KATHMANDU, Nepal - A Malaysian mountaineer narrowly survived after a Nepali sherpa guide hauled him down from below Mount Everest's summit in a "very rare" high-altitude rescue, according to a government official on Wednesday.
On May 18, Gelje Sherpa, 30, was guiding a Chinese client to the summit of Everest, 8,849 meters (29,032 feet), when he noticed the Malaysian climber clinging to a rope and shivering from extreme cold in the "death zone" where temperatures can drop to minus 30 degrees Celsius (-22F) or lower.
For about six hours, Gelje hauled the climber 600 meters (1,900 feet) down from the Balcony area to the South Col, where another guide, Nima Tahi Sherpa, joined the rescue.
"We wrapped the climber in a sleeping mat, dragged him on the snow, or carried him on our backs in turns to camp III," Gelje explained.
A helicopter then used a long queue to lower him from the 7,162-metre (23,500-foot) high Camp III to base camp.
"It is almost impossible to rescue climbers at that altitude," said Bigyan Koirala, a tourism official. "It is a very rare operation."
Gelje stated that he persuaded his Chinese client to abandon his summit attempt and descend the mountain, saying that he needed to rescue the climber.
"Saving one life is more important than praying at the monastery," Gelje, a devout Buddhist, explained.
Tashi Lakhpa Sherpa of the Seven Summit Treks company, which provided logistics to the Malaysian climber, refused to name him, citing his client's privacy. Last week, the climber was placed on a flight to Malaysia.
During this year's March to May climbing season, Nepal issued a record 478 Everest permits.
At least 12 climbers, the highest number for eight years, have died, and five more are still missing on Everest's slopes.