Sunday, 22 February 2015
Tsewang Paljor couldn't possibly have known that his choice of footwear would come to represent most of what people would know about him after he died. And how was he to know the alcove he sought refuge in following a cataclysmic storm on Mount Everest would one day be named after his boots.
May 10th, 1996 saw several expeditions attempting to reach the summit of Mount Everest. 33 people went up; 25 came down. An unexpected storm rendered those in the "Death Zone" at the mercy of Mother Nature and Lady Luck. Sadly for Paljor, among many others, there was to be no mercy.
He left the summit (though it is disputed whether he actually made it there) later than is usually considered "safe" in the company of his fellow expedition team member Dorje Morup. They were members of the first Indian team to attempt to ascend Everest from an eastern route. Their headlamps were spotted descending the mountain above the highest camp but, other than some confusing interactions with a Japanese team, they were not seen alive again. It would appear that they became separated and Paljor seems to have attempted to shelter in an alcove on the trail back to camp.
It was here that he died during the early hours of May 11th. Few can imagine what it must have been like to die alone in the dark. There was no hope of rescue, no chance of warmth, it must be one of the most terrible deaths.
And there was to be no peace for Paljor though name disappeared from memory as others took the limelight during the discussions following the 1996 tragedy. His body, like several others dotted around the mountain, was on one of the trails used by climbers between Camp VI and the summit. His distinctive bright green boots soon entered common parlance among the climbing community and the alcove where he met his end became known as Green Boots Cave.
There is something quite poignant about the images brought down from the mountain showing his body curled up almost as if he was just taking a nap (he has changed the direction he faces due to being moved a little more out of the way). His nickname might have stayed out of the public eye if it wasn't for an incident almost exactly ten years later on May 15th, 2006.
David Sharp was attempting a climb of Mount Everest on his own. He was spotted from Camp VI quite late in the day on May 14th, 2006 still attempting to reach the summit. Setting off in the middle of the night so that they might reach the summit in good time to head back, a group of climbers found Sharp sitting in Green Boots Cave mere feet from Paljor's body at about 1am on May 15th, 2006.
The first people to reach him supposed he was waiting for day light so he could see his way on the path back down, and they pointed him towards camp as there were nearly 40 climbers on the trail whose torches could provide him a way down. He didn't heed their requests and they, like the many others to follow, pushed on past him up towards the summit. He was still sat in the same position when he was encountered by Maxime Chaya and a Sherpa named Dorjee who were the first of those who passed him (though it seems they didn't see him) to descend from the summit. They attempted to revive him by dragging him into the sun light and providing him oxygen. He was unable to walk and so had to be abandoned there. His last words were "My name is David Sharp, I'm with Asian Trekking." The controversy over how he died rumbled on for a while,
For a time Sharp's body joined Paljor's in a lonely vigil at the top of the world. But it is since thought that his body has now been "removed" (pushed off the edge) out of respect. There is also suggestion Paljor's body has been taken somewhere more out of the way, though it still seemed to be in place during 2012 and it would take quite a brave person to try and move a frozen body on a very thin piece of land at that altitude.
Green Boots was somebody (almost certainly Paljor). His body remains as a testament to the fact that he tried to do something amazing. And it serves as a stark warning of what can happen to someone with little warning in a remote and dangerous place.