The Happiness Quotient

Bring My Husband Home - Deliverance From 27,000 Feet on Mount Everest

November 09, 2023 Thom Pollard
The Happiness Quotient
Bring My Husband Home - Deliverance From 27,000 Feet on Mount Everest
Show Notes Transcript

"Do you think great expense and risk should be undertaken to remove bodies from Mount Everest?" The Indian government mounted an expensive and risky expedition to retrieve the remains of mountaineers who had perished on Mount Everest the year before. NY Times journalist John Branch tells us about his fascinating story that delves into the significant cultural and social significance of the Hindu families who grieved the loss of their loved ones.

Watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/qFQw1Y-2m4c

Deliverance From 27,000 Feet by John Branch:
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/18/sports/everest-deaths.html

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Everest Mystery poll question:
https://www.youtube.com/post/UgkxiXLttvZznaGXehZ1IE_iJMCZZJkiTkZO


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John Branch:

We talked to people who pass them on the way down, and at least one of them. The Sherpa asked the person, hey, what time is it? And he wanted the reason why he asked that question was because he wanted his clients, these Indian climbers to hear how late it was, like, just let me give you a different voice in your head. This is really late.

Thom Pollard:

One of the topics that most people are immediately willing to jump in on is what should be done with the remains of the people who lose their lives high upon Mount Everest. It's a divisive topic, and a lot of debate has ensued along the way in some of the stories that I've done on this channel, and recently I posted a poll, do you think great expense and risk should be undertaken to remove bodies from Mount Everest, and the results over 850 votes are n? And to be honest, I was quite surprised. I thought it was going to be more like 5050. And the fact is that only about 12% believe, yes, whatever it takes, they should be removed. And 88% said no, leave the bodies where they are. That's the jumping off point for this awesome story I have for you today. I have here today John branch of Hewlett sir Prize winning journalist from the New York Times who wrote an article in 2017, called deliverance from 27,000 feet. Now why is that a story that I'd be interested in? Of course, well, it's Mount Everest, but poignantly John branch reached out to me early in 2017, because he learned from the Himalayan database that I had gone to the summit, on the same day that three gentlemen from India lost their lives. Not coincidentally, I crossed paths with each of these gentlemen. And as you might understand, having come into such close contact with three people who lost their lives, it's something that I think about every day, I asked myself, is there more that I could have done? What possible things might have changed to save the lives of these gentlemen who now are gone. So now let me bring you to this exceptional interview with John branch from the New York Times who wrote the article, deliverance from 27,000 feet. And he went on to follow the story of the Indian government raising significant funds to go and remove the bodies of the gentleman who were up on Mount Everest for a year, and the difficulties that it presented the risk, and also how it impacted the three families who were waiting at home. It's a fascinating story that dispels a lot of the myths about who actually climbed Mount Everest. You can't even imagine how many times I've heard on this channel. People who climb Mount Everest are rich. Well believe it this is not the case. In this story. John brings sensitivity to the story. While adhering to the facts, I know that you're going to enjoy it. But first I want to thank the sponsor of today's video, Musa masala. They're a 501 C three nonprofit organization, creating an adventurous outdoor community focused on safe, healthy, culturally aware wilderness activities, while prioritizing projects for health care and education in Nepal, that includes dental and health clinics, a climbing competition in Katmandu, every November student scholarships and financial support for the Wong Chu Sherpa Memorial Hospital. I've provided a link in the notes of this video so you can find out more about Musa masala they are awesome. Thank you, Melissa masala for your support of Everest mystery. Here's my interview with John branch from his home in Northern California. Yes,

John Branch:

that story came to me from an editor and it was just nothing but a blurb. In this case, there was a news brief at the very end of the Everest season of that year, that was maybe two paragraphs long that said these three Indian climbers had died on Everest, and their bodies were on the mountain. And they hope to find them next year. And that was it. And so an editor said, is this interesting? Because it's so plainly said that they're just gonna find their bodies next year. And I thought what about those families that don't know what's going on? How will they find their bodies next year? Who's going to find their bodies next year? I just had a lot of questions about that. And I just thought it was so nonchalant, and kind of dismissive. Like three but three people died. Their bodies on the mountain, though, look forward next year, like, well, what can we do? So I thought there's a story behind those three names in that little blurb

