Survivor of Everest tragedy to return in triumph
Mar 12, 2007 - 11:24:47 AM

Kathmandu, March 12 - A climber who survived the biggest tragedy ever on Mt. Everest but lost his nose, fingers and toes will make a triumphant return to the world's highest peak as part of the Olympics ceremony next year.

It will be a moment of special personal victory for Taiwan-based mountaineer Ming-Ho Gau, who last year began a campaign on the 10th year of the 1996 disaster to clear himself of the accusations piled on him by a western climber.

May 10, 1996 is remembered in mountaineering annals as the blackest date in the history of Mt. Everest with eight climbers perishing while attempting the 8,848-metre peak.

Four men and a woman, who were part of two commercial expeditions climbing from Nepal, and three men from a 39-member Indo-Tibetan Border Police team via Tibet died in a single day apparently due to a freak storm.

The tragedy became a household subject after US journalist Jon Krakauer, who was sent by Outside magazine to cover the Everest expedition led by New Zealand climber Robert Hall's Adventure Consultants agency, wrote a book. 'Into Thin Air', a 'personal account' by Krakauer, became a bestseller and was made into a film.

Of the people who managed to reach the peak May 10 from Nepal, only four survived.

Besides Krakauer, they were Anatoli Boukreev, a Russian guide with Mountain Madness, the agency's high-profile client socialite-cum-journalist Sandy Hill Pittman, and Gau, the 47-year-old leader of the Taiwanese expedition.

Krakauer's book comes down heavily on all three, portraying Boukreev as not caring for the safety of his clients, Pittman as being a selfish social climber, and Gau as a slow climber who delayed others, was callous about the death of his teammate the previous day and broke his promise that he would not attempt the summit May 10.

Dogged by the accusations, a troubled Gau made a documentary along with a Japanese journalist, in which he presents his version of the tragedy.

'Prayer Flags' depicts the disaster as having resulted due to the greed of western commercial mountaineering agencies that applied for a climbing permit much later and bullied and bribed to get the permission, causing overcrowding on the mountain.

Gau, who came to Kathmandu last year to release 'Prayer Flags', told IANS that many events in Krakauer's book were biased, did not jell and were contradictory.

'Krakauer never spoke to me about the incident,' he had said. 'And the depiction of the Taiwanese team as incompetent and jeopardising the other climbers is wrong and biased.'

Now, 11 years after the tragedy, Gau, who had to rebuild his life as well as face and body with extensive plastic surgery, is readying to return to the killer mountain.

In 2008, when China hosts the Olympic Games, the sports event will be kicked off with a spectacular torch relay that will end on Mt. Everest. Beijing is training two teams for the gruelling event. One of the teams is to be led by survivor Gau.

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