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DAVID SCOTT: It's the highest point on Earth
and the most forbidding, Nepal's Mount Everest.
But every spring, hundreds of foreign tourists
arrive chasing a dream to stand atop the world.
SCOTT: Some are experienced climbers.
Many are not.
But all of them have this in common.
How many of the clients that you see coming to Everest
could do it without you?
Um, I would say zero.
-SCOTT: Zero? -Yeah.
-SCOTT: None of them? -None of them.
SCOTT: Jangbu Sherpa is a member
of the indigenous tribe known as the Sherpas,
the men who make climbing on Everest possible,
carrying the foreigners' luggage up the mountain,
laying a path for them to climb,
all but literally holding their hands.
It's a job the Sherpas were born to do,
their bodies and their work ethic
molded by centuries of living here.
But it's also a job that often kills them.
If something goes wrong, there's nothing you can do.
You just depend on your luck and then just go for it.
-Fate? -Yeah, fate.
SCOTT: Over the past five years,
32 Sherpas have been killed
as part of guided climbs on Everest.
Thirty-two among just a few hundred
who work there.
That makes the job of the Sherpa per capita
the most deadly on Earth.
Why would anyone do such dangerous work?
The thing is that,
there's no option, there's no choice.
-There's no other work? -No other work.
SCOTT: We met Sherpa Ang Tshering
at the staging point for any Everest climb,
base camp, 17,500 feet above sea level.
It is in these Himalayan mountains
where the Sherpas live,
in one of the highest and most remote communities
on the planet, separated from civilization
by a wall of mountains.
Alone at the top of the world,
they have virtually no other options for work.
What percentage would you say would rather not be here,
-risking their lives? -Eighty to 90 percent, easy.
-Nine out of every ten Sherpas -Yeah.
-would rather not be here? -Yeah.
It's trap. They always say,
"I'm not gonna come back next year,"
but you can see them find-- You'll find them here again now.
SCOTT: Because they need the money.
They need the money.
SCOTT: The dangers of the job
begin the moment the Sherpas leave base camp
and start their march into the clouds.
The long climb to the Everest summit starts
up that frozen glacier behind me called the Khumbu Icefall,
named for the massive blocks of ice perched overhead,
and poised to fall on climbers at any moment.
Time spent in the ice fall is borrowed time,
because the longer you're in it,
the more likely you are to be buried alive.
You can hear all the ice collapsing.
You just think, like, "Yeah, you don't want to stop.
Just keep moving, keep running...
-Running? -...as fast as you can."
On the way down, we do run.
The way you get safely through the ice fall is you go fast.
-You don't stop. -You don't stop.
SCOTT: Dr. Ellen Gallant,
an American cardiologist and mountain climber,
came to Everest as a client for the first time in 2014.
She remembers her first pass through the ice fall.
DR. ELLEN GALLANT: Every now and then,
there would be a really loud crack,
and you'd hear yelling,
and everybody's kind of looking around,
where is it coming from, what's coming down on us?
Stuff is going to come down, it happens every day,
and you just don't want to be at the wrong place
at the wrong time.
SCOTT: But foreign climbers like Dr. Gallant
face only a fraction of the risk of the Sherpas.
That's because the Sherpas don't have to pass through
the icefall once or twice, but up to 30 times,
back and forth through this valley of death.
The Sherpas are forced to make all those trips
to carry gear for their clients,
which often consists of dozens of bags
packed with the comforts of home.
Many pay to have their Sherpas carry everything
from imported food to heated tents,
to dining tables, yes, dining tables,
on the way up the mountain.
-Everything that goes up... -Yeah.
-has to go through the icefall -Through the icefall.
-...on your back. -Yeah. Yeah.
And on the backs of other Sherpas.
It doesn't make sense to me.
It shouldn't be too luxurious.
You know, that risks a lot of life.
SCOTT: During the 2014 expedition, dozens of Sherpas
were ferrying gear through the icefall
while their clients rested at base camp.
That's when it happened.
