Everest Revelation: A Clarification (Cont.)
Reply from Jon Krakauer
August 24, 1996
TO: Letters Editor, Outside Online
RE: Lopsang Jangbu's objections to "Into Thin Air"
I regret if Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa feels that he was "singled out as contributing to [the] tragic events" described in my Everest article. He was certainly no more culpable than any of us who were on the mountain last May; indeed, it should be remembered that Lopsang was paid only about $2,000 for his services, while most of the western guides received between $10,000 and $15,000, and guide Anatoli Boukreev received $25,000. I apologize if my article somehow implies that Lopsang was more to blame than anybody else.
Lopsang has another legitimate beef with me as well: Although I did question him on at least three occasions before writing my article (on May 12 at the Yellow Band above Camp III, on May 14 after the memorial service at Base Camp, and on June 8 at a memorial service for Scott Fischer in Seattle), none of these interviews were very fruitful. On May 12, for example, when I met an exhausted, emotionally devastated Lopsang descending the fixed ropes between Camp IV and Camp III, to all my questions Lopsang simply replied, near tears, "I am very bad luck, very bad luck. Scott is dead; it is my fault. I am very bad luck. It is my fault. I am very bad luck." It wasn't until July 25, when I had the opportunity to speak with Lopsang face to face for four hours in Seattle, that I heard his version of the tragedy in detail. And by that time my article had already gone to press.
During the long interview in Seattle, Lopsang insisted that Scott did not in fact order him to short-rope Sandy Pittman on May 10, nor was he offered money by Pittman as an incentive for assisting her to the summit (Lopsang did express mild surprise, however, that he received "no money, no thank you, nothing" from Pittman after the expedition for the help he provided her). Lopsang explained that he made the decision to short-rope Pittman entirely on his own, "because Scott wants all members to go to summit, and I am thinking Sandy will be weakest member, I am thinking she will be slow, so I will take her first." The prospect of receiving money from Pittman, he assured me, in no way entered into his decision. I thus stand corrected regarding Lopsang's motivation for short-roping Pittman. But the Seattle interview shed no new light on why he was helping Pittman in the early hours of May 10 instead of moving to the front of the pack to fix ropes according to the predetermined plan. Lopsang acknowledged that he left Camp IV at the front of Fischer's group, carrying two coils of rope to be fixed, but claimed that there was no plan in effect for him or any other Sherpas to fix ropes ahead of the clients.
I feel obliged to point out that one important assertion made by Lopsang in his Letter to the Editor is directly contradicted by statements he made to me, recorded on audio tape, during our long conversation on July 25: In his letter Lopsang denied that he was "sick and weak" on summit day. Yet during our Seattle interview Lobsang told me, "Every mountain I climb, I go first, I fix line. In `95 on Everest with Rob Hall I go first from base camp to summit, I fix all ropes. But this year on summit day I am tired and sick because [the day before] I am carrying 80 pounds, maybe 75 pounds, from Camp III to Camp IV, I am carrying Sandy's telephone. I am also very tired because [on summit day] I take up Sandy together on rope above Camp IV. I am too tired, I vomit, so I tell to Ang Dorje [Hall's sirdar], you fix line. He says OK. I tell to Neal [Beidleman], you take ropes from me."
Another complaint Lopsang made in his letter also requires clarification. He wrote, "Krakauer neglected to mention that on summit day of Rob Hall's 1995 Everest expedition, I broke trail through deep snow and then fixed ropes from the south summit to the top. There I waited for one hour for other team members, who unlike myself, were using oxygen. No one else came." This is certainly true. But Lopsang failed to explain why no one else came: Due to the lateness of the hour, Hall had turned everyone around just above the South Summit. Lopsang, at the head of the line, ignored the turn-around signal and went on to the summit alone, infuriating the usually imperturbable Hall. As Lopsang was sitting on the summit, Hall, guides Ed Viesturs and Guy Cotter, and the other Sherpas were desperately struggling to bring two severely ailing clients (one of whom, Chantal Mauduit, was stone-cold unconscious) down from the South Summit, and would have benefited greatly from Lopsang's assistance. Hall admonished Lopsang sharply for going to the summit alone, and subsequently decided not to offer Lopsang employment in 1996.
Lopsang is an extraordinarily gifted climber, with the potential to be one of the world's foremost high-altitude mountaineers. I respect and admire him tremendously for staying with the dying Fischer as long as he did, at considerable risk to his own life. Lopsang would be an asset to any expedition; I would climb with him anywhere. But at the age of 23, with only four years as a climbing Sherpa under his belt, he still has something to learn about judgment.