Thursday, May 25, 2006

Leaving One's Soul at Bottom of Mt Everest

Last week I blogged about Malaysian Ladies for Mt Everest where “PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced Project Everest 2007 which will see Malaysian women climb the world’s highest mountain. He announced a RM 1.4 million funding for the project - probably money saved from the fuel subsidy and cancellation of the scenic bridge.”

JJ Ray wrote in Malaysiakini’s Opinion & Features’ column of his disappointment with the Malaysian government in still wringing blood out of the Everest stone. He commented:

When the government says it has to be wise in its spending and decide judiciously on projects that will benefit the people, what happens when the same government appears so lavish in throwing money on a project that is redundant?

One case in point is the recent announcement that yet another team of Malaysians is all excited and keen to conquer the world's highest and most difficult mountain to scale, the 8, 848m tall Mount Everest. And for that, the Youth and Sports Ministry, without even a second thought, has decided to sponsor the 'mission' at a whopping RM1.4 million.

Now, this latest team to eye Mount Everest is not the first, and from the way the Mount Everest frenzy has caught on with Malaysians, will not be the last. The ever-imposing picturesque mountain has been conquered countless times, not just by the able bodied but also by the disabled.

In Malaysia's case, while this latest team's zeal to propaganda the 'Malaysia Boleh' spirit is appreciated, is there no other way through which they can make their contribution? Why go out and take on a feat which is no longer a challenge to the nation, as it has been performed several times before? One reason could be because of the typical Malaysian habit of rewarding feats achieved.

JJ Ray them showed the contrasting rewards for Azhar Mansor (sailor) and Malik Mydin (English Channel swimmer), who both were rewarded with various stuff including a Datuk-ship (knighthood) each, while M. Magendran and N. Mohandas (first Malaysians to ascend successfully to Mt Everest) and Lennard Lee (also Channel swimmer for charity but with better performance than Malik) weren't!

I believe comparisons are odious and all 5 had done well for Malaysia, but I agree with JJ Ray that the Datuk-ships had been a little over the top. Ray said that such rewarding was actually de-motivating Malaysians from doing feats as a challenge per se; instead those wannabe heroes might only do it because of the reward at the end of the adventure. Ray said:

“The practice of reward for achievements is no less a corruption, where those who take on challenging feats do so in the interest of gaining some sort of reward - not for the sake of taking on the challenge itself. Corrupting their motives and morale is the fault of the government which paradoxically, is trying to weed out Malaysia's deep-rooted and chronic problem with corruption.”

I wonder how Ray’s assessment applies to a Kiwi Everest climber Mark Inglis. Inglis, a double-amputee, on his ascend to the peak, left injured and dying (but still alive) British climber David Sharp to die, bypassing the injured man on his way to conquering Mt Everest. Sharp died subsequently.

Inglis defended himself, saying his own party was the only one to stop and help Sharp from among a stream of about 40 climbers who walked on past Sharp as he lay in Everest's ‘death zone’ above 8000m. He claimed that other climbers reported seeing Sharp trying to work on his oxygen system, but the Briton had no oxygen left. But newspapers report said Inglis didn't do anything to help Sharp but continued with his ascent.

The problem was Sharp had climbed alone. He had two previous unsuccessful attempts in 2003 and 2004, ending up without oxygen. Both times he was forced to turn back at 8470 metres altitude. This time, he apparently reached the summit with the help of two four litre oxygen bottles from a trekking company. But he still ran out of oxygen and at that hypoxic altitute, if not re-succoured with oxygen, he was doomed.

Sir Edmund Hillary, acclaimed as the first man to officially reach the top of Mt Everest was motified by the callous action of his countryman, Mark Inglis, in leaving another climber to die, just because Inglis wanted nothing to stop his way to the mountain top. Hillary believed that nowadays people had completely lost sight of what was important, and stated sadly:

"In our expedition there was never any likelihood whatsoever if one member of the party was incapacitated that we would just leave him to die."

"There have been a number of occasions when people have been neglected and left to die and I don't regard this as a correct philosophy."

He rejected Inglis' excuse about the difficulties of helping Sharp because of the unique circumstances in operating at high altitude, commenting:

"I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mt Everest has become rather horrifying. The people just want to get to the top. They don't give a damn for anybody else who may be in distress and it doesn't impress me at all that they leave someone lying under a rock to die."

University of Otago scientist and mountaineer Dr Phil Ainslie, who has studied oxygen use on Mt Everest, said the life of the British climber could have been saved. It could have been possible to revive the climber with bottled oxygen and even get him down to safety.

However, he believed that Inglis' one chance of making the summit as a double amputee would have influenced the man into ignoring the distress of another climber, callously leaving him to die. Apart from personal glory, many Everest hikers paid US$75,000 or more for the climb, so the idea of abandoning the trek to the top, to help someone whom they rationalised would be dead soon, was damn unlikely.

Unfortunately for the late Sharo, it's a very selfish world.

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