I was there at base camp in my tent
and heard a crash, and unzipped the tent,
looked toward the west shoulder of Everest,
and there was a... a massive plume of ice and snow.
It was like, from top, coming straight down.
-In one giant piece of ice. -Yeah.
How big?
It was the size of trucks, or even bigger.
SCOTT: Avalanches like this
can drop millions of pounds of solid ice in an instant.
After that, we hear screaming.
People screaming everywhere.
SCOTT: In the panic, Jangbu began searching for survivors.
I saw this guy on the left-hand side.
Just one guy.
-He was alive? -Yeah, he was alive.
Five of us, we started digging that guy out.
We saw the other guys underneath him, like they are...
You know, they're dead.
-Stacked on top of each other? -Stacked.
Yeah, stacked on top of each other.
SCOTT: Sixteen Sherpas were buried to death in ice.
The Sherpa community was left stunned.
At the same time, they were not surprised.
Every year, when these expeditions happen,
in every Sherpa household, every Sherpa's mind...
There's always the sense of dread.
When you see the faces of children before the fathers
climb Everest, they're almost resigned to the fact that,
you know, he may not make it back alive.
SCOTT: Norbu Tenzing should know.
His father was Tenzing Norgay, the very first Sherpa
to ever climb Everest, when he escorted
New Zealand climber, Edmund Hillary
up the mountain, in 1953.
NARRATOR: The top of the world has been reached.
SCOTT: Tenzing Norgay was the original Sherpa
success story, earning enough money that his children
could have options in life beyond mountaineering.
Today, his son Norbu lives and works in San Francisco.
But Norbu still worries about his people back home.
People's lives are being risked.
People are being taken advantage of.
Even if they're getting something out of it.
They're actually giving a lot more
than what they're getting.
Including, in some cases, their own lives.
Their own lives. Yeah.
Try explaining that to a widow.
SCOTT: Pacee Sherpa is one of the widows
of the 2014 avalanche.
Today, she lives in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu,
raising a little boy who was left without his father.
The boy was just weeks old when his father set off
to work on Mount Everest.
Before the climb, the father called home one last time.
SCOTT: So, um...
And you say goodbye to each other?
Is that the last thing he said to you,
take care of your son?
SCOTT: But while Pacee's life was changed forever,
business as usual soon returned to Mount Everest.
Before long, a new batch of foreign climbers arrived
on the mountain looking to make another run at glory
with a little help from the Sherpas.
Among them, Dr. Ellen Gallant, whose first attempt
had been cut short by the avalanche.
There was no question I was going back.
Didn't make you think twice?
No. Not at all.
I said, "This can't happen again."
SCOTT: But then, just days after her return to base camp...
The first thing I heard was a rumble.
And so, I unzipped, um, the tent and saw a massive avalanche
coming toward us.
MAN: Holy shit!
MAN 2: Do we need to go in the tent?
Do we need to go inside?
Go, go!
No! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!
SCOTT: The direct hit of the avalanche left
base camp in ruins.
Nineteen people were dead, including eleven more Sherpas.
For the second year in a row, Dr. Ellen Gallant abandoned
her climb to try to treat the wounded,
but many were beyond saving.
What killed the majority of people
was blunt force trauma.
Blowing tents, blowing chairs, blowing cook stoves,
picking up propane tanks, rocks...
These things were just jettisoned
across camp like missiles.
SCOTT: But the threat of a weather disaster
is only part of the risk faced by Sherpas on Everest.
They're also being endangered by those who were supposed
to protect them, the expedition companies
that employ them and their very own government.
The government of Nepal charges 11,000 dollars
in permit fees to every foreigner looking
to climb Mount Everest.
That may explain why in recent years,
even as the number of Sherpa deaths
has skyrocketed, the Nepali government
has increased the number of permits it's selling.
Today, the line to the summit of Mount Everest
can look like a line at Disneyworld.
Virtually anyone willing to pay is welcome,
no matter how inexperienced they may be,
or how much of a burden they may pose to a Sherpa.
