18 February 2019
“What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?”
Everest is an emotive topic for New Zealanders. Big Ed climbed it first and Big Ed is one of our heros because he didn’t just climb a mountain he also went back and helped the Sherpas who had made his climb possible. Generations of Nepalese thank him for schools, hospitals and other amenities which enables the remote villages to be able to cope with the world which comes knocking on their doors. He is one of the people we look up to and respect. Sir Edmund Hillary does not leave people, he sticks by them. So when a young solo, ill-equipped climber is lying on the mountain dying at 8,500 metres Sir Ed gets angry about the attitudes of those who put reaching the top before the life of an other human.
Now not for a moment do we get the picture that Mark Inglis walked past and ignored the man. Mark himself simply did not have the ability to help.
“Inglis said it is a "fair point" that he should have helped the man but that at 8,500 metres it is extremely difficult to keep yourself alive, let alone anyone else. On that morning over 40 people went past this young Briton, I was the first... radioed and Russ said 'look mate you can't do anything... he's been there x number of hours, been there without oxygen, he's effectively dead,' so we carried on," he said. Inglis said people from his expedition were the only ones that tried to help Sharp.”
Inglis’ party did stop, they did assess, but no one else even gave a flicker of attention. There is something here that is frightening. A grim faced set of climbers, set on their goal with such intensity that they totally disregard a dying fellow climber? This is not war, this is a sport, that tramped over death to a personal goal. The only one to stop is the party of the climber who has no legs, who knows what it is to sit and wait for help to be rescued and he has to make the call to leave the man. Mark has gained the peak but knows only too well that he has also not been able to save someone else.
Twenty four years ago searchers fought blizzard conditions for two weeks to rescue Inglis from Mount Cook. A helicopter crashed on the way and the crew narrowly escaping with their lives.
The news media looked for others to join the anti Mark brigade. It was interesting. They asked the people who had rescued Mark , maybe hoping they would consider Mark should have had some sort of payback for his own rescue .
“But one of the men who saved Inglis on Mount Cook and who has also scaled Mount Everest believes a rescue attempt by the double amputee's party would have amounted to mission impossible. The only rescue that I can think of on the north side from anywhere near that altitude was from 8400 metres, and that climber was able to walk down himself with supplemental oxygen, but he had to be lowered off North Coll in a stretcher. It took a huge amount of man power," Dr Dick Price says.
Ed Hillary of course is right . But is there not a lack of acceptance of human frailty in this also. Too many images of superman-type rescue attempts. The same spirit of lack of realism, of lack of respect for the natural forces which David Sharp showed coming out in an equally unrealistic expectation of a frail climber whose party stopped to help.
I think that Mark Inglis’s mistake was in being human, in not being superhuman. And we don’t like being shown up to be weak humanity so we blame those who pull aside the illusion and show that there are some things we simply have to say we cannot do it.
Jan Arnold is the widow of climber Rob Hall who died on Mount Everest supporting a client who was in trouble. Jan says with sympathy "It's the equivalent of trying to bring someone back from the moon. It's virtually impossible, but my heart is with the man in the snow, I had a man in the snow," .
Big Ed is right, we do not leave another to die when we can help. Mark knew he could not help and we don’t want to accept that – maybe there is something that he could have done? That will haunt him. But those who passed by knowingly without a whimper of pity? They may have gained Everest, but at what cost to their own humanity?
The one who calls us to follow, this Jesus, stays with our humanity even in death and asks us to love others as he has loved us. Jesus can warm into life those we would call lifeless and we are asked to love and act as best as we can. We will make choices which only in the fullness of time will we understand what brought life and what was destructive. And for now let us pray for the family of David Sharp, for Mark Inglis that plucky climber with a heavy heart. Let us grieve for those who did not notice or did not care as they went on their way for they have lost the way even although they gained the peak. And let us give thanks for the grace of those who rescue others without thought of reward, who put their own lives at risk and who in doing so, reflect the love of God for this world even at the cost of death.
May God be merciful to us as we make our choices.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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