A little later, at 8,400 meters, Pemba's headlamp illuminates a body in the snow. It's Shriya Shah-Klorfine, a 33-year-old businesswoman from Canada. Pemba calls out: "Didi, Didi," or sister, sister. But the climber is dead. The two men continue on their way.
At 11:45 p.m., at 8,500 meters, the light from their lamps falls on a man crouched against a boulder. His thermal suit is torn open, and white down feathers are swirling through the air. He isn't carrying a backpack, he no longer has an oxygen mask, the crampon on his right foot is missing, and his lips are covered with ice.
Aborting the Summit Attempt
The man is Aydin Irmak. His eyes are closed, but he's still breathing. Pemba shakes his shoulder, and Irmak wakes up.
"Can you move your legs?" Pemba asks. "I think so," says Irmak. "Where's your equipment?" the Sherpa asks. "No idea."
Irmak doesn't know what happened, or how he managed to reach this point from the summit.
Pemba and his client abort their summit attempt. They secure Irmak to the fixed rope, place him between them and begin the descent, fighting their way down the mountain. They climb over the dead Canadian woman and reach the Chinese climber. He has since died as well.
The body of Song Won Bin, a 44-year-old mountain climber from South Korea, is lying nearby. After becoming confused and disoriented, he fell off an overhang, which is why the three men can't see him.
They climb down from Camp 4 to Camp 3 and on to Camp 2, at 6,400 meters, which they reach at about 7 p.m. on May 20. There they learn that another climber, German doctor Eberhard Schaaf, also had an accident on Everest. During his descent, he collapsed at the base of the Hillary Step, an almost vertical, 12-meter cliff at 8,760 meters. Schaaf died at shortly after 3 p.m., when Irmak was still standing on the summit.
To be able to stand on the highest point on earth is one of man's biggest dreams -- like flying or traveling to the moon. Every spring, when Himalayan weather conditions are most favorable, alpinists from all over the world attempt to scale Mount Everest. They include professional mountain climbers and scientists, but also a growing number of adventurers who really have no business climbing the world's highest peak. They are people seeking an extreme experience, lured by an expedition industry that is marketing Everest as a tourist destination.
Anyone in halfway decent shape can book the tour to the top of Everest. High-altitude climbing experience isn't necessary, but courage and money are. Sherpas carry the equipment, prepare the route, set up the camps and lay the fixed ropes along which the clients, looking like a chain of pearls, make their way hand over hand toward the summit. 'An Amusement Park'
That's how New York bike shop owner Aydin Irmak made it to Everest. That he managed to come back down alive, however, was a random stroke of luck. If Pemba and Ben-Jehuda hadn't found him in the inky blackness on the mountain that night, he would have been lost. They saved his life.
Since the first ascent on May 29, 1953, by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, some 3,836 people have climbed Mount Everest, with almost three quarters of them making the ascent in the last 10 years. The Himalayan peak has become "an amusement park," says top Italian alpinist Simone Moro, who has summited Everest four times. This spring, 683 climbers from 34 countries attempted to climb the mountain.