-You know, I call Everest, Inc. -Everest, Inc.?
Everest, Inc. You know, it's a cash cow.
Basically, anybody can come to this mountain.
-Anyone can come who's willing to pay? -Yeah, who's willing to pay.
SCOTT: Guy Cotter
started the very first expedition company
on Mount Everest back in 1992.
Cotter says he will only take money from experienced climbers,
but that increasingly, fly-by-night competitors
will take money from novices, meaning their Sherpas
will have to take on much more risk in trying
to get these amateurs up the mountain.
The entry level for people getting onto this mountain
these days is way, way too low.
There are many, many people on the mountain,
you can tell as soon as you see them,
they've never climbed before.
Notice you just hear people say, "Oh, I climbed."
Yeah, you climbed. Someone has done the job for you,
fixed the ladders, fixed the ropes,
dragged you up, carried your oxygen bottles.
There are so many climbers who shouldn't be here.
SCOTT: Last year, a 60-year-old Pakistani, named
Abdul Jabbar Bhatti, arrived at Everest.
While he's claimed to have climbed
some big mountains in his past, he was reportedly so slow
during the start of his Everest climb,
that some senior Sherpas refused to guide him.
But a rookie Sherpa named Sange says he wasn't given the choice.
You were following orders.
SCOTT: Sange took Bhatti up the mountain,
but says he soon realized their climb was doomed.
He says he began to warn Bhatti that they needed to turn around.
When you told your client that he could die
and take you with him, what did he say?
Did you, at any point, consider saving yourself
and leaving him?
SCOTT: Sange and Bhatti continued to the final leg of the climb,
where the air is thinnest, the temperature coldest,
and the weather angriest.
So, hostile is this region to human life,
that it's known as the Death Zone.
It's littered with the corpses of dozens of climbers
who've died there over the years.
What happens to the human body in the Death Zone?
When we go into the Death Zone, we know we are, in a sense,
dying, meaning our body tissue is being used for energy
to keep us alive, and so there's a true finite period
of time that one can stay there.
Oxygen pressure up there, about a third of what there is
at sea level, means that we're just not getting air
into our lungs. Our brains stop working.
It could be incredibly confusing.
People can just decide they don't wanna move
and just sit down and... that's it.
SCOTT: Sange and Bhatti somehow made it to the summit,
but lacked the speed or strength to make it back down,
through the Death Zone.
Sange says that he and Bhatti collapsed,
their fate seemingly sealed.
SCOTT: Then, a group of Sherpas discovered the two men.
That's Bhatti, the climber, in yellow.
Sange, in the blue jacket, was nearing death,
and seemed beyond saving. Until...
I found his pulse, very, very faint pulse,
and I said no, let's take him down.
SCOTT: Sherpa Ang Tshering was leading the rescue team.
Were you concerned for your own lives?
We were but sometimes, I think, you have to change the mindset,
you know, like, "I gotta do this," you know?
To save someone's life.
SCOTT: Ang moved quickly, aware that parts of Sange's body
were exposed to the cold, including his hands.
When I was tying his body, his fingers hit the bottle,
-and it sounded metal to metal. -SCOTT: Yeah. Really?
Tink! You know?
-SCOTT: His fingers were frozen. -Frozen.
SCOTT: But as they approached camp, Ang saw reason for hope.
He moaned. There was sound out of him,
and I said, "This guy is not going to die."
I'm sitting on a rock in front of my tent,
and watching this, and just shaking my head,
thinking, "How does this happen... again?"
-Climber to doctor. -Yep.
SCOTT: Dr. Ellen Gallant was there for her third attempt on Everest
but for the third time, was forced to conduct
emergency medicine instead.
She treated Sange and Bhatti and saved their lives,
much to her own surprise.
People just don't survive rescues at that altitude.
Nobody comes from that condition,
-out of the Death Zone, alive. -No.
