Amputee Lauded, Criticized for Everest Climb

Mark Inglis became the first double-amputee to reach the summit of Mount Everest in May. We talk with Inglis from Christchurch, New Zealand, where he is recovering from frostbite suffered on the climb. According to wire reports, Inglis has retracted a claim that he alerted his team leader to the location of an ailing Everest climber during the ascent. That climber later died, and Inglis was widely criticized for not doing more to help. Earlier Inglis claimed to have continued his climb only after being told to do so by his team leader. He now says the extreme conditions may have blurred his memory.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. Earlier this year, mountain climber Mark Inglis of New Zealand made news when he became the first double amputee to conquer Mount Everest. He also became a pariah in the climbing world when the story emerged that Inglis encountered an ailing climber during his ascent and decided to keep climbing. Shortly after his trek, Inglis said he kept going because his team leader had told him by radio to push on.

Now a new story is emerging of what happened on that infamous climb in mid-May. In a statement released to the press, Inglis said the cold and the lack of oxygen may have caused him to mix up the details. He told us that during the ascent, he may not have radioed down to his team at all about the condition of David Sharp, that freezing climber.

Mr. MARK INGLIS (Mountain Climber): When I said that it was actually a very difficult situation. I had just (unintelligible). I was in significant pain and it was the first interview I did. And I just can't stick my hand on the Bible and say that's exactly what happened. And so I just wanted to make it very clear to people, because no one else has talked about the day. No one else has said this is what happened on the day. And (unintelligible) very frustrating because I seem to have been targeted by a wide range of the media as the only person on the mountain that day.

NORRIS: That criticism has come not only from the media. Climbers, including the legendary Sir Edmund Hillary, have berated the actions of the people on the mountain that day, saying Sharp's death resulted from a new climb-at-all-costs culture on Mount Everest. Still, Inglis said he did all he could, given his disability. He lost both his legs to amputation following another climbing mishap in 1982 and suffered severe frostbite as a result of the Everest climb in May. Speaking by phone from a hospital in Christchurch, New Zealand, Inglis described his recovery.

Mr. INGLIS: I still have one more amputation to go. On the way down, my stump foot changed and, instead of being suspended just under the knee, my stump went right to the bottom of the socket. So I mashed a hole in the bottom of the flesh so I've had to have more amputations to shorten what little stump I have. One more of those amputations to go. I've lost five fingertips to frostbite. It's a tough place up there. But I got myself down.

NORRIS: Inglis says for many who attempt Everest, the climb down can prove just as hard as the ascent. And thinking back to that day, he recalls one primary sensation.

Mr. INGLIS: I mostly remember (unintelligible) a huge feeling of relief, but most importantly the understanding that I had to get down. You know, you do pass by bodies on the way up Everest and all those ones and most of the people that die on Everest don't die on the way up. They die on the way down. They die on the way down for a lack of oxygen, a lack of energy, hypothermia, these things build up and, for me, it was touch the top, quick look around, but it was minus thirty-eight degrees when we were there, Celsius, so very cold. The only place to be is actually back down and then you can celebrate the climb.

NORRIS: For Inglis, that celebration, that accomplishment as a double amputee has been muted by controversy. He says he feels sadness for the family of David Sharp, and he plans to attempt shorter climbs once he's healed.

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