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On top after a failed bid
- HMI team walked past bodies to summit Everest

Darjeeling, June 6: Blinding blizzards, scattered bodies and a forced retreat a mere 600 metres from the peak could not deter the team from the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute from summitting Everest.

“Many people had told us that we were starting late for the expedition. But we overcame all odds and though 53 members of an American expedition decided to retreat from the base camp thinking that Everest was virtually un-climbable this season, we kept on believing in ourselves,” said Col Neeraj Rana, the team leader who is also the principal of the institution.

Everest cannot be climbed at all times and climbers usually look for a window period when the weather is good. This window period usually lasts two-three days.

Six members of the team, Ngdup Bhutia, Pawal Sharma, Mahabir Singh, Kamal Nayan, Phuchung Sherpa and Yamuna Prasad Peneru, set foot on Everest on May 25 between 3.10am and 7.19am. But success did not come easy.

“We were told that the window period for reaching the top would be from May 18 to 20 but on May 19, after having reached 600 metres short of the peak, the weather went for a toss and we had to retreat to Camp II (22,302 feet). Again on May 25, our second team of six climbers made the final push to summit Mt Everest,” said Rana.

The May 19 weather claimed the lives of nine climbers. “During our climb, we came across nine bodies of different nationalities but we did not allow the sight to play on our confidence,” said Rana. Most of the deaths had taken place in the Death Zone above 26,000 feet.

Even on May 8, the team had been forced to lie low because of inclement weather.

The HMI team started for Nepal on April 14. After reaching the base camp (17,700ft) on April 25, the team of civilian and military instructors climbed the Khambu glacier for acclimatisation. They returned to the base camp on May 1. “We pitched Camp 1 (at 20,336 feet) on May 5 and reached Camp II (22,304 feet) on May 7. On May 8 we had reached Camp III (24,600 feet) before we were forced to return to the base camp,” Rana said.

To reach Camp III from II, leaders from eight groups had jointly worked out a plan to open up a route. Each team agreed to engage two Sherpas to help with the route.

Despite the odds, the final team of six climbers decided to make the last push from Camp IV (26,000ft) at 6pm on May 24. “We started the climb around 6pm and we were the first to make the attempt on that day. There were more than 200 climbers behind us and it felt great to reach the top, though we were exhausted,” said Phuchung Sherpa, one of the first to reach the top.

Phuchung along with his friends spent about 15 minutes at the highest point on earth. During the team’s descent, Pawal Sharma suffered frostbite on his right hand fingers. “I should be fine soon,” he said on his arrival at the HMI today.