SCOTT: The dangers of the Death Zone are why, for decades,
climbers who've died at the top of Everest,
have mostly been left there. The notion of trying to recover
their bodies was always deemed far too dangerous.
But now, in a brand new threat to Sherpa safety,
expedition companies here are beginning to sell
a new service, sending Sherpas to recover corpses
from the most harrowing part of the mountain.
Risking someone's else life to bring back a dead body,
I don't think that's a wise decision.
SCOTT: This was Goutam Ghosh, a visiting climber from India,
just before he died in the Death Zone in 2016.
One year later, 12 Sherpas were deployed
to retrieve the man's corpse.
It took four hours for them to chip his mummified body
out of the ice and 28 hours for the full mission.
Here you are trying to recover the body of a loved one,
with the real possibility that the person
who's doing the rescue might not make it back alive.
No amount of money, for me,
would be worth that kind of risk.
SCOTT: Unregulated body recoveries from the Death Zone,
unlimited passes through the Khumbu icefall,
unlimited numbers of climbers, many without experience,
all chasing the summit at the same time.
All which raises the question, "Is anyone managing
the world's tallest peak or the risks to its workers?"
We asked one of Nepal's leaders in charge of tourism,
Deepak Joshi.
How many of the climbers, that you permit to climb,
do you think are well qualified?
Maybe around 50, 55 percent?
-Fifty percent? Half? -Yeah.
-If half the climbers are well-qualified, -Mm-hmm.
-and the other half are not, -Mm-hmm.
why don't you limit the mountain to those who are?
Definitely, this new policy that we are trying to come up with,
-Mm-hmm. -will definitely address.
SCOTT: But a new policy on Everest is what the government
has been promising for nearly five years,
since the string of deaths began.
No major policy has ever been created.
SCOTT: You're in charge here. This is your country,
-your mountain, your citizens, -Mm-hmm.
who are working there.
What do you think should be done
to change and make more safe, that mountain?
Certainly, there are things to improve.
We are very serious of making better--
-but if you're so serious, then, wouldn't those tragic events
have compelled to act before now?
This new policy will definitely address these issues.
SCOTT: If the government isn't going to stop it,
and the outfitters aren't going to get together
and police themselves,
what's gonna happen here?
More deaths.
SCOTT: Ang Tshering's rescue of Sange Sherpa
prevented yet another death, but Sange did not escape
the ordeal intact.
His fingers, which froze in the Death Zone,
had to be amputated due to frostbite.
-How are you? Good. -Good. Doing good.
SCOTT: With the help of Dr. Ellen Gallant,
and other benefactors, Sange is now in America,
awaiting prosthetics for his hands.
I'm very thoughtful and very thankful
for my new life.
-Aww. -Yeah.
I mean, every day, I'm thinking about you.
SCOTT: For her part, Dr. Gallant did finally achieve
her Everest dream. After saving Sange's life,
she pushed for the summit, and finally made it
to the top of the world.
There's no way, I will humbly say,
I, or, pretty much anybody I've climbed with,
would have stood on the summit, without the aid of Sherpa.
SCOTT: But despite her accomplishment, she still struggles
with the fact, that to achieve her dream,
a Sherpa had to risk his life.
I, personally, can accept the risk,
but is it acceptable for me to put someone else at risk,
meaning the Sherpa that are helping me
get to the top of the mountain. And that's a tough one.
Is it ethical to climb Everest? That's the question.
SCOTT: It's been nearly seven decades since man first set foot
at the top of the world, setting in motion,
what no one could've foreseen at the time,
that climbing Mount Everest,
would become an ever-growing enterprise,
all built on the backs of the Sherpas.
SCOTT: What do you think your father would make of it?
Everest in 2018.
You know, if he were alive today,
I don't think he would recognize the mountain,
and if anything,
he might feel sorry that he actually climbed it.
Thanks for watching.
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Glory or Death: Climbing Mount Everest (Full Segment) | Real Sports w/ Bryant Gumbel | HBO

543 Folder Collection
Amy.Lin published on January 8, 2019
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