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  Babu Sherpa - 21 hours at the summit of Everest, 8848m.

Happy Anniversary, and a very special gift for the Everest celebration
02:57 a.m. EDT May 29, 2003
Everest is our worldís highest dream. Scaling Mount Everest is much more than the actual climb. At one point, in a to-be climbers life, the dream comes to mind. That is when the journey begins. There is the first exhilarating feeling of a great goal. Then the nagging doubts. The nights of worry. The battle for the money. And then, the first step towards the mountain.

The first real sight of it, perhaps just around the corner of Namche Bazaar. It looks so tall, the summit so very far away. Base camp and the international buzz of high expectations. The first terrifying night before entering the dreadful icefall. The joy of climbing the last wall to camp one. Then the Valley of Silence. Avalanches thundering down the walls surrounding it. Camp 2 and glacier rivers carrying with them shimmering rock. The Lhotse Wall, a steep face of blue ice shining white in the night. Camp 3, perched high above the mountains of Himalaya, with a sensational view of peaks and clouds below.

Camp 4 and an entire mountaineering history of used oxygen bottles. The death zone, the dead bodies, the wait, the fear. And then the push through the night. Slow steps, heavy breath, climbersí torches flickering in the dark. The balcony and the first blue beam of light emerging from behind the distant horizon far, far down below. Change the oxygen and once again up, up.

Then the mountain ghost, a projection of Everest summit soaring in the sky. Step around the corner towards the South Summit; there the frightening Knife ridge. The summit itself above, roaring in the wind with white plume of snow blasting out over Tibet. The Hillary step. And then, the final steps. The birth of a grand dream, and the reality of its accomplishment.

Babuís dream

It is easy to assume that the dream of Everest belongs primarily to western climbers. Many Sherpas say that they only climb it to put bread on their table. And that is true for some. But not for all. Often Sherpas have their own Everest dreams.

We climbed with Babu for the first time in 1998. Babu was our Sirdar, the leader of our small Sherpa team, his objective was to help carry loads and accompany us to the summit. The summit push failed. Cold and tired back in our tent at camp 4, we talked. Babu was one of those Sherpas who had a dream of his own. Babu wanted to spend an entire night on the summit without oxygen. The very top where most spent only ten, twenty minutes - or an hour at the most, Babu wanted to stay for 21 hours.

That night, in our small tent, right after our teamís failure, the stars aligned. All of a sudden, it was Babuís turn. We were going to help Babu to reach his dream. It was time for Sherpas and Nepal to get their own Everest hero. The next year we climbed back up together. The wind was horrible and we turned, just above the Balcony. "Can I continue?" Babu asked. "We wish you wouldn't," we whispered. "But it's your climb". We shook hands and Babu turned back up.

Camp 4 was deserted when we returned. Babuís two Sherpa friends called on us from the South Summit hours later. They were stuck in the high winds and couldn't get back down. Our back up Sherpas just shook their heads: "Wind too high". The mountain was silent, nobody called us on the radio, although all climbers knew what was going on. We all thought Babu had died. We knew all too well what that meant. As expedition leaders and westerners, we would get the worldís fury for supporting such a dangerous Sherpa dream.

Yet two hours later, Babuís Sherpas collapsed into our tent. In a brief window in the wind, they had spotted the fixed rope the expedition so diligently had fixed for the safety of the mission. And five hours later, came the first call from Babu. We talked to him every hour through the night. We asked the same questions: "How old are you, how many children do you have?" and so on, checking for signs of cerebral edema. Yet the next day, there was a small black spot slowly moving down the wall. We went out to meet him. We all hugged in silence. Babu had proven to an entire world, that impossible dreams come true on Mount Everest.

That epic night, Babu shot a film of himself lying in his tent for the expedition sponsor, Ericsson. Two years later, Babu died on Everest. Media screamed for the video but it remained in our drawer. The film was waiting for a really good reason to be showed. Today the day arrived. Watch it. Say a prayer for Babuís soul. Think of Nepal and all the Sherpas following in Babuís footsteps. Dream a grand dream for yourself, and tonight - raise a toast to Mount Everest.

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