Aspen native helps save climber on Mt. Everest
Tap Richards, the Aspen native who recently helped discover climber George Mallory’s body on Mt. Everest, led a rescue effort to save Ukrainian climbers who ran into trouble on the mountain May 8.
Richards and other members of the Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition had to delay their own attempt on the 29,028-foot summit to make the rescue. Three Ukrainian climbers ran into trouble on the mountain soon after they reached the summit early in the afternoon.
The Ukrainians were separated from the rest of their team and became trapped above 28,000 feet when clouds enveloped the peak. Two of the men were forced to bivouac, in the open and without oxygen, on Everest’s upper Northeast Ridge. The third climber made it back to camp safely.
Spearheaded by Richards, along with fellow climbers Conrad Anker, Jake Norton and Andy Politz, a rescue effort was launched to try to bring the Ukrainians safely back to Advanced Base Camp.
One of the Ukrainians was lost on the mountain and is presumed dead, but the rescue team was able to make contact with the other. After a tremendous effort, they were able to lower the frostbitten, snow-blind climber more than 1,000 meters to the relative safety of High Camp.
But after getting him down, those involved decided his injuries were so severe he would not survive the night at that high of an altitude. So began yet another dangerous rescue effort, this time at night.
The Ukrainian was lowered in a stretcher over snow and ice and gaping crevasses down a near-vertical face known as the North Col, beginning at 10 p.m. on the night of May 9.
The rescuers worked through the night and finally lowered the injured man to the base of the Col by 2:30 a.m. He was then carried in a stretcher to Advanced Base Camp at 21,000 feet, where he was turned over to doctors to receive medical attention. The extent of the man’s frostbite is not known, but according to Richards, “It wasn’t a very pretty sight.”
While the injured Ukrainian is by no means out of the woods yet, he is nevertheless alive. And for that he can thank the brave climbers who risked their own necks to get him down.
Despite the exhaustive rescue, the Expedition team is planning on heading back to the search area where George Mallory’s body was found. The team is also hoping to locate the body of Mallory’s 1924 climbing partner, Andrew Irvine.
The team wants to find conclusive evidence as to whether one or both climbers made it to the top – or did not. Mallory was last seen about 800 feet from the summit when clouds moved in, and he was never seen again until Richards and his fellow climbers found his body. It is widely believed he did not make it and that Sir Edmund Hillary was indeed the first person to summit the world’s highest mountain in the 1950s.
The team will also attempt to summit Everest by means of an extremely difficult route across what is known as the Second Step.
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