Малко от Истината за Еверест

Everest Dreams Turn Deadly
Six Climbers Confirmed Dead, Niece Of Noted Figure Missing

May 29, 2004
By MICHAEL KODAS, Courant Staff Writer

KATMANDU, NepalEverest Dreams Turn Deadly
Six Climbers Confirmed Dead, Niece Of Noted Figure Missing

May 29, 2004
By MICHAEL KODAS, Courant Staff Writer

KATMANDU, Nepal -- By the time she reached the shade provided by the final headwall of Mount Everest's North Col, climber Anne Parmenter was desperate for water and a nibble on one of her power snacks. But the young Bulgarian mountaineer she sat next to, Hristo Hristov, wouldn't hear of it.

"I started to get my water," Parmenter recalled. "And he said `No, no. I give you tea.'"

She tried to decline the offer, but the Bulgarian insisted.

"You must try my tea," he said.

When she finished her warm drink, Parmenter got out some power gel, but Hristov, 26, had her put it away and handed her a handful of finger-sized plastic envelopes of his own golden goo.

"He said, `No, no. Try this - Bulgarian honey.'"

Five days later, two members of the Bulgarian expedition stepped into the Connecticut team's dining tent at Advanced Base Camp, where Parmenter and I were finishing breakfast with four teammates who had descended from the summit. One of the Bulgarians, Petko Totev, asked about Hristov. He had been missing since the Bulgarian team and the Connecticut Everest Expedition reached the top of Everest two days earlier.

As Totev spoke with Connecticut climber George Dijmarescu, our team began realizing how tightly we were woven into the fabric of one of the deadliest climbing seasons on Everest in years.

Far Behind, And Very Tired

Dijmarescu told the Bulgarian climbers that he had seen Hristov, who was climbing without supplemental oxygen, on the summit.

"He was far behind," Dijmarescu said. "And very, very tired. He summit with us."

At the Third Step - the last of three particularly steep passages leading to the summit pyramid - Hristov got into trouble when he tried to walk around the step rather than climb directly up, and Dijmarescu tried to show him the way.

Chuck Boyd of the Connecticut team said Hristov was pounding his head against a rock in frustration.

Hristov and a climbing partner, Doichin Boyanov, had left camp before midnight May 19, climbing without supplemental oxygen, according to the Bulgarian's expedition leader, Mthodi Savov.

Another team member, Nikosay Petkov, left a bit later using oxygen and quickly overtook Hristov, who had fallen behind Boyanov. By the time the first Bulgarian climber was approaching the summit, Dijmarescu said, the three climbers were spread out more than 90 minutes apart in high winds and whiteout conditions.

When he reached the summit, Hristov lay on his back in exhaustion as the Connecticut team departed. Mexican climber Guillermo Carro Blaizac, also without oxygen, reached the summit a few hours after the Connecticut climbers and saw Hristov, sitting, along the route down. He said his efforts to get Hristov back on his feet delayed his own return to the mountain's highest camp, Camp Three. He reached it, finally, nearly 12 hours after stepping on top of the mountain.

The following morning, Boyanov climbed back up the mountain as far as the First Step to search for Hristov before being turned back by a strengthening storm. Boyanov returned to the highest camp, Camp Three, where he picked up Petkov, who was stricken with snowblindness, to help him down the mountain.

Four days after he reached the summit, Hristov's body was seen by a Russian climber and a Sherpa at 28,500 feet, just above the Second Step, the most technically difficult descent on the route.

In Base Camp the day the news arrived, members of the Bulgarian team sat silent and dumbfounded. The sculpture student who had been their teammate would not be coming back.

"Most of the time he was silent and calm, " said fellow climber Tzveta Misheva. "Tranquil and smiling, sometimes not with his mouth but with his eyes."

It was 20 years ago that another Bulgarian, also named Hristo, became the first from his country to stand atop Everest. That man, Hristo Prodanov, also perished on the way down.

Elizabeth Hawley, a mountaineering correspondent and a historian of Nepal climbing since 1960, remembered Prodanov's 1984 climb and its religious nuances.

"Hristo, which means Christ, went to the summit on the West Ridge on Good Friday," Hawley said. On the way down, he became stuck in a storm.

The four Bulgarian climbers who followed him to the summit on the less-traveled West Ridge took the standard route down the Nepal side of the mountain.

"He got on his walkie-talkie and asked `Why have you abandoned me?'" Hawley said. "He died on Easter Sunday. I don't know what could be more biblical than that."

This year's Bulgarian expedition commemorates Prodanov's climb. Tragically, Hristov's death would not be the only commemoration.

