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Tragedy on Everest: Nils Antezana's story
image story



Nov 30, 2004 10: 22 EST
Previously published Nov 29, 2004 00: 56 EST

In the heat of the Everest summit week fever, one of those e-mails - making us so uneasy - arrived: "Do you have any information about my father?"

A feverish cyber hunt began. Mails, SMS and Sat phone calls to Everest. Have you seen...have you heard...anything about the whereabouts of Dr. Nils Antezana?

A call, 2 days late

The replies were dim. The desperate daughter called back two days later.

The guide had just phoned, from Everest BC - her father was dead, he said. The guide offered to send some summit pictures. 2 days earlier, from C4, he had already phoned his webmaster - asking him to update the website with the good news of his own summit.

"Why can't we get any information?"

What had happened, the daughter wanted to know? The guide offered no details. The family was in pieces: "Why doesn't anybody say anything? Why can't we get any information?"

We sharpened the tone in our mails. Replies came - but none offered clues, or - a search. Finally, Adventure Consultants promised to look and the Benegas brothers took on the case. In spite of their own Latok expedition coming up, Damien flew to Kathmandu with the daughter to find some answers for the family. Face to face, the climbers began to talk.

Michael Leahy, of Washington Post, compiled the story over 5 months from interviews and audio tapes. It was published yesterday Sunday, in a 5 page feature. He will conduct an on-line chat open to readers worldwide today, Monday, 29th November at 3:00 p.m. NY Eastern Time. Michael Leahy will be available to field your questions and comments for about one to one and a half hours.

Washington Post report

It's a story of a wife in a hospital, waiting for a call from her husband, that never arrives. It's a story about a guide - an Argentinean named Gustavo Lisi - making mistakes no guide should make. And a daughters determination to leave Katmandu only with the truth.

Credentials: A false Everest summit

It's a story about an immigrant marriage, realizing the American dream, including a nearly finished vacation house in Annapolis. A 38-year marriage that ends on Mount Everest.

Nils met with Gustavo Lisi, the guide, in Bolivia. Lisi claimed to have scaled Everest in 2000. Nils asked him over the phone late last year to accompany him to Everest and agreed to pay all expenses and an unspecified salary, with a bonus of $10,000 for successfully bringing him to the summit and back.

Stolen summit pics for proof

Little did he know the truth about his guide's lack of Everest credentials: Lisi's then climbing mate, Spanish Juan Carlos Gonzalez, doesn't even want to hear about it. He says the two men had been climbing Everest together in 2000. Lisi turned back at C3, Juan summited but was stranded high in a storm.

Two other climbers, rescued him, but he lost seven fingers to frostbite. Lisi not only declined to participate in the rescue but later stole film from Gonzalez's camera while the saved man rested. The film showed Gonzalez atop the summit, film that, Lisi used to claim on his Web site that he, not Gonzalez, was the goggled man who had reached the peak.

Some climbers on Everest 2004 knew about this, but no one told Nils...

"Go back and get him!"

The problems began already at the trek. Antezana got lost and Lisi would leave him behind. It continued up the mountain: Mexican Hector Ponce de Leon saw it at one point and told WP: "I thought to myself, 'Gustavo left him . . . Unbelievable - Nils was so wasted he couldn't even see the right way to the camp." Ponce de Leon remembered yelling at Lisi: "What are you doing here? Your client is back there. Go back and get him."

Nils called home expressing his worries about his guide, he didn't trust Lisi: "but I can rely on the Sherpas . . . They are good."

Collaps at Hillary Step

Summit day, Nils climbed without O2 between C3 and C4. He arrived C4 wasted, and Lisi decided on a rest day in the death zone.

The next day, he left for the summit. He was slow, recalls Pat Falvey. Nine time Everest summiteer, Dorjee Sherpa, and Mingmar Sherpa, wanted to turn back. But Lisi continued to lead the group on the slow push toward the summit, where they arrived at 10 a.m.

Coming down, Nils collapsed for the first time, at the Hillary step. About three hours later, the team reached the South Summit. Exhausted, Antezana nearly fell off the side of the mountain.

