Here's a productive day at the office: In just eight hours and 10
minutes, a shade longer than a typical workday, Pemba Dorjie
Sherpa started out from Mount Everest's base camp--elevation
17,382 feet--and scrambled all the way to its 29,035-foot summit.
His May 21 sprint was more than 2 1/2 hours faster than the
Everest speed record set last year, and a veritable blur compared
to the four days climbers typically take to make the same trek.
Amazingly, Dorjie, 26, had led a Swiss climber to the peak only a
week before. His climb reclaimed the record from Lhakpa Gelu, who
had wrested it from Dorjie last year.
Dorjie's mad dash has been the highlight so far of this year's
summiting season, the weeks in April and May when favorable
weather conditions open a path for climbers who seek to stand on
the highest place on Earth. For Appa Sherpa, 43, the view has to
be getting a little old; this year he reached the summit for the
14th time, extending his own record. The most inspirational tale
belonged to Nawang Sherpa, 30, who had been an aspiring mountain
guide when he lost his left leg in a 2000 motorcycle accident.
This year he reached the peak on a lightweight prosthesis
outfitted with a wide foot designed for mountainous terrain.
The can-you-top-this ascents can make the feat of climbing
Everest, which was considered impossible just over a half century
ago, seem dismayingly commonplace. But it is not. The grimmest
reminder came on May 20, with the death of Shoko Ota of Japan,
one of four people to perish on Everest this year. Ota, a
63-year-old doctor and accomplished climber--she had climbed a
26,900-foot Himalayan peak in 2002--actually reached the summit,
becoming the second-oldest woman to do so. But about 1,000 feet
into her descent, Ota lost consciousness and fell; she died while
dangling from her safety rope. The other members of Ota's
climbing party could not retrieve her body. Ota's family,
communicating with the climbers by radio, gave permission for
them to leave Ota's body to be recovered later. In a week during
which a speed record was set, Ota's fate underscored that Everest
will always be defined by how quickly everything can go wrong.