the Northeast Ridge route up to the summit.
The first climbers to actually encounter Sharp in the early morning on 15 May 2006 just after midnight in "Green Boots' Cave" were climbers making their summit push for later that day. Most of the climbers either did not notice Sharp in the dark, thought he was just another one of the dead bodies encountered climbing Everest, or thought he was almost dead and beyond help at such an extreme altitude to even attempt a rescue. After climbers on the northern Tibetan side of Everest passed the rock overhang or "cave" in which Sharp lay incapacitated, in the early morning on 15 May 2006 and later that day during their descents, they returned with a series of accounts and events that resulted in international media attention focused on Sharp's death and the climbers who saw him there.
Himex Expedition – first team
Himex (a truncated version of the full name "Himalayan Experience") organized several teams to climb Everest during the 2006 climbing season expedition. The first team was guided by mountain climber and guide Bill Crouse. At about 01:00 on 14 May 2006, Bill Crouse's expedition team passed by David Sharp on his way up to the summit during their own ascent. They passed at a location on the common North route by a spot known as the "Exit Cracks" This is on the north route above the last camps, or high camps, for groups on the ascent prior to reaching and then traversing what is referred to as the Northeast Ridge which includes ascending several "steps" prior to reaching the summit of Everest.
Around 10:00 on the morning of 14 May 2006, Crouse's Himex team reached the summit, as recorded by the Himalayan Database. When Crouse's team descended, they saw Sharp again at the base of the Third Step around 11:00 on 14 May. By the time Crouse's expedition had descended to the Second Step, more than one hour later, they looked back to see that Sharp was above the Third Step, but was climbing very slowly and had only moved about 90 m (295 ft).
Another source of reports about Sharp was a team of Turkish climbers. They left their high camp in the evening on 14 May 2006 at about 10:30 pm to attempt reaching the summit, and were essentially traveling in three separate groups. Late in the evening on 14 May to early morning on 15 May, the Turkish team members encountered Sharp in the dark while ascending. The first group encountered Sharp at around midnight, noticed he was alive but thought that he appeared to just be a climber taking a short break, and Sharp waved those Turkish team members on. Some time later the others who noticed Sharp thought he was just another dead climber high on the mountain, which are encountered high up on Everest where recovery of a dead climber's body is almost impossible due to the conditions. It is thought Sharp fell asleep between these two times. That Sharp wanted to sleep was noted by other climbers who encountered him later on, and a quote telling people that he wanted to sleep was reported in some news media stories.
Some of the Turkish team summited early in the morning on 15 May 2006, and some of the team turned back near the summit due to difficulties one of the team members was having. The Turkish team members who turned back encountered Sharp again at about 7:00 am. One of them was the Turkish team leader, Serhan Pocan, who had previously passed Sharp in the night and thought Sharp was a climber who had recently died. In the daylight Pocan realized that Sharp was actually alive when he noticed movement of one of Sharp's arms, and also that Sharp was in serious trouble.
They observed that Sharp had no oxygen left, had serious frostbite and that some limbs were frozen. At that time, two of the Turkish team members stayed and attempted to assist him by giving him something to drink and tried to help him move. However, these members of the team were now running out of oxygen, so they left with the intent to get more oxygen and then return. The Turkish team's initial effort to help was complicated by their own problems trying to get Burçak Özoğlu Poçan down safely; she was a climber in their group having medical problems. The team leader placed radio calls to the rest of the team coming down from the summit about Sharp, and then continued descending with the Turkish climber who needed help. At about 8:30 am two other members of the Turkish team descending cleaned out Sharp's iced up mask to try and give him some oxygen, but they started to run out of oxygen themselves and had to descend. The remaining Turkish team members later attempted to further help Sharp along with other Himex expedition members.
Himex Expedition – second team
The vanguard of the second team of Himex climbers included Max Chaya, New Zealand double-amputee Mark Inglis, Wayne Alexander (who designed Inglis' prosthetic climbing legs), Discovery cameraman Mark Whetu, and experienced climbing guide Mark Woodward along with their Sherpas including renowned climbing Sherpa Phurba Tashi. The team left their high camp around 8,200 m (26,903 ft) late in the evening near midnight on 14 May 2006, with Chaya and the Sherpa he was climbing with out in front by about a half hour.
