BACK among the living, after being given up for dead on a windswept ridge on Mount Everest, Australian mountaineer Lincoln Hall celebrated yesterday with a bowl of hot porridge, a cup of tea and some reflection on the events of the previous few days. "I was closer to death than I thought," Hall said from an advanced base camp at 6400m.
"I am well and truly alive now. The most important thing is my family and getting down," he said through friend and fellow mountaineer Jamie McGuinness.
Apart from breakfast, Hall spent yesterday morning warming himself in the sun and preparing for a 22km trek down to base camp on the back of a yak.
From there, he is expected to be transported by jeep to Kathmandu, then flown back to Australia to join his family at his home in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.
On Thursday, Hall achieved his lifelong ambition of reaching the summit of Mount Everest. Shortly afterwards he began hallucinating, suffering severe altitude sickness.
His expedition leader declared him dead at 7.20pm on Thursday night. But next morning he was found alive by US expedition leader Dan Mazur. "I imagine you are surprised to see me here," Hall told his saviour.
More than a dozen sherpas and members of three expeditions, co-ordinated by the 7Summits group, were involved in Hall's rescue. Thirty-six bottles of oxygen at $US310 ($409) a bottle were used.
Having made mountaineering history as one of the few people to have survived a night outside at such altitudes, Hall's journey down the mountain included a night in a makeshift field hospital at 7000m, where he was treated by 7Summits Club team doctor, frostbite expert Andrey Selivanov. He was kept on oxygen in a heated tent.
From there he was taken to the advanced base camp, where he was well enough to walk into the camp on Saturday evening.
Speaking from the camp yesterday morning, McGuinness said Hall was suffering from a bad chest infection and frostbite in his hands, but he could see his friend slowly returning to himself.
"I can see Lincoln's brain working," he said. "He doesn't want to say too much now. He understands he basically died and came back to life. He understands that. He understands he was very lucky. He has a sharp sense of humour and he has it back. He is feeling quite good."
The high number of deaths on Mount Everest, including an incident this month where 40 climbers passed by dying Briton David Sharp without rendering assistance, has raised serious moral and ethical issues in the climbing community.
Tom Sjogren, founder of online site Explorer's Web, said the rescue of Hall was helping to expunge the shame over Sharp's lonely death. "It is an absolutely amazing story," he said. "It will be a classic story that will be told for ages among climbers. What is extra amazing and of great consequence to the climbing community is the timing."
Family spokesman Simon Balderstone said the rescue effort was a tribute to the many sherpas, climbers and expedition leaders combining to save Hall. "It is testimony to the respect in which he is held and the character of these people," he said. "The only thing more amazing than the rescue is that Lincoln survived the night out at 8600m."
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