News Bulletin
Climber Survives a Night on the South Summit!
Friday, May 23, 1997 -- 11:00pm PST
Saturday, May 24, 1997 -- 12:15pm Nepal

[Click to hear or read the radio calls from the South Col to Base Camp including the voice of Hugo Rodriguez.]

"I made a mistake..." said Hugo Rodriguez after his successful evacuation to Base Camp.
The story of the day was that over forty climbers made an attempt on Everest yesterday with seemingly no epics. All on the mountain however, and some below, knew there was one situation unfolding with what would almost certainly be a grim ending.

Mexican climber Hugo Rodriguez, 35, a client on John Tinker's guided British expedition, didn't return to high camp after summiting Everest yesterday. Given the conditions at that high altitude and the climber's lack of bivy gear, he was presumed dead. Following the usual honor code, the news was strictly contained out of respect for his family until the state of his condition could be verified or period of time that allowed for no doubt had passed.

Rodriguez had been one of three clients making a summit attempt lead by OTT guide John Tinker. Highly unusual and possibly contributing to the gravity of the day's events, the group had left for the climb without radios (which they had not found but had been left for them at the Col by teammates.) During the whole summit attempt, they were out of communications with their Base Camp support crew.

John Tinker, suffering from altitude illness, turned back at the South Summit (28,700'), but the clients (Rodriguez and two British climbers) and two Sherpas decided to continue. The two British clients summited around 9:30am and descended with one of the Sherpas, while the second Sherpa, Dawa Tengei, 31, summitted around 11am, and then waited on the summit (29,028') for an incredible three hours for the last client to arrive. Dawa is from KhariKola (south of Lukla), and had spent seven years in a monastery training to be Bhuddist Lama at one point. Exhausted and reported to be crawling, unable to use his legs, Rodriguez arrived on the summit around 2pm. Dawa Tengei is credited with saving his life by struggling for hours to help Rodriguez descend to the South Summit at 28,700' where the Sherpa could no longer aid him. Positioning him behind some rocks for protection from the extreme exposure, Dawa Tengei left him with one bottle of oxygen set to a flow of 1 liter per hour -- a 10 hour supply.

The Sherpa then descended as quickly as possible, arriving at the South Col (26,300') around 8:30pm where he raised the call for help, and news of the incident spread over the mountain by radio. An attempt was made to contact Todd Burleson whose team was the only one planning a summit bid for late that night, but he and the team were sleeping with radios turned off. The NOVA Base Camp team contacted David Breashears resting at the Col after his summit climb earlier that day, and it took him about an hour to find Burleson in the village of tents now on the South Col.

Once notified, Burleson woke his team, and they began preparing for an earlier than usual summit bid in the hopes of reaching Rodriguez. While they brought extra oxygen and Dexamthasone (a powerful steroid), Burleson and most others familiar with the extreme conditions on upper Everest and the effects of altitude above 26,000', believed they would find a body. When the team was turned around in a whiteout with 40-50 knot winds just above the Col, it was universally accepted that any hope of Rodriguez surviving was gone.

Dr. Rovira coordinated treatment from Base Camp. (Click to hear part of that radio call.)
At 9am this morning (Nepal time), after over 24 hours on upper Everest in blizzard conditions, Rodriguez walked down to the South Col under his own power. He was helped to the Canadian camp, hydrated, medicated, and fed by Jamie Clarke with radio assistance from Dr. Doug Rovira down at the Canadian Base Camp. In good spirits, with some frostbite on his fingers and unknown frostbite on his feet, Rodriguez said he was a "little tired" and joked about the Tequila party he's hoping to find in Base Camp.

Burleson is now organizing the evacuation which will consist of Clarke and three Sherpas helping Rodriguez descend through the Geneva Spur, Yellow Band and halfway down the Lhotse Face to Camp III (23,500') where Henry Todd's doctor, Yuri Contreras, plans to meet him with a frostbite kit. He will then be assisted to Camp II (21,500') where he is expected to spend the night.

Excitement and relief are buzzing through all the expeditions today. Many share a sense of gratitude toward the mountain for letting this climb go off without any losses.

[Click to hear or read the radio calls from the South Col to Base Camp including the voice of Hugo Rodriguez.]

-- Anya Zolotusky, The Mountain Zone and Freddy Blume, Everest Base Camp

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