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Exweb Everest Debrief: Nawang Sherpa Summit Video

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Jun 21, 2004 14: 23 EST
On May 16 2004, the Friendship Beyond Borders expedition accomplished its goal when Nawang Sherpa reached the summit of Mt. Everest. Nawang is the first trans-tibial amputee to ever climb an 8000 meter peak.

The team consisted of Tom McMillan (47 yrs), Nawang Sherpa (32 yrs), Nima Tashi Sherpa (46 yrs, 8th summit), Nima Gombu Sherpa(35 yrs, 10th summit), and Pem Dorje Sherpa (22 yrs). All five reached the summit between 7:30 and 8:15 am on May 16, 2004.

"Everyone asks us about summit day," said Tom. "Both Nawang and I still remember it like a dream. We can only believe we were there by looking at the pictures that we took."

Exclusive; Tom McMillan's post-expedition report:

"To prevent any risk of damage to his prosthesis that would keep him from the main goal (Everest), Nawang opted out of several of our acclimatization forays such as Island Peak. This prevented us from accomplishing our initial vision of filming the five of us doing everything as a team. It also caused difficulties for Nawang during acclimatization and summit push since he experienced headaches and nausea after the rest of us had acclimatized. In retrospect, the prosthesis performed so well that our plan now seems over-cautious.

Traffic-Jams from South Col to the Balcony.

Despite my plan to get an early start on the night of the 15th for safety and for filming purposes, we were fairly late (we got underway after 9 pm). Thus there were a number of climbers ahead of us en-route to the Balcony, plus a fair number already descending. Everyone was traveling in single-file with deep snow on either side of a good track.

Several times the line of ascending climbers came to a complete stop for excruciating long minutes. My regulator was set at 2 liters/min, but we were moving so slowly that I nearly switched off my oxygen to prevent running out. The 6mm fixed rope hanging there, occasionally running over sharp rocks, was stretching like a rubber band as many climbers weighted the rope to pull over short but awkward rock bands. We were so close together that should the rope have snapped people would have tumbled on top of each other, knocking down even those who were not clipped to the rope. Eventually I reached the log-jam, which turned out to be two Sherpas from one of the guided groups. They were heavily laden with clients' oxygen bottles. They were incoherent and could only manage a few steps between spells of collapsing in the snow on the steeper parts of the climb.

As we reached the Balcony, the remaining climbers in front of us were stopping to rest, so Nima Tashi and I were able to take the lead, which felt much safer. Unfortunately, Nawang, Pem Dorje, and Nima Gombu were less able to get around the traffic-jams so we became separated into two groups.

Balcony to South South Summit.

Just below the South Summit, Tashi connected my regulator to a new Poisk bottle. Really that was a highpoint for me -- to see that Tashi instinctively knew when, instead of changing bottles at a pre-determined point such as the Balcony. We climbed as quickly as possible so as not to cause a log-jam, but this did not leave time to do any filming of the spectacular night climbing.

I would fail to climb Everest due to fogged up eyewear

Over the South Summit. I wear glasses. Approaching the South Summit, my left lens was completely frozen and my right lens would cloud up whenever I looked down. I had to remove my glasses entirely since they were completely fogged and would not clear. Tashi was just behind me. In the faint light of dawn he could to direct me to the right track when I stumbled. I then saw two or three people just ahead of me crossing over the peak of the South Summit. As we passed over the South Summit the first thin line of dawn light was appearing in the east, so I decided to stop to put on my prescription glacier glasses.

I did this, but as soon as I put on my oxygen mask, the glacier glasses became covered with a thin sheet of ice that I could not remove. I found a small flat place below the South Summit and stopped there to let the sun come up hoping that warmer conditions would help. I put the glacier glasses inside my down suit and tried a combination of goggles and my glasses, which also fogged up when I tried to breathe oxygen. Several people came over the summit and passed me, and I started to wonder if I would fail to climb Everest due to fogged up eyewear.

So I packed up and started out again without oxygen. Tashi had passed me, but saw me moving more slowly and stopped to wait. He then showed me how to put the mask over just my mouth and turned up my regulator to 2.5 liters/min. Then we went on together to the summit. By the time I had got my video camera out and was ready to shoot, Pem Dorje, Nima Gombu, and Nawang were approaching the summit and I was able to film them."

The prestigious Everest Award was granted this year to Nawang on June 8th. The award is given annually by the Everest Summiteers Association (ESA) to honor Everest Summiteers who set unique records.

During their summit certificate celebration at the Rum Doodle, representatives from the Nepal ministry of tourism expressed great interest in an idea proposed to institute a program that would facilitate the transitioning of 10+ Everest summiting Sherpas to a prestigious but less hazardous career of honor and high pay such as "Everest High Camp Ranger". And rumor has it that Nawang is being considered to carry the Nepali flag for this summer's Olympics in Athens. More to come on this...

A motorcycle wreck in summer 2000 left Nawang Sherpa, an aspiring high-altitude guide in Nepal, an amputee. In 2001 he received his first prosthetic leg from UC San Francisco. He got a new "climbing leg" in 2002 thanks to the High Exposure foundation, a nonprofit launched by Ed Hommer, who lost his own legs on Denali and hoped to scale Everest one day together with Nawang. Climbing with a Peak Promotion group, Nawang easily climbed to C2 on Mount Everest. Ed's own Everest dream however ended in tragedy a few months later when a rock struck and killed him on Mount Rainier Sep 23, 2003. This year Tom McMillan, a California climber, stepped in to make Nawang's dream to scale Mount Everest a reality.

"It is not just about the enduring love of mountains and the formative challenges of climbing them. It is also friendship—beyond the borders of nations and cultures and capabilities. The Everest: Friendship Beyond Borders expedition will prove how people working together can tackle the toughest problems in the world. And it will help not only Nawang Sherpa, but other people throughout the world who are committed to rebuilding their lives and careers."

Image of Nawang climbing courtesy of Linda McMillan. The video clip was done by Tom's IT group of software developers at AMB.

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