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High Crimes, Chapter 11
[Photo] Michael Kodas
Excerpted from High Crimes by Michael Kodas. Copyright (c) 2008 Michael Kodas. All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold.
Marcin crawled out of his tent screaming, although the wind was strong enough that nobody else in the camp heard him. Earlier in the season, Camp Three was crowded by dozens of tents and climbers, but now there were only six or eight tents left. Everyone in camp would have known that the person they were stealing from was in the midst of his summit bid and would be desperate for the gear on his return.
"The robbery I experienced at Camp Three was simply a robbery on my life," he wrote. "Had I been just a bit more tired, I would probably have entered the tent and my body would have been found there the next season."
Five hours earlier Marcin had summited Everest in the best of styles—alone, and without bottled oxygen. Now, after all three of his high camps had been burglarized, he faced the very real possibility of dying for lack of a stove and a sleeping bag. He summoned the last of his strength and staggered from tent to tent in the growing darkness to beg from the Sherpas still in camp for enough equipment to survive the night.
"Probably the same guys who stole my gear in the day," he wrote.
"The Sherpas have lost their honor in the past years. You can't even imagine how cunning they have become. Daring even—who will steal more, who will grab the most valuables—this is what the Sherpas are talking about when they are playing cards in Base Camp.
"In 98% of the population, Sherpas are great guys. But [they make] me think of them all in very dark colors...Because they tolerate the bad 2%."
It's a cold irony, Marcin points out, that often the best climbers, who are in small, independent groups or alone, are the easiest prey for thieves up high.
In an effort to preserve mountaineering's wholesome image, many expedition leaders and guides dismiss thefts as rare; but as weather windows opened up on other popular Himalayan peaks in 2005, it became clear that high-altitude burglaries were not isolated incidents. On Ama Dablam, an Italian climber who remained in Base Camp while his teammates were climbing high on the mountain awoke in the night to a knife cutting through the back of his tent and a hand reaching in to grab his equipment. When he got out of his tent, he found the team's two other tents already slashed and emptied. Meanwhile, at Camp Two on the mountain's southwest ridge, guide Luis Benitez arrived to find climbers in his sleeping bags and helping themselves to his food and fuel. In late June, not a month after all three of Marcin's high camps were robbed, Czech climbers arriving in Camp Two on Nanga Parbat, the second-highest mountain in Pakistan, found that someone had used up or stolen all of their stove fuel. Three weeks later, a team of Kazak climbers on K2 in Pakistan returned to their Advanced Base Camp after resting lower on the mountain.
"At their arrival in ABC, the guys found out that someone has stolen all of their equipment, including crampons," the Web site Russiaclimb reported. "The final summit push is not happening."
The thefts ended the Kazaks' climb, but it could have been far worse, as an incident reported a day later from the mountain next door showed.
Don Bowie was already disgusted when he headed up Broad Peak, a mountain neighboring K2, for his second summit bid. During his first climb up high, Don was in Camp Two when a renowned Polish climber, Artur Hajzer, who was at 7,850 meters on his way to the summit, fell and broke his ankle. At that altitude, many climbers consider a busted leg synonymous with death, but immediately after the accident, ten climbers from various countries formed a rescue team that would spend three days bringing Artur down. Don, who works with a Sierra Nevada sheriff's department search and rescue, headed up from Camp Two toward Camp Three to join in the effort. Though the mountain was packed with up to fifty climbers, they had about half as many people as they needed for the operation. Yet during the three days that Don pleaded over radios with climbers in every other camp, nobody else joined in the rescue. From Camp Two, he could look down on a large commercial team throwing a party in Base Camp. But when he called down for help, only one other climber pitched in. Some said they needed to save their strength for their summit bids. One commercial leader didn't even pass the request for help on to his team. And the climbers descending from Camp Three just passed by the rescuers. When the exhausted team got to the bottom of the peak, the other expeditions sent cooks and kitchen boys with no mountaineering equipment to help carry Artur to Base Camp.
Don was happy that the mountain was deserted when he went back a week later for his second attempt on the peak. There wouldn't be anybody around to rescue him if he got into trouble, but after his experience with Artur, he knew there were few people he could count on for a rescue anyway. Nonetheless, Don let everyone know that he was heading back up onto Broad Peak alone.
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