At about 1:00 am in the bitterly cold early morning of 15 May 2006, Woodward and his group (including Inglis, Alexander, Whetu and some Sherpas) encountered Sharp, who Woodward knew shouldn't be there. He wasn't conscious or moving, and had severe frostbite, but they could see that he was breathing. Woodward noticed Sharp had thin gloves and no oxygen, and indicated that they yelled at Sharp to get up, get moving and follow the headlamps back to the high camps. Woodward shined a headlamp in Sharp's eyes, but Sharp was unresponsive.
Woodward thought he was almost dead and in a hypothermic coma, commenting, "Oh, this poor guy, he's stuffed", and that Sharp couldn't be rescued due to his condition and the impossibility of even attempting a night-time rescue. Alexander commented, "God bless... Rest in peace", before the group moved on after Woodward attempted to radio their advanced base camp about Sharp but got no reply. Woodward noted that it was not an easy decision to make, but his chief responsibility was the safety of his team members (and stopping in the extreme cold at that time would have risked the lives of his team who would have also been susceptible to hypothermia or frostbite), without the possibility of even being able to attempt a rescue due to the darkness. Woodward further noted that deciding to move on was one of the hard calls one has to make in mountaineering at 8,000 m (26,247 ft) in the death zone, given the conditions and the severe cold (due to an atmospheric low near the top of Everest that day), with Sharp being almost dead in a hypothermic coma, and that at that elevation, one has to be conscious and able to walk to even attempt a rescue.
Maxime Chaya reached the summit at around 6:00 am on 15 May 2006. During his descent Chaya and the Sherpa he was with, Dorjee, encountered Sharp a little after 9:00 am, noticed he was shivering, and tried to help him; he also notified the Himex expedition manager Russell Brice over the group's radio. Chaya had not seen Sharp in the darkness of the ascent, but Chaya and Dorjee did try to help on the way down when they saw him in the daylight shivering. Chaya observed that Sharp was unconscious but was shivering severely, and was wearing a thin pair of wool gloves with no hat, glasses or goggles. Sharp was severely frostbitten, and had frozen hands and legs, and he found only one oxygen bottle with the gauge on empty.
At one point Sharp stopped shivering leading Chaya to believe he had died; then some time later he started shivering again. They attempted to give him oxygen, but there was no response, and after about an hour Brice advised Chaya that he was running out of oxygen and that there was nothing he could do, so he needed to come down. Later, Chaya told the Washington Post: "it almost looks like he [David Sharp] had a death wish" and noted some issues with Sharp's climb: he went alone, tried to summit too late in the day, and had too little bottled oxygen and no radio.
Soon after Chaya descended, some of the others from the second Himex group and a Turkish group encountered Sharp again during their descent and also attempted to help him as they overheard Chaya's radio calls that Sharp was still alive and shivering. Phurba Tashi, the lead Sherpa for Himex, and a Turkish Sherpa gave Sharp oxygen from a spare bottle they found, patted him to try to get circulation going and tried to give him something to drink. At one point Sharp was able to mumble a few sentences. The group tried to get Sharp to his feet, but he kept collapsing and wasn't able to stand even with assistance. They moved Sharp into the sunlight and then descended. It took the two strongest Sherpas about 20 minutes just to move Sharp about four steps into the sunlight, so they were not going to be able to get Sharp down.
Mark Inglis controversy
Following David Sharp's death, Mark Inglis was initially severely criticized by the media and others, including Sir Edmund Hillary, for not helping Sharp. Inglis stated in an interview on 23 May 2006 that Sharp had been passed by 30 to 40 other climbers heading for the summit who made no attempt at a rescue, but that he was criticized for not helping Sharp, even though he was a double amputee and was probably the least likely person to have been able to help anyone, simply because he was more well known. Inglis said he believed that Sharp was ill-prepared, lacking proper gloves and oxygen, and was already doomed by the time of their ascent. He also initially stated, "I... radioed, and Russ [expedition manager Russell Brice] said, 'Mate, you can't do anything. He's been there x number of hours without oxygen. He's effectively dead.' Trouble is, at 8500 meters it's extremely difficult to keep yourself alive, let alone keep anyone else alive".
