8,500m on Everest, is a trail marker called “green boots”. Under a rocky overhang, is the body of an unidentified Indian climber. Believed to have died in 1996, the deceased climber was wearing striking green boots and hence, the name “green boots”. Passing green boots would mean that you have little more than 300m to the summit.
On 14 May 2016 at 1.00am, expedition guide Mark Woodward was shocked to find a second pair of boots there while leading his team to the summit. Woodward said that the newcomer was lifeless, so they decided to move on. 20 minutes later, a Turkish expedition passed green boots but took no notice of the newcomer. Lebanese climber Maxime Chaya also did not notice the newcomer on his way up, but by the time he descended and passed the rocky overhang, it was 9.30am. Chaya was shocked to find a living person shivering next to green boots. The Lebanese climber’s Sherpa guide Dorjee tried to give oxygen to the struggling climber but his condition did not improve. His legs were also frozen and there was no way he could walk. Chaya and his guide were reminded that they only had 90 mins of oxygen left. They prayed for the climber and descended without him.
When the Turkish team descended, they already had a casualty of their own. Still, their Sherpas tried to give green boots living companion oxygen with the hope of reviving him. They just managed to get him to speak.
“My name is David Sharp,” he said. “I’m with Asian Trekking, and I just want to sleep.”
At that altitude, everyone would be struggling just to breathe. If David Sharp were to be rescued, he would at least have to be able to get on his feet. There are knife-edged ridges and rocky sections which would challenge even the healthy climbers, let alone someone incapacitated by injury or illness. They tried to get him on his feet, but he kept falling over. The Turkish team pulled him under the sun and left him there. Soon, there would be two bodies at the green boots trail marker.
Two weeks after Sharp’s death, an Australian climber was rescued at an even higher altitude. The keyboard warriors went into overdrive. All the climbers who passed David Sharp on 14 May faced their intense outrage. Of course, nothing would catch the world’s attention more than the world’s biggest Everest legend.
Sir Edmund Hillary was infuriated that some climbers reported Sharp’s condition during the ascent, but were told to continue to the summit. Declaring (hypothetically of course) he would have aborted his own historic climb to aid the Briton, Hillary lectured the world that human life was “far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain.”
In 1996, Kiwi mountain guide Rob Hall was hailed a hero when he sacrificed his own life while trying to help a client in trouble. That sort of “set the standard” for future expeditions. Some people expect guides to emulate Rob Hall. Perhaps that’s why the abandonment of David Sharp angered so many people.
However, Linda Sharp, David Sharp’s mother, was more forgiving. She was quoted as saying: “Your responsibility is to save yourself — not to try to save anybody else.”
That may have calmed some people down for a while but one year later, Ang Tshering Lama and his team set a new record with the highest and most dangerous rescue executed on Mt Everest. While we should cheer for Ang Tshering’s heroic feat, we mustn’t forget that we are not Ang Tshering. What would you do if you were in the position to mount a rescue by giving up on your summit attempt? Would the victim’s family compensate you and pay for your next expedition? What if you are in your last legs having already summitted? Would you give up your oxygen supply and risk your own life to save someone?
While the keyboard warriors will probably never find themselves in such situations, we must also be aware that guides and fellow climbers are not saints. Not all guides are responsible and some climbers can steal others’ oxygen and food supplies when theirs run out. When the stakes are high, the dark side of human nature is elevated.
Fast forward to post-Covid May 2023 when a record number of 478 Everest permits were issued by the Ministry of Tourism. Traffic jams were guaranteed. The death toll at this time of writing stands at eight, and five climbers are missing. At risk of sounding insensitive to the families of the missing climbers, the number of fatalities this time looks set to surpass the 11 deaths logged in 2019, when images of massive traffic jams at the summit spread around the world. One of the missing climbers this year is Singaporean climber Shrinivas Sainis Dattatraya.
Mr Shrinivas was part of an expedition organised by Nepal Guides Treks and Expeditions and Seven Summit Treks, Nepalese companies that offer guided climbs on Mount Everest and other mountains. He was reportedly last in contact with base camp officials on 19 May 2023 about 8,500m on the mountain – near green boots.
Information we’ve received so far has been extremely sketchy and some people seem to be hiding something in order to avoid a lawsuit. What does it mean to say that Mr Shrivinas was “disappearing from sight” while on the way down. Did he vaporise?
Let’s try to piece things together based on available information online. The most telling is the text message to his wife on 19 May. Shrivinas wrote that he had reached the summit of Everest, but he was not likely to make it back down. He told his wife that he was suffering from high altitude cerebral edema HACE. It almost seemed like a farewell message. In other words, he knew that he was in need of a miracle if he were to survive.
The photo below shows Shrivinas celebrating his success on the summit. Yes, something is very wrong. Nobody strikes such a pose after reaching the top of the world unless he is really not well enough to be on his feet. Clearly, he must have must have completely drained himself, pushing on to the summit in spite of deteriorating symptoms.
It should be noted that even if you’re exhausted after a 2.4km run, you can still make your way home after resting and rehydrating. Not in the death zone. If you’re exhausted on the summit, you won’t be able to recover sufficiently to get down.
Next, it has been reported that Shrivinas’ Sherpa guide (and he reportedly had two with him) managed to reach Camp IV 7925m, at 8pm on summit day. That is very late. What kept them? Had they been trying to get Shrivinas on his feet? How did he “disappear” if they had been roped together? Now, let’s take a look at a photo of his guide Dendi Sherpa in hospital. His fingers are wrapped up, apparently frostbitten, but apart from that, he seemed OK. When asked about his client, he said that he tried to save him but wouldn’t say more. I too will not say more as I wasn’t there to assess if he had tried hard enough.
Reputation of the company
Established by brothers Mingma Sherpa, Chhang Dawa Sherpa, Tashi Lakpa Sherpa and Pasang Phurba Sherpa in 2010. In 2019 Seven Summit Treks is amazingy the top royalty/tax paying firm in Nepal. It is also indisputably the biggest expedition organiser in Nepal.
In 2016, Maritha Strydom, the mother of Maria Strydom, an Australian climber criticised Seven Summit Treks on Facebook for not informing her of her daughter’s death in a timely fashion. In fact, she only found out about her daughter’s death from the Himalayan Times.
In 2018, The Himalayan Times reported that the Nepalese Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation fined Seven Summit Treks SGD 59,400 (USD 44,000) for taking two climbers to Mt Everest without obtaining the proper climbing permits. The Department of Tourism (DoT) also collected SGD 510 (NPR 50,000) more from the agency as a penalty for fraud. Mingma Sherpa, the owner of Seven Summit Treks, denied any wrongdoing and claimed that a former employee was responsible for forging a permit to include the names of two extra climbers in an expedition.
In 2021, the Nepal government fined Seven Summit Treks’ registered Sherpa guide Dawa Sherpa SGD 102 (NPR 10,000) for being complicit in three Indian climbers’ false claim to have summited Mount Everest in 2016.