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Mountain manís mission to save lives

26 January, 2009

KATHMANDU, Jan 26 - No matter how difficult a rescue operation in the snow-capped mountains, this "mountain man" -- Pemba Gyalje Sherpa, noted as one of the world's best adventurers in 2008 -- is always ready to rescue mountaineers from incidents likely to result in death. Even putting his life at risk, this daredevil Sherpa from Pangum in Solukhumbu has saved numerous mountaineers -- who had lost all hope -- from the highest mountains, including Nepal's Mt. Everest and Pakistan's K2, the world's second highest mountain. Unlike in his home country, Sherpa, who has scaled Everest seven times, is regarded a celebrity mountaineer in the West for his courageous mountain rescue operations. Sherpa hit the headlines in the West after he saved two mountaineers, who had already lost all hope on the most difficult route of Mt. K2 on Aug. 2 last year. For his daring task, the National Geographic Adventures also awarded him with Heroism Award on Nov. 20 and has featured him in the cover of its 2008Dec/Jan 09 issue as 14 best adventurers of 2008. Although he has innumerable rescue operations in Nepal's highest peaks to his credit, he has not received the deserved recognition in his home country. Sherpa had also unearthed the body of mountaineer Babu Chhiri Sherpa from Everest in 2001. On Aug. 1, 2008, Sherpa dared to save the lives of two mountaineers from K2 of Pakistan. In the worst disaster in mountaineering history, eleven mountaineers, including two Nepali mountain guides, had lost their lives then. Eighteen mountaineers of different expeditions had summited the mountain. While descending along the most difficult stretch below the K2 summit, they had arrived at Bottleneck minutes after an avalanche swept away safety lines on the night of Aug. 1, Sherpa recalls. According to him, three members of the team - Wilco Van Rooijen, Marco Confortola and Gerard McDonnell -- decided to camp for the night at Bottleneck. However, Pemba descended to Camp IV for the night hoping that his friends would return. But to his surprise, Pemba, who had climbed the mountain with the expedition team of the Netherlands, was informed that more than a dozen climbers were missing or dead. Despite the insurmountable risks, Sherpa ventured to rescue those missing friends. At around 11a.m., he undertook the rescue operation alone. "I spotted Marco unconscious midway up Bottleneck, he was suffering from altitude sickness," he said.

Pemba revived Marco and guided him down to Camp IV. Pemba also rescued van Rooijen next day, who had lost his way while descending from Bottleneck. In a candid reply, Pemba, said he always likes to help people trapped in danger. "Even in the most difficult situation, I like to carry out rescue operation to save lives," says Pemba, who is in the capital this time around.

Although Pemba has no plan as such to climb any of the highest mountains in the coming seasons — Autumn and Spring — he says he will be available for rescue operation any time.
Pemba feels sad when mountaineers lose lives due to lack of rescue squad. "Like in developed countries, Nepal's government needs to set up mountain rescue squads to make mountaineering safe," Pemba says.


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