Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Death Incomprehensible

I should apologize to the readers and, if any, the followers of this blog for not writing up for a long time.  It is due, among many others, to a serious psychological attack that this fieldwork has delivered to me.  One event that I might choose from those in the fieldwork was a death incident occurred during my last Everest expedition.

It was 11:15 AM 20 May, 2013, that I got from my radio the deteriorated voice from my fellow climber, Seong-Ho Seo, as he had just got on the top of Mt. Everest.  I was relaxing in the fourth and last camp of Mt. Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain in the world and the elevation of which is 27,940 ft, and preparing for the summit assault for the mountain planned to begin late in the evening.  The camp is not far from the last camp of Mt. Everest in the South Col, the elevation of which is 25,938 ft--although it may be reachable within one hour from either direction in good condition of everything, in Himalayan standard the one-hour gap can always be completely impossible to cross over.  His voice was so weird as you possibly imagine how his mouth and somehow his brain, too, were frozen.  And, it was no more three hours later when I got another message from his accompanied Sherpa guide Ngaa Tenji Sherpa, saying "We need rescue ... Seo dai (brother) has no energy ... so slow."

I briefly contacted with other Sherpas in each of Base Camp and South Col via different radio frequency.  As the Nepalese company has dispatched more than one hundred "members" (as they called the clients on Himalayan mountain ordinarily) and the more Nepalese staff members, it was the plan to set "extra Sherpa" on the last camp during the summit assault for any probable emergency.  "We're seeing climbers coming down from the Balcony ... we will send Sherpas."  After exchanging further conversation in Sherpa language via the radio, Karma Sherpa, the guide of a British woman Melissa for Lhotse and occupying the same tent here in the Camp Four, told me: "They sent Sherpas to rescue.  We don't need to worry, and you should go Lhotse with us."  I had planned to climb the peak without supplemental oxygen, and a plan was made two days ago with him and his client that we start climb to the top together that night.

However, I could not trust what the Sherpas said: They might not dispatch any further Sherpas to rescue the people struggling over the highest place, at least now.  This was only a moment's decision: I should go, not to Lhotse, but to Everest.  Climbing Lhotse did not anymore appeal to me; it was too easy, easier than to meet up Seo as soon as possible, to see if I can rescue him down, to prove if I can overcome what might be called death-doom.  Packing up everything again, I began to plunge the snow gully between the two camps.

Just as my presumption nobody was dispatched up, and even no such an idea for "rescue".  Rim, a cameraman who was waiting for the summit party at the martian place, looked surprised to my upcoming--he even did not know of Seo's struggle, for anyway he did not have a radio.  I was quick to prepare to start a rescue and ask for two sets of oxygen to Sherpa guide.  And I was told, "five hundred each," for the oxygen tank.  It was not why they did not send up any Sherpa to try rescue, why they made a lie to me, or to what extent the debilitated party may struggle now, that struck to me on the spot.  It was rather why the canister should be so expensive here than Base camp where one is only three hundred dollars.

It was 10:30 PM when I finally came back to the camp with Seo, after six hours I left up to the mountain.  He was alive, at least until that midnight.  I, too, was sure of my life, that even though it was too difficult to asleep and to breathe without oxygen gas in the camp during that night.  I had to wake up frequently suffering suffocation, and the day's summitter Seok-Ju Woo who was sharing the tent with me needed to take care of me.  And, it was early in the next morning that I awoke by a tearful scream Chiyoung An from the next tent.  We had tried belated effort to wake him up, give him a new life.  To me, however, Seo's death was not anymore shocking.  The next day, I just had packed him up within his sleeping back, roped him up, attached to a sled-like rescue tap, and brought him down with other 'rescuers' to the foot of the Lhotse Face.

Sadness?  Not clear.  Yes, I did cried a lot.  But I do not know the tears I made were to prove any sorrow of his death.  Almost a year passed from since.  And yet I do not know how I can register the meaning of his death into my life.  It pretty much looks like he may live somewhere else on this earth.  Or, I cannot see any difference of his absence from any other's absence: As he is not here right now, you, the admirable reader of this blog, and other beloved friends of mine who may be busy to make their own lives somewhere in the world are, too, not here in front of me right now.

Now I am back in Riverside, California, about to start to write my PhD dissertation based on the two years of fieldwork in Nepal, Korea, and the mountains incomprehensible.  Perhaps I would write a paper murmuring sort of philosophy.  I would pencil a sketch on the indescribable, as it is the task any writers supposed to do.  Or rather, I may forgive myself to escape from this befouling work.