Thom Pollard:

there. impermanence and the coldness of a body just being left behind on the mountain, it is it really brings home the reality of it. So as a casual observer from the outside, who has no idea of what Mount Everest is, or anything like that, just that idea of a family being held in suspended animation, you know, just where is my loved one? Yeah,

John Branch:

that's a nice way to put it, it is suspended suspended animation, you know, I was haunted both by the idea that somebody in this case, three people had died there. And we're just let, but then you start thinking about what, what kind of wait, do the families have. And I didn't know if the families were expecting now the bodies back, didn't know anything about the families. But I just thought, just to get a phone call just to say, hey, we think they're gone. And a while to wait a full year or 11 months, at least before we can kind of find you any answers just really haunted me. And that's that was the genesis of the story.

Thom Pollard:

And then you I guess, you start to understand the cultural and religious significance of waiting, not that it would be easy for any human being, to wait in perhaps any religion either. But at least in the Hindu religion, that it's very important to if you will complete the cycle, if that makes any sense. Like it's not over until you get the body? It

John Branch:

does. You know, it's interesting that you say this, Tom, because I'm working on another story that hopefully you'll read the next couple of months, that touches upon this about two people who died high on one of the world's great mountains. And one of the families really wanted the body back. And the other one just said, No, this is where she wanted to be. For these Indian climbers, there were three reasons why it was important for these families. You know, one was just the emotional, we want to say this family member back, we want to give him a proper send off. Part two is that is the religious component of this, these were all Hindu families, they wanted the bodies back so they could be properly cremated. And so their, their souls could be set free. And the third part was financial, you know, like, hey, so go to him go, she was a police officer in Kolkata, he and that or that family would not get any of his life insurance benefits, unless they had a body. Because tell there's a body, he's simply a missing person. And so there was a financial cost to them. And so for all these reasons, this family in particular, really one of the body back, one of the other families who had no financial stake in this and had zero money to put up for any sort of search or recovery, basically told themselves, you know, what, I think this is where he wanted to be. And that was their justification. They ended up getting his body back. But they were not going to put time, effort and money into it. And it was because they had persuaded themselves that these would have been his wishes.

Thom Pollard:

Yeah, it brings up that whole misperception, at least in some cases, that outside of it, a lot of people just say only rich people go to these mountains, but it's not true. Some people leverage their future take out loans borrow money from family. And in the case of these three gentlemen, it sounds like that was true.

John Branch:

That was very much true. Paris Nath was a one armed tailor, one handed tailor, he lost his hand. And so he lived in this in this pretty good sized city of Durga poor in West Bengal, sort of the north east corner of of, of India, and was part of a climbing club. And he always dreamed of going to Mount Everest. And he lived in his his kind of concrete home with concrete floors and concrete walls. And there were two sewing machines in their living room, one for him and one for his wife. And they sewed bags and backpacks. They sewed bags for a local grocery store of cloth. And I believe they were paid $23 a month for that. And then everything else was their effort to sell backpacks to people and their friends who climbed and so on. And on their bedroom wall was nothing except for a poster of Mount Everest. This was this was the goal. I don't know if they thought it would make him rich, but it would make him famous perhaps. And it was, you know, it's not really that far to Nepal from there so ever sort of kind of feels like it's their backyard, even though it's a zillion miles away. I mean, at least it feels like a world away from wherever you are in some of these cities and towns and in India, but he had very, very little money. Gautam Ghosh was a police officer in Calcutta. More middle class by those standards. But in American dollars, he was making about $500 a month. So when you put that in the context of what some of these expeditions cost, and where maybe people from the United States or Europe might be paying 60s 70 $80,000 for an expedition to Everest, that is a lifetime of work for these people. And so they are looking to cut corners, they are saving money for years and years and years, they are selling things off to finance this one chance at that climbing Mount Everest

Thom Pollard:

is so fascinating and in terms of different cultures, but in the United States, well, in New Hampshire, only three people have climbed Mount Everest. So that's pretty cool, right? It's like, wow, you know, in the United States, I know, dozens of people who have been there more than one season, you know, in summited numerous times. But in India, it's a little bit different. And you can almost understand why people would go out on a limb, if they've gone through such extremes to get there, it's gonna be pretty darn hard to turn them around, they have leveraged everything. And when they come back home successful, they there might be money, there might be a position waiting for them. It's different there. And so these people had a lot riding on the success of this expedition, it sounds like you had the

