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May 23, 2012

Israel Saves Turkey On Everest

Here is a tremendous story of people rising up over politics. it is both the story of how sport transcends politics, and, perhaps more so, about humanity transcending politics.

An Israeli mountain climber, Nadav, was about to finish his climb of Mount Everest As a matter of fact, he was about to set a new record as the oungest Israeli ever to reach the top of Mount Everest. Nadav had trained for two years to reach this point.

250 meters away from the top of the mountain, Nadav sees a fellow climber, someone from Turkey, sprawled on the icy ridges of the mountain.

Instead of finishing the climb - just 250 meters to go! - Nadav stopped and picked up Aydin, carrying him for 8 hours back down to the camp at a lower altitude where he would be nursed back to health.

Nadav did not just give up the record, and the personal satisfaction of completing such a major climb after having come so close. Nadav may also lose his hand because of his selfless heroics. The freezing cold strong winds tore into him and Aydin, and he had to remove his gloves to be able to maneuver. His hand might need to be amputated. But he saved a life.

From the Jerusalem Post:
Nadav Ben-Yehuda was moving fast on the bitterly cold night of May 19, skillfully maneuvering through the final 1,000 meters from Mount Everest’s Camp IV to its summit – the highest in the world at an altitude of 8,848 meters.
He had trained for two years prior, climbing all over the world since he finished his army service, and he chose to do the final stretch of Everest – the summit climb – a day after the rest of his group to avoid pedestrian traffic jams, despite a less than desirable weather forecast and a dangerous extra day spent in Camp IV without a sleeping bag.
“When we started the climb I was supposed to be fully exhausted but I climbed really fast,” Ben-Yehuda, 24, told The Jerusalem Post, over the phone from Kathmandu, Nepal, on Tuesday afternoon.
He continued trudging, with his Sherpa guide trailing behind him, until he suddenly came to a stop some 250 m. away from the summit.
Shocked, he saw the body of his friend from the base camp, Aydin Irmak, 46, sprawled lifelessly on the icy ridges.
“When we saw my friend Aydin there was no question,” Ben-Yehuda said, noting that on his way to Irmak he had already passed two dead bodies clipped to the climbing rope.
Knowing that they were going to die, these men had purposely fastened their bodies to the ropes affixed to the snow covered ridges, freezing into a permanent slumber. In the end, four people died on that icy Everest night – but Ben-Yehuda and Irmak were not going to be among the departed.
“Spring 2012 will be remembered as the deadliest season of Everest ever,” Ben-Yehuda said.
Grayson Schaffer, an editor at Outside Magazine who is stationed at base camp, wrote on his magazine’s website that the mood at the camp since the weekend “has been overridingly gloomy since the news of the mishaps first began trickling down the mountain,” when four additional climbers died on Saturday.
Had he chosen to continue climbing, Ben-Yehuda would have been the youngest Israeli ever to make it to Everest’s summit.
“It really changed my plans,” he said.
Lifting Irmak over his shoulders, Ben-Yehuda carried his Turkish-New Yorker friend alongside his Sherpa guide for about eight hours back down to Camp IV – without gloves, as they made the rescue process too challenging – and without oxygen, as his mask had already broken.
“You don’t feel it straight away,” he said of climbing without oxygen, a sentiment that quickly changed. “You are about to faint all the time.”
During the breathless march downward, the group passed by a Malaysian climber, also prostrate and semi-conscious. Unable to carry a second person, Ben-Yehuda said he luckily soon crossed paths with a British climbing team, who were able to bring the Malaysian man oxygen and revitalize him.
The negative 40-degree Celsius temperatures left both men with severe burns all over their faces, and Ben-Yehuda’s ungloved hand is blackened to a crisp, some of which may need to be amputated, he explained. But eventually, the men made it back to Camp IV, where a helicopter came to their rescue – allowing both of them to live.
To Ben-Yehuda, the choice to forgo his summit climb and save his new friend was simple, a no-brainer.
“Aydin was climbing the day before me – I found him on the way down. I decided not to go up,” he told the Post. “This was the idea and it worked, because we just ate dinner together.”
Ben-Yehuda was speaking on the phone from a dinner hosted by the Israeli ambassador to Nepal, Hanan Goder-Goldberger, at a new Kathmandu blind restaurant called Dining in the Dark, which is a partnership between the Israeli embassy and the Nepal Association of the Blind.
