April 22, 2014 -- He spent two years and more than $100,000 in an attempt to climb Mount Everest, only to get as close as a high altitude base camp where an avalanche killed his friend and crushed his ambition to reach the peak.
Ed Marzec, 67, watched as a behemoth sheet of ice cracked on Friday and buried the Sherpa, his close friend, who was to lead him to the mountain’s top. At least 12 others were also killed in the avalanche, the most deadly climbing accident in Everest’s history. Three additional Sherpas are missing and presumed dead.
"We heard this crack and everyone’s head went up,” a tearful Marzec told ABCNews.com in a phone call from the base camp in Nepal. “I saw a probably 150-foot section of ice just break loose and come straight down.
“This huge piece of ice broke into other pieces – the sizes of buses, houses, cars – and there was nothing they could do. They couldn’t go forward, they couldn’t go back.”
Four days after the avalanche, Marzec is still at base camp, determined to help the Sherpas' families and see to it that the government begins paying them a fair wage.
On Friday, the Sherpas had left ahead of Marzec and other foreigners to set up camp, carrying tents and equipment.
One of the bodies presumably buried in the ice belongs to Ash Gurung, 28, a Sherpa and father of two who had saved Marzec’s life on an earlier trek when the retired Los Angeles attorney slipped off a trail at Yala Peak in Nepal.
“All of a sudden I see this body jumping at me. He went out of his way, grabbed me and pushed me back on the trail. It saved my life,” Marzec said. “I was so shocked by this. Even your family members – think about it, who would do that for you?”
Now Marzec is plagued by guilt.
“I think of my close friend, lying up there and I can see where he is at,” Marzec said. “I am looking from my tent and I can see the dark spot where he was buried under the ice.”
Marzec had hoped to become the oldest American man to summit Everest.
“I’ve worked two years getting in shape, spent large amounts of money, but my sacrifice is nothing compared to the sacrifice of those 16 men for all of us,” he said.
Sherpas told The Guardian they have decided to abandon climbing season this year after the horrific deaths.
Marzec respects their wishes and has shifted his focus to helping the families of the fallen Sherpas.
“That’s more important than just climbing the mountain,” he said.
Sherpas are boycotting for Nepal’s government to provide more insurance money and financial aid for victims' families.
After the avalanche, the government said it would pay the families of fallen Sherpas $415, The Associated Press reported.
Sherpas want more, and it's a small price to pay considering how much Westerners pay to climb Mt. Everest, Marzec said.
Guided expeditions can cost between $30,000 and $100,000. Sherpas earn about $5,000 a year.
Marzec has launched an online fund to raise cash for Gurung’s family, and another to support Sherpas who will be out of work this season.
“I’m sitting right here looking at bags in front of his tent that belong to Ash, and have all of his worldly belongings in them,” he said. “They’re taking them back to his wife and family. And it’s very difficult to deal with this and to see this.
“Everest is a very raw place. There is no room for emotions. But this is hard for me.”