John Branch:

closest comparison I can make given my background as a sports writer is the Olympics for a lot of countries. If you win a gold medal for your country, and not in the United States, necessarily, but in smaller countries, you're kind of set for life, you're probably going to be handed some sort of reward, you're probably going to be handed some sort of government job, you're going to be famous. People will be buying new dinners for the rest of your life, because you have honored your culture, You've honored your country. And that, to some extent is how a lot of Indians view Everest. It's a carrot for people who think, yes, this is a personal journey for me. But there's a reward for me and my family, I will bring honor to my family, if nothing else, but also might bring money stature, a job, a government job. So these are all sort of in the background of their minds. These people had intended, I believe, to climb in Everest in 2014, if I remember right. And that was a year I believe, of the avalanche. And then they intended to climb in 2015. And that was the year of the earthquake and the avalanche. And so they had been waiting extra time as well. So they were really anxious by 2016 to get this done, and they were not young. I believe supossed Paul, one of the victims was 44. The gauche was about 50 and Parrish Nath or one arm Taylor was 58 or so. So the clock was ticking for them for this chance.

Thom Pollard:

So what happened, just a really brief synopsis of, if you will, the day, the summit day, if you will, they're at camp for 26,000 feet or 8000 meters ready to go. Just give me a quick synopsis of how shit hit the fan, if you will. Yeah.

John Branch:

I mean, you know, the, the place and the procedures better than anybody. But my recollection of this is that they got a late start, you know, a lot of people start for saying in the morning or in the middle of the night, they got a late start the goal, at least for them and at least back then was you better be to the summit by noon. They got a late start, for some reason, one of their guys one of their Sherpas. So there's four of them and of course serve as one of their Sherpas stayed in camp for I don't know exactly why. So they were down a Sherpur already. And this group got to the balcony after dawn. They were being passed by people coming down from the summit that day at 10 or 1030. That morning, but they were still on their way up Parrish Nath, our tailor eventually turned down and went down to others, or three others excuse me all continued on up. And I think anybody who has any experience there would tell you, you do not continue up if you're not going to make it up there by noon. We talked to people who pass them on the way down and at least one of them. The Sherpa asked the person Hey, what time is it? And he wanted the reason why he asked that question was because he wanted his clients, these Indian climbers to hear how late it was, like, just let me give you a different voice in your head. This is really late. And I imagine the Sherpas have been trying to convince them we should turn around. I know they happen. But these climbers wanted to keep going. And so then the Sherpas are now in this moral dilemma of do I stay with them knowing this is a suicide mission in some ways? Or do I turn around? How do I convince them to come down? Can I physically grab them? And so they were looking for people who were coming by to sort of be persuasive in these kinds of hidden ways? Yeah. Hey, what time is it? It's 11 o'clock in the morning. Hmm. It didn't persuade these people. They kept going. And so the whole thing fractured. One of the three Indian climbers in his Sherpa to the surface chagrin, continued on up ahead of the others. And looks like he did make a summit The other to continue to be way far behind. And by that, eventually, it was nightfall. And they then finally started to try to come down. And they got separated from Sherpas. And I believe that night and early that next morning, the next days group of climbers started to come up. And I believe you were the first of those.

Thom Pollard:

Yes. And that is for sure. And so which brings to a great point that I am sure that because just the story I told you, and the Sherpa that I was with Lhakpa, my friend Lhakpa, even our stories we were side by side were different. And you don't have to go into the minutiae of that either. But we were both right there. I remember talking to two people with Mr. Ghosh. And he's like, no, there weren't two people with him. Oh, my God. That's that's a big difference in his story. And it underscores just how much physical pressure, if you will, or extremes of altitude can really mess with your body and your mind. So I'm sure you're probably hearing all these stories. What am I supposed to write? Yeah, yeah.

John Branch:

I mean, this, this comes up in in quite a few stories that I do. There's a little bit of a police investigation element to it. And if you don't know, you don't know. And so as you say, especially when you're talking that 26,000 feet, or whatever we're talking about. And you're talking about the dark. And you're talking about people who are focused on on saving themselves or getting themselves to the top. You know, there's a singular mission here. Yeah,

Thom Pollard:

so. So a year goes by, and there's an expedition launched to go remove retrieve two of the gentlemen who passed away one made it back, I believe, the year before.

John Branch:

Is that right? Yep. Yep, that's true.

