Reaching the Summit

He was 1,000 feet from the top of the world's highest mountain. Exhausted and without oxygen, solo climber David Sharp huddled in a cave, succumbed to oxygen depravation, and died. Dozens of climbers, including double amputee Mark Inglis, passed Sharp on their way to conquer Mount Everest. Only a handful of climbers stopped for a moment to offer Sharp some of their oxygen before continuing their ascent. Inglis later told the press he and others left Sharp to die because he was too far gone to save. That's why, Inglis said, he pushed on and become the first double amputee to climb Everest on prosthetic legs.

After returning to his native New Zealand, Inglis expressed surprise that he, of all the forty-plus climbers on that expedition, was singled out for not helping Sharp. But of all people trying to reach the summit that day, it was Inglis who should have stopped and helped.

In November of 1982, an intense blizzard forced Inglis and a fellow climber to seek shelter in an ice cave high on Mount Cook. Stranded in the cave for two weeks, their dramatic rescue was a major press event in New Zealand and helped propel Inglis to fame and a career that includes motivational speaking and telling people that "every one of us can do anything we put our minds to."

Because of the intense cold during his two week stay on Mount Cook, Inglis' legs were severely frostbitten and had to be amputated below the knee. Inglis took his experience on Mount Cook as a lesson in life. On his website ( Inglis writes: "Life...for me is all about participation...we are all here to make a difference."

Apparently making a difference in the life of a stranded mountain climber is too much to ask of Inglis.

We cannot know whether or not Sharp could have been saved. He may have been too far gone for anyone to do anything. But why did Inglis, who was saved by others 24 years ago atop a high mountain, at least not attempt to do something? Of all people, Inglis should have known how Sharp must have felt. Instead Inglis pushed on and obtained his goal of climbing the world's highest peak.

Our responsibility to help our fellow man in times of crisis should take precedence over our personal pursuits and goals. Mountains can be climbed again. Lives, once lost, cannot be replaced.

Inglis should be commended for not letting the loss of his legs keep him from climbing mountains, but he should be chastised for abandoning a dying man. In the pursuit of his goal, which no doubt he had been working towards for a long time, he forgot that we have an obligation to help our fellow man even if that means delaying or giving up noble personal pursuits and goals.

It was two weeks ago that Sharp died on Everest. Then in an eerily similar incident last weekend, Lincoln Hall was abandoned by his Sherpa guides and left to die near the summit of Everest. He was found the next morning near death by a team led by Dan Mazur. Mazur and the climbers with him decided to give up their summit attempt to bring Hall to a lower camp.

"We all just felt like we knew that's what we had to do," Mazur told an Australian newspaper. "Here was this person sitting there, he's half-clothed, he's sort of talking, we're giving him our oxygen and food and water and he's started to come good. How could we leave a person like that?"

How, indeed.

On his website Inglis proclaims: "The message that I portray isn't just about how to recover from trauma in our lives, but how to make the most of what we have in our personal lives."

No one doubts that climbing Everest doesn't come without its risks. Five people died this last weekend on their way up to or down from Everest's peak. The total could have been six if it wasn't for Mazur and his team who valued human life above getting to the top and decided to forgo their quest to climb the world's highest mountain to save a life.

There are times when helping others at the expense of our own pursuits is in our best interest. Mazur and his team's actions are worthy of our praise. They will be remembered as heroes that Inglis and the rest of us would do well to emulate as we journey through life.