Mountaineer abandons Everest summit to help injured compatriot

ISLAMABAD: Mountaineer Saad Mohamed was forced to abandon his attempt to summit Mount Everest for the sake of his injured fellow climber, who had conquered the highest peak in the world, but ran out of bottled oxygen on his way down.

His quest to fulfil a lifelong ambition was cut short as efforts and resources were diverted towards saving veteran climber retired Col Abdul Jabbar Bhatti, who was stricken with frostbite after being stuck overnight at an altitude of around 8,500 metres – the heart of the Death Zone that has claimed the lives of dozens of climbers over the years.

“The expedition manager said it would be better if I called off my attempt to summit Everest and assist my fellow Pakistani climber, who was in dire need of medical assistance,” Mr Mohamed told Dawn over the phone from Kathmandu, the disappointment palpable in his voice.


Saad Mohamed was at Camp 3 when Col Bhatti went missing near summit


“It did not make sense to me, but helping my fellow climber overwhelmed all other priorities,” he said.

The two have climbed together in the past; in 2012, as part of the successful 10-member Pakistan-China Friendship expedition on Spantik Peak. The expedition, led by Mr Bhatti, gave him a lot of courage to take on bigger challenges.

On May 22, Mr Mohamed, who had been updating his location on social media via satellite phone, tweeted: “We have success but Mr Bhatti and his sherpa were rescued above Camp 4. Now out of danger”.

According to him, Mr Bhatti was better acclimatized and way ahead, and on May 21 became the fourth Pakistani to conquer Everest.

Immediately afterwards, he and his climbing partner Sangi Allping Sherpa went missing for several hours, creating a scare for the tour operator.

Six Sherpas were dedicated to rescuing the two climbers, who were stuck at 8,500 metres.

“Mr Bhatti stopped to catch his breath when he ran out of oxygen. He was so tired he could not continue descending and was exposed to extreme conditions without food or water. In a few hours, frostbite disabled both climbers,” he said.

Two days later, Mr Mohamed posted the tweet: “The decision to come to Base Camp was right. Mr Bhatti was heli-rescued from Camp 3. Was very weak & disturbed.”

Talking to Dawn, he narrated how Mr Bhatti and his Sherpa ran out of oxygen on their descent and had to spend the night at a landmark known as ‘The Balcony’, located on the south side of the mountain, a short distance from Camp 4.

“There was no cover, and they were exposed to the elements. This is kind of a record; few ever survive such an ordeal,” he said.

Mr Mohamed said that Mr Bhatti narrated to him how he was brought down to Camp 3 “with great difficulty”.

From there, the two injured men were airlifted to Khatmandu. Mr Mohamed also had to return on a subsequent flight.

“I had spent more than a month and half acclimatizing and re-acclimatizing and had made it as high as Camp 3, which is located at 7,050 meters, roughly 1,800 meters below the summit. Wind speeds varied between 20 to 70kmph and temperatures dropped below zero even during the day,” he said.

Mr Mohamed is now back in Kathmandu and was with Mr Bhatti at a hospital when Dawn spoke to him.

At least 14 people have died on Everest this year; four climbers were found dead in their tent on Wednesday, while an Indian national who summitted on Saturday was killed during descent.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2017

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