Statements by Inglis suggest that he believed that Sharp was probably so close to death as to have been beyond help by the time the Inglis party passed him during his group's ascent and the reported radio calls to their base camp. However Brice, who was initially criticized for reportedly advising Inglis during his ascent to move on without assessing the situation at that time or the possibility of rescue for Sharp, denies the claim that any radio call was received about the stranded climber until he was notified some eight hours later by the Lebanese climber Maxime Chaya, who had not seen Sharp in the darkness of the ascent. At this time Sharp was unconscious and shivering violently with severe frostbite, and had no gloves or oxygen. It was revealed that Brice kept detailed logs of radio calls with his expedition members, recorded all radio traffic, and that the Discovery channel was filming Brice during this time, all of which confirmed that Brice was first notified of Sharp being in trouble when climber Maxime Chaya contacted Brice at about 9:00 am on 15 May 2006.
In the documentary Dying For Everest, Mark Inglis stated: "From my memory, I used the radio. I got a reply to move on and there is nothing that I can do to help. Now I'm not sure whether it was from Russell [Brice] or from someone else, or whether you know... it's just hypoxia and it's ... it's in your mind." It is believed that if Inglis did in fact have a radio conversation where he was told that "he's been there x number of hours without oxygen" that it must have been on Inglis' descent, as there was no way for Brice or other climbers to have known how long Sharp had been where he was found during the climbers ascent, and in July 2006 Inglis retracted his claim that he was told to continue his ascent after informing Brice of a climber in distress, blaming the extreme conditions at altitude for the uncertainty in his memory.
The Discovery Channel was filming the Himex expedition for a documentary Everest: Beyond the Limit, including an HD camera carried by Whetu (that became unusable during the ascent due to the extreme cold) and helmet cameras for some of the Himex Sherpas, which included footage indicating that Sharp was only found by Inglis's group on their descent. However, the group of climbers with Inglis confirmed that they did discover Sharp on the ascent, but they do not confirm that Brice was contacted regarding Sharp during the ascent. By the time the Inglis group reached him on the descent and contacted Brice they were low on oxygen and heavily fatigued, with several cases of severe frostbite and other problems on the mountain, making any rescue by them impossible.
New Zealand mountaineer Jamie McGuinness reported about a Sherpa that reached Sharp on the descent, "... Dawa from Arun Treks also gave oxygen to David and tried to help him move, repeatedly, for perhaps an hour. But he could not get David to stand alone or even stand resting on his shoulders ... Dawa had to leave him too. Even with two Sherpas it was not going to be possible to get David down the tricky sections below"
McGuinness was part of an expedition that successfully climbed Cho Oyu with Sharp in 2002. He also was on the 2003 expedition to Mount Everest with Sharp and other climbers, and in 2006 offered Sharp the opportunity to climb Everest with his organized expedition for little more than what he ultimately paid Asian Trekking, which Sharp declined as he wanted to climb Everest independently. In the documentary Dying For Everest, McGuiness noted that Sharp did not expect to be rescued ... "absolutely not, he was clear to me that he understood the risks and he did not want to endanger anyone else".
Discovery Channel TV series
David Sharp was briefly caught on a camera in the morning on 15 May 2006 during filming of the first season of a television show Everest: Beyond the Limit, which was filmed the same season as his ill-fated expedition. The footage was from the helmet camera of a Himex Sherpa who encountered Sharp, along with one of the Himex group of climbers who included Mark Inglis, during their descent on 15 May 2006, and was attempting to help Sharp along with a Turkish Sherpa.
After Sharp was given additional oxygen and attempts were made to revive him and get him walking again, he was reportedly videotaped mumbling his name, that he was from Asian Trekking, and that he just wanted to sleep. The video from the helmet camera of Sharp and the climbers attempting to help him has not been released, reportedly as requested by Sharp's family who wanted him to be remembered as an astute mountaineer and not as an incapacitated incoherent person at the end of his life. There is apparently no video of Sharp from the Discovery Channel videographer, Mark Whetu, who was with that Himex group videotaping Inglis' climb, as it was reported that the camera he was using became unusable due to the extremely low temperatures that day.
