Arising lethargic and groggy after their sleepless night at camp six, Mark Whetu and Mike Rheinberger were slow to dress, melt ice, and get out of the tent at three o’clock in the morning. They should have left at one at the latest but the wind was too gusty. Unfortunately, by the time they loaded their backpacks, strapped on their crampons and were ready to leave, it was three thirty. Mark, an experienced climber knew they wouldn’t summit before one p. m. but he had only been hired as a guide for Rheinberger, who, after seven tries at Mount Everest had still not been able to summit. For Rheinberger, descent was totally unacceptable.
Too much labour, too many sleepless nights, and too many dreams had been invested to not summit. He couldn’t come back for another try next weekend. To go down now, would have raised one big question: what might have been? Mark was in front of Rheinberger and was growing impatient with his dismal pace. Ahead of them Mark spotted another team, returning unsuccessful from their summit attempt. As the other team passed, they chatted a little. It wasn’t until then that Mark realised how late it was. Twelve thirty. They were more than four hours from the summit, if they hurried. Rheinberger was not quitting now.
Mark decided not to argue and the duo continued their ascent. At five thirty, when the light was slowly fading, they were so close to the summit. Rheinberger was quickening his pace now as he knew victory was in his grasp. At six o’clock, Rheinberger had finally accomplished what he been previously unable to do for the last ten years. But even in this moment of triumph, he was weakening with every oxygen-deprived breath. Down to one knee, watching the sun disappear, he looked like this was what he was sent to earth to do. Alarm soon hit them both, as when they were only meters from the top the light disappeared altogether. “We’ll bevy. Suggested Rheinberger.
“It’s the only thing we can do. ” ‘Unfortunately he was right. ‘ Thought Mark. And so, they bedded down for the night in the death zone. A height where the body is dying â€“ starved, from life giving oxygen. When Mark awoke in the morning he knew his feet were frozen. He felt disconnected from the world around him â€“ emotionally, spiritually, physically â€“ to a degree he had never experienced on any previous expedition. It was the worst night he had ever experienced in his life. He just wanted to get home. Rheinberger was in a worse shape than Mark, but both were still able to stand and make a start for camp five.
If they could just get to camp five they would be all right. They only made a hundred or so meters before Rheinberger collapsed. He was in real trouble. Shivering uncontrollably, acting very spacey and irrational, and basically unable to do anything more for himself. Mark was not going to give up easily. He forced Rheinberger to his feet and he tied both of them together. He was going to get Rheinberger down, even if he was going to have to drag him. After another couple of meters Rheinberger tripped and fell, dragging Mark with him. Mark clung to a rock as Rheinberger toppled haplessly over an edge. Let go! ” Mark shouted in desperation.
“You’re dragging me down! ” Luckily the rope broke and Rheinberger only fell a few meters to a ledge. His jacket sprayed open. Mark descended to him and saw the radio. The radio he had forgotten all about. He radioed base camp who were happy to hear from him, as they had feared the worst. They told him to leave Rheinberger and go get some oxygen tanks that were at the first step and take them back up. Rheinberger was in no condition to walk unless he had oxygen, so Mark reluctantly descended to the first step telling Rheinberger that he would be right back.
When he arrived there, so exhausted and sore, base camp told him to rest, suck some gas and wait for a man who was coming up from camp five to help. This made Mark very uneasy as he thought they were trying to lure him away from Rheinberger. Mark refused but was talked out of going back by a very good friend of his that had just arrived at camp. Ashamed and demolished by the past few days events, Mark descended, knowing that if he had returned, both would have perished. But he did have some comfort in knowing that Rheinberger wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.