The Guide heads down to "free rope"

Lisi claims that it was about there and then that Dorjee told him to go down the mountain to "lift the fixed ropes from the snow and clear them of any ice, so they wouldn't become unusable". Damian Benegas says that Dorjee later denied that he ordered or suggested that Lisi do anything, insisting that Lisi began descending on his own, without discussion.

Nap in a sleeping bag

Lisi stayed ahead of them by 50 to 110 yards, he said later, within sight but out of touch, until finally, sapped of energy and temporarily unable to continue, he dug a bivouac in the snow and climbed into a sleeping bag to nap.

Nils grabbed at the legs

At the Balcony, the Sherpas bent to put two oxygen bottles next to Antezana in the snow, and one of them took off his down jacket and covered Nils. Then they turned to walk away. Nils grabbed at the legs of one of the Sherpas and tried to hold on. The Sherpa pulled his leg free, and the two men strode down.

Silence

The found Lisi and shook him hard until he stirred, and continued down the mountain - after telling Lisi that Nils was unconscious. Back in Camp 4, Lisi exchanged glances with Saunders, a British guide, on his way up.

He told him nothing about Nils. Ahead of Lisi, Saunders saw his own hired Sherpas talking to the two Sherpas from Lisi's group. When the groups of Sherpas parted, Saunders recollects overhearing a couple of his group's Sherpas say, "Bad Sherpas." What was all that about? Saunders asked them.

One of the Sherpas explained that Lisi's Sherpas had gone off while one of their climbers was high on the mountain, atop the Balcony. Saunders says he didn't take this complaint to mean that the climber was abandoned or stranded, simply that the unknown person was lagging perhaps, in need of a brief rest.

Shouting in the dark

Continuing down, Lisi lost his way in the dark above camp 4 and collapsed on the ice. The Sherpas were gone. Lisi howled until Pat's two Sherpas found him and took him down, somewhere between 10 pm and midnight. He was alert and consious.

Sherpas, Pat and his team were in Camp. Lisi walked past their tents, accepted oxygen bottles from his two rescuers, found a tent of his own, and promptly went to sleep.

The British guide, Victor Saunders, turned back on his summit push - before he had reached Nils.

Calling the webmaster from C4

When Lisi awakened, it was morning. He called his mother and then his Web site manager on a satellite phone, to tell them that he had reached the summit. His Web site soon reported his accomplishment -- GUSTAVO LISI CONQUERS EVEREST -- without mentioning Antezana at all.

Lisi had yet to contact the Antezana family. At Camp Four, members of the Irish team say, they listened as he made his phone calls. Before Lisi said a word to any of them about the crisis up the mountain, they already had deduced that something was terribly awry: A man from the Lisi party was missing.

Lisi says something at last

Pat Falvey says he approached Lisi, who finally acknowledged that he had a client stranded near the Balcony. That point was within sight of Camp Four, achingly close. But with the new storm hitting high on Everest, Antezana was hidden and all but impossible to reach.

Climbers stranded overnight had been saved before. But the next morning at Camp Four, with the storm only growing worse, Pat Falvey and Victor Saunders decided that a rescue attempt was futile and dangerous.

No trace

By then, Gustavo Lisi had headed down the mountain, escorted by two of Falvey's Sherpas. By day's end, nearly everyone on the mountain concluded that Antezana was certainly dead. The following evening, as the weather cleared, other expeditions started up toward the summit.

They passed the spot where Antezana had been left. He was gone. Saunders and others guessed that Antezana had risen or crawled briefly before falling off a ledge or down a face of Everest.

Request from guide: "Stop questioning expedition"

After receiving his certified summit certificate from Nepalese officials, Gustavo Lisi left Kathmandu, hoping to attract clients for future expeditions. In an e-mail to The Washington Post, he reiterated his explanations about what happened on Everest, and asked that the controversy be allowed to end: "I am sure that my friend deserves to rest in eternal peace, and stop questioning his expedition."

Read the harrowing details in the 5 page Sunday Special Washington Post report in the links section. There's also a chat on the subject on the WP website today.
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