The “death zone” on Mt. Everest begins at 26,000 feet. At this extreme altitude, blood oxygen saturation levels are too low to sustain life for extended periods, and extremely frigid and windy conditions add to the peril. The physical exertion of climbing in the Death Zone compounds these issues, and rescuing a fellow climber is an even more daunting and risky endeavor.
Rescue in the Death Zone
But, that is exactly what mountain guide Gelje Sherpa did on May 18 when he spotted an ailing Malaysian climber while escorting his client to the summit. Gelje Sherpa abandoned his and his own client’s summit attempt to embark on the heroic feat of rescuing an extremely physically ailing stranger.
According to an interview between Gelje Sherpa and CNN, “No one was helping him, no friends, no oxygen, no Sherpas with him, no guides — so this is quite dangerous for him,” and that he was “about to die.”
Gelje Sherpa proceeded to package the climber and carried him solo, descending a Herculean 1,900 feet in the Death Zone in 6 hours down to Camp 4, according to Reuters. Nima Tahi Sherpa joined Gelje Sherpa, and they took turns carrying the climber on their backs to Camp 3. A helicopter using a longline completed the rescue to Base Camp.
The climber, Ravichandran Tharumalingam, was logistically supported by Seven Summits Treks. Gelje Sherpa, who is 30 years old, was guiding for AGA Adventures and had to convince his Chinese client to abandon his own goal. Gelje Sherpa is a devout Buddhist and told Reuters, “Saving one life is more important than praying at the monastery.”
Gelje Sherpa has been involved in an amazing 55 rescues, but he told CNN that this effort was “massively difficult” and “the hardest in my life.”
The Social Media Backlash
This story seemed to have a happy ending, as all involved emerged safe and healthy. Tharumalingam took to Instagram, posting about a TV appearance he made upon returning to Malaysia. In it, he thanks his partners and rescue insurance company, but not the Sherpas that plucked him from an inevitable death.
The omission of Gelje Sherpa caused immediate backlash, and as we know, social media can be harsh. The first commenter pretty much nailed it on the head: “Thank you for NOT MENTIONING the name of the sherpa who saved your life. His name is Gelje. Gelje should have left you on the mountain. I’m a Malaysian myself and this is so unbecoming of us.”
The negative comments continue to flood the post. “Please give credit to the Sherpa. You almost die and even that couldn’t get you off your high horse. Ungrateful. He should’ve left you there,” posted one commenter. And another added, “Ungrateful folks like you should never be allowed to step on Everest ever again. Forever remember that you owe your life to a selfless, better human being than you.”
And my personal favorite, being an ex-rock climbing guide and Wilderness First Responder: “Lol, this may be callous, but next time just rely on your sponsors to carry you back down the mountain…good luck.”
Unbelievably, according to many commenters on the post, the internet-disgraced climber blocked Gelje Sherpa from his Instagram account.