Calling Ben-Yehuda a “hero,” Goder-Goldberger said he was proud that despite all the physical training that the young man had performed to make it to the summit, he made the noble decision and turned around, to save a life.
Ben-Yehuda handed over the phone to Irmak, also at the dinner, who described to the Post his full-body exhaustion and the pain he was feeling waiting for his fingers to heal. Irmak, too, had lost his gloves in the 200-km. per hour winds.
The first problem for Irmak occurred when his Sherpa guide showed up late, causing him to trail two hours behind the rest of the group that had left on the evening of May 18.
“Unfortunately, also the mask of my oxygen broke,” he said.
At the recommendation of the Sherpa guide, Irmak took his mask as well as three or four oxygen tanks of about 5 kg. each and successfully completed the 11-hour walk to the summit. By the time he arrived there, members of his group that had departed earlier were already leaving the summit to return to Camp IV.
“I was the only one, myself,” Irmak said. “On the way [to the summit] I also waited almost half an hour so that the strong wind would stop. You have to find a place to hide and wait.”
Once he found his window of opportunity to actually stand on the summit, Irmak stayed there for about five or six minutes and then began his treacherous descent.
“I started walking and walking and walking,” he said. “I don’t know how long I walked.
And it of course was dark and I was out of oxygen. Then I needed to stop. I don’t remember.
The only think I remember is Nadav’s voice – ‘Aydin, Aydin, are you there brother? Can you move your legs?’” “When I woke up there were four dead bodies around me,” he continued.
The entire trip slumped over Ben-Yehuda’s back was a semiconscious journey for Irmak, but one from which he “remembers everything.”
“I kept saying, ‘You go, let me go.’ You know how hard it is to be carried,” Irmak said. “If you don’t let them go they’re going to die too. They had no oxygen and we only had one light.”
“I believe I almost died,” he continued. “Nadav saved my life.”
In an effort to express his gratitude, Irmak tried to give his Everest summit certification to Ben-Yehuda, but the authorities would not allow such a transfer, he explained. Since they met at base camp, the two men “had a brother relationship,” according to Irmak.
“We were in a group of people from all over the world, but Nadav and I had a really good relationship,” he said. “Sometimes you see someone and you become automatic family, you make jokes.”
The two brothers could not be bothered with the growing tensions between Israel and Turkey, and instead, continue to think of each other as family and friends.
“I don’t know what the hell is going on between the two countries. I don’t care about that. I talked to his family today and I told them you have another family in Turkey and America,” Irmak said.
While Ben-Yehuda said he plans to return to Israel in another week or so, where his hand will be treated, Irmak said he must remain in Nepal until he can get his bicycle out of house arrest. After biking for two years around the world through 19 countries, beginning in Amsterdam, Irmak had a desire to literally “take this bicycle from New York City to the top of the world.” From Kathmandu to base camp, he carried the bicycle “Sherpa style on [his] head.”
While the authorities initially granted him a permit to take the bike up to 7,900 m., once he arrived at base camp they changed their minds and “arrested” his bike. This was around the time he met Ben- Yehuda, who was the first person to arrive at the base camp after the Turkish cyclist.
Irmak is not only determined to climb a mountain again, but he is determined to do it with Ben-Yehuda. “If the opportunity comes I will go again. I am not scared of anything. I will climb one more time with Nadav.”
Ben-Yehuda too, who actually won a stair-climbing competition in Ramat Aviv two months ago, is determined to continue with his climbing. While he would like to return to Mount Everest at some point, he said that this mountain was never specifically his lifelong dream, like it is to many other climbers.
“It’s not like a dream or something,” he said. “It’s a really interesting mountain and it’s the highest altitude. You have much more beautiful mountains in the Alps, but this is the highest altitude.”
For now, he will keep visiting the hospital in Nepal every morning for check-ups on his hand until he returns home, where he said he will definitely stay in touch with Irmak. “If you get me a passport to Pakistan I would go to K2,” he added, laughing.
That is just amazing.

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