Sir Edmund Hillary
Sir Edmund Hillary was highly critical of the decision not to try to rescue Sharp, as incorrectly reported by the media at that time, saying that leaving other climbers to die is unacceptable, and the desire to get to the summit has become all-important. He also said, "I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mount Everest has become rather horrifying. The people just want to get to the top. It was wrong if there was a man suffering altitude problems and was huddled under a rock, just to lift your hat, say good morning and pass on by". He also told the New Zealand Herald that he was horrified by the callous attitude of today's climbers. "They don't give a damn for anybody else who may be in distress and it doesn't impress me at all that they leave someone lying under a rock to die", and that, "I think that their priority was to get to the top and the welfare of one of the ... of a member of another expedition was very secondary." Hillary also called Mark Inglis "crazy", even though Inglis was not a guide or in charge of his group, and was a double-amputee struggling himself, with severe frostbite and problems with his oxygen. Apparently, Hillary was just responding to initial media reports which were not correct, and Inglis' initial comments to the media, which turned out to be incorrect.
Linda Sharp, David's mother, however, does not blame other climbers. She has said to The Sunday Times, "David had been noticed in a shelter. People had seen him but thought he was dead. One of Russell's [Brice's] Sherpas checked on him and there was still life there. He tried to give him oxygen but it was too late. Your responsibility is to save yourself – not to try to save anybody else."
Mountaineer David Watson, who was on Everest that season on the North side, commented to The Washington Post: "It's too bad that none of the people who cared about David knew he was in trouble", because "the outcome would have been a lot different." Watson thought it was possible to save Sharp, and he noted Sharp had worked with other climbers in 2004, to save a Mexican climber who had also gotten into trouble. Watson was alerted the morning of 16 May 2006 by Phurba Tashi. Watson went to Sharp's tent and showed Sharp's passport to Tashi, who confirmed his identity. Around this time, though, a Korean team gave a radio report that the climber in red boots [Sharp] was dead. He had his rucksack with him, but his camera was missing, so it is not known if he summited.
2006 Everest timeline
- 11 May: At Camp 1 on Mount Everest's North Col.
- 13 May: Sharp sets out from his high camp at night.
- 14 May 01:00: At Exit Cracks.
- 14 May 11:00: Near base of Third Step.
- 14 May: It has been surmised that on the afternoon of 14 May he may have summited Mount Everest. However, there are no accounts of him being on the summit and his camera is missing (no summit pictures available).
- 14 May: Late that night he is encountered by various groups making summit bids for the following morning.
- 15 May: This morning those groups again encounter him as they make their way back down, and this period includes various attempts to help him.
- 15 May: Seen in Green Boots' Cave and suffering from hypoxia. The rock cave is below the First Step.
- 16 May: At 8,500 m (27,887 ft) Sharp is recorded dying.
During the key days, over 100 people summitted from the north side:
- On 14 May 2006 about 37 people summited on the north side
- On 15 May 2006 about 36 people summited from the north
- On 16 May 2006 about 30 people summited from the north side
Fate of the body
About the 2006 Everest season
The following week after Sharp's death, three additional climbers from Asian Trekking died during summit attempts: Vitor Negrete, Igor Plyushkin, and Thomas Weber. Two Asian Trekking Sherpas and one IMG Sherpa had died earlier in the season, in the Khumbu Icefall. The Washington Post noted that 2006 was the worst season in terms of deaths since 1996 up to that time, with at least eleven climbers on Everest dying. Of the 11 deaths that season on Everest, 7 were climbers on the northeast ridge (with 4 being with Asian Trekking, along with 2 other climbers and 1 Sherpa), one died attempting to ski down the north face, and three Sherpas died on the south side (including 2 climbing Sherpas from Asian Trekking) as a result of an icefall avalanche. Accordingly, Asian Trekking essentially lost 6 climbers of the 11 that died on Everest that season. There was also one death of a climber on the adjacent Lhotse mountain that season.
On 26 May, Australian climber Lincoln Hall was found alive having been declared dead the day before. He was found by a party of four climbers (Dan Mazur, Andrew Brash, Myles Osborne, and Jangbu Sherpa) who, giving up their own summit attempt, stayed with Hall and descended with him and a rescue party of over a dozen Sherpas sent up to help him down. Hall descended in reasonably good health although suffering from frostbite and the lingering effects of cerebral edema. Hall ultimately lost the tips of his fingers and a toe to frostbite, but otherwise eventually fully recovered. Critically, similar to other successful high altitude rescues, Hall was able to walk even though he was suffering from exposure and some degree of altitude sickness.
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