Thom Pollard:

So it's no small feat to send a crew of people to go retrieve a body. And I know that in the article that you wrote, you said that by the time they got to Mr. Ghosh his body with all the ice and blocks that had frozen into him, he was 300 pounds, frozen into a, just one of the worst positions you could imagine for actually moving something. And that was double his weight anyway, so so there's some controversy around it, because there's risk there's expense, you're putting other human beings in danger. So just expand, expand upon that just a little bit.

John Branch:

Yeah, I mean, the whole thing, even stepping back a little bit is is tricky, because you had in this case, the ghost family, that one of the body back for those reasons, you had the other family who had convinced themselves that it wasn't that important, we don't have the money for it anyway. So the ghost family spent a year trying to raise enough money. And they are climbing the chain of command in the Indian government, the West Bengali state government and the Indian national government saying, Can you help us pay for this? And they kept saying, well, we can't even consider it until we know where the body is. And so they left the family really hanging there. Same one. In the meantime, we don't we think we know where the body is. We're not exactly sure what we're going to find. But we need to raise money. So they spent a year raising money selling property. So they could hire an expedition firm that would be willing to take those risks. For a price we will go help. We will go find this person, we'll bring him down. You pay us this much up front. You pay us as much as we find him you pay us as much when the body gets down to Katmandu. So they were dealing with with all that, eventually the the the first the team of the rope fixers going up to the summit, sees the body. So the reports come down to base camp, there is a body up here, and people presume this must be Gautam Ghosh. Great. Now the Indian government gets involved and says, Well, that's the body that maybe we can help you. And so this whole year that the family went through of trying to sell property and sell jewelry to try to raise money was kind of moved, because then the government's like, oh, yeah, we can do that for you. And we can help do that. And they suddenly start taking charge of the whole thing. And families like, well, that's great. But you know, where you've been for the past year, as we've been trying to figure out, this is even doable. And so the Seven Summits gets higher, which is a big exhibition company there, right? They get hired. And for a fee, they will I think it was$80,000, they will bring down these two bodies. $80,000 is way more than these guys paid for the expedition in the first place. And so there's profit to be made. Go get the bodies. And as you suggest, and as you say, rightly that there's danger in this, because it's typically at the end of the season, you don't know exactly what you're gonna get. You're only back what you're gonna find. And there's huge logistical difficulty and bring it down to 300 pound body, chopping it out of the eyes, trying to move it down, trying to bring it down on whether on sleds or whatever. And if you see the videos in the story of them doing this even on like relatively flat pieces or portions of the trail, they're basically pulling this frozen contorted body over the ice. You know, the strong the body up with a bunch of ropes and you're pulling them and maybe you have some sort of plastic to bog anything on underneath him to try to protect them. But the jackets getting all shredded, the body is being battered, and they have to bring him all the way down to about camp to until they can get the helicopters up there to to then lift them down to base camp. And then all the way eventually down to Katmandu. It's a huge expense. It's, it's it is a risk. And it's it's not a dignified process. You know, it's, it's a bunch of Sherpas hired to go find the body to bring the body down so that you can have a burial. It's tricky and expensive and risky.

Thom Pollard:

To wrap this up a little bit. The end of the article, if he asked me as brilliant, if you didn't, I don't think you knew you were doing this, but something in you, the poignancy, I believe the last line was something to the effect of. So after all this after this, after these two people go to have these three individuals go to Everest, three years in a row, lose their lives, then the following year, bodies retrieved. Still on that wall in the room, there's a calendar on the wall stuck on May 2016. Like so there's lives just that will never be the same. And it's really sad.

John Branch:

It is sad that his widow had refused to believe you he was gone and so for her time was standing still. And it was evident by the fact that she was keeping her bangles on her wrist that showed that she was a married woman and not a widow, the colors of everything, the tandoor the way she was dressing and so on, and also the calendar on her wall, which was set to May 2016. And she changed all the rest of it. She basically told the world I am now widow once they cremated his body that day. She immediately changed, but the one that didn't change was the calendar on the wall. And for her that was the day the time standstill for a lot of the meaning in her life. So

Thom Pollard:

here's a question. What's your answer in the poll? Is it worth the risk and expense to remove bodies from Mount Everest? Would your answer change? If you've enjoyed this video, I hope you'll take a moment to subscribe and also consider becoming a member for exclusive content. Thanks for being here. Do a kind deed take good care of yourselves. Have an awesome day and I'll see you real soon.