Legend's Niece Also Lost

A furry red cap made Prodanov's niece, 42-year-old Mariana Maslarova, one of the most recognized fixtures in Advanced Base Camp. A member of an international commercial expedition, she dropped by the Connecticut team's dining tent for a visit as team members were feuding.

"On the mountain, you are one of two things," she observed. "Very good friends, or very good enemies."

The sunny smile she brought to the dining tent during one of our expedition's most tense hours was the antithesis of the grim faces her countrymen would bring there two weeks later.

The smile not withstanding, Maslarova's climb, which she planned to complete without supplemental oxygen just as her uncle had, was not going well, she told us. Her Sherpa wouldn't go high on the mountain, complaining of headaches, she said, and he suggested that she climb to Camp Two without him.

But the Sherpa in Advanced Base Camp were talking about Maslarova, wife of the head of the Bulgarian Federation of Alpine Clubs, as if she were suicidal in her bid to become the first Bulgarian woman to climb Everest.

On her first climb to Camp One, when she shared the large icefall called the North Col with much of the Connecticut team, Maslarova inched her way up the mountain far too slowly to consider reaching the summit without oxygen. She was providing oxygen to her Sherpa, who undoubtedly needed it less than she did.

Her Sherpa, Mingma Dorje Sherpa, is "one of our best," said Dawa Sherpa at Asian Trekking, which handles arrangements for many Everest expeditions.

Dawa said that, contrary to rumors, the brass at Asian Trekking did not ask Mingma Dorje to feign illness to keep Maslarova down, but he wasn't surprised to hear that the Sherpa tried everything he could to keep the climber from getting to Everest's so-called death zone, above 26,000 feet, where a human body can survive only a few days.

Nonetheless, on May 18, Maslarova headed back to the North Col, passing the other way as Parmenter and I retreated from our own summit attempt. She had neither her Sherpa nor her backpack with her. There was no honey or tea during this encounter. She shared just the single word and gesture that had become Maslarova's trademark answer to those asking how she was.

"Summit!" she responded in her sing-song voice as she pointed to the sky before resuming the slow slog up the glacier toward Camp One, at 23,500 feet. The summit is at 29,035 feet.

Four members of the Connecticut team reached the summit May 20. Three days later we heard that Maslarova had left Camp Three, at 27,000 feet, on the day she hoped to make her dream come true. It took her 13 hours to reach the Second Step, the crux of the route, and other expedition leaders could be heard voicing concern, and curses, over their radios as she created a dangerous bottleneck at the ladder leading up the step.

"Get her out of there!" one screamed.

Guides for Himalayan Experience, one of the most respected commercial expedition companies on Everest, estimated that at least 20 people had advised Maslarova to turn back. Still, she continued into a night that she was most certain not to survive. She was last seen at 28,500 feet, above the Second Step, the same place where her countryman, Hristo Hristov, had died just days earlier.

"For Mariana, this was like a lifelong dream," Misheva said later in Base Camp, as fellow Bulgarians, for the second time, awaited confirmation of something they already knew in their hearts: Another Bulgarian climber had perished on Everest.

"She either climbs it and lives and is free of it," Misheva said, "or she dies."

The Connecticut expedition had packed up its camps and was back in Katmandu by the time Maslarova's fate was declared. While Parmenter reviewed the Connecticut team's bills at the Asian Trekking office, Dawa Sherpa typed a message to Maslarova's daughter in Bulgaria.

"I've already written her once to say that her mother is dead," Dawa said. "But she didn't understand the word `expired.'"

As of Friday afternoon, Maslarova was still not among the six confirmed deaths listed on trusted Everest websites. In fact, one reported that Ivan Vulchev of the Bulgarian team had gone back up Everest to search for her.

The six confirmed deaths are Hristov, a Japanese woman, and three Koreans on the north side, and a Bolivian on the south side.

There had been fears that the toll would be even higher.

The same day the Bulgarian expedition visited the Connecticut team to inquire about Hristov, Parmenter dropped in on a small Italian expedition that had two climbers who were two days overdue. As Parmenter chatted with team members outside their tents, a Sherpa for a Japanese climber who reached the summit May 20 stepped into camp with a backpack belonging to one of the missing Italian climbers, Adriano Dal Cin.

"He said `I have your friend's backpack,' and they asked `Where did you see him?'" Parmenter recalled. "[The Sherpa] said that he's in a tent at the North Col and he's coming down. They had really thought he was dead. He'd been missing for two days. They were just cheering and crying."

Still, for Parmenter and me, much of this year's legacy on the world's tallest mountain is held in a couple of finger-sized tubes of gold: vials of Bulgarian honey that we cannot bear to eat.