Saskatoon-raised climber abandons Everest ascent to rescue injured Sherpa
Neal Kushwaha was back in Saskatoon talking to students about his harrowing adventure
Neal Kushwaha was less than a day's walk from the top of Mount Everest when he heard a nearby climber was severely injured.
Kushwaha, who was raised in Saskatoon, had dreamed for years of reaching the world's highest peak. Going to help could have meant sacrificing his only chance.
Other climbers had already passed by the man and continued their summit attempt. As Kushwaha listened to reports on his radio, he realized he had to make a decision.
"A rock hit him in the head, split his skull open. Of course, he's bleeding. We didn't know what was happening," Kushwaha said following a talk with students Thursday at Saskatoon's Bedford Road Collegiate about the May 2018 incident.
"When I realized he was alive, I just was compelled to go [help]. I just thought 'I bet this guy's got a family.' "
See footage of the rescue here:
Kushwaha could see the man, Chhering Dorje, laying in the snow. Dorje, a local Sherpa hired to guide and carry equipment for the foreign climbers, was bleeding to death.
He was only a few hundred metres away, but it wasn't easy for Kushwaha and another man to get to Dorje. Walking at an oxygen-deprived altitude of nearly 7,000 metres, they had to stop and rest every few steps.
Dorje was moaning when they got to him. Kushwaha carried Dorje on his back while the other man carried Dorje's pack. They were later joined by two other climbers who agreed to help. The four men carried Dorje partway down Everest to a wide, flat plateau and radioed for a medical helicopter. The helicopter arrived and took Dorje to hospital.
At that point, the emotion and physical exhaustion hit Kushwaha. He broke down crying. Eventually, he decided to trek back up to the point they'd reached early that day.
Kushwaha and the others rejoined the team and camped for the evening a bit higher up. The next morning, the sky was unexpectedly clear. He somehow felt energized, so they decided to push toward the summit.
Late that day, Kushwaha and his crew made it to the top of Mount Everest.
"There was not a cloud in the sky," he said. "We were up there for half an hour alone. It was great."
They walked back down to base camp, wondering how Dorje was doing. When they arrived, another Sherpa was waiting for them with hot tea. It was Dorje's brother, who also worked as a guide. He said Dorje survived and was recovering in hospital.
"He was so thankful. It was amazing for us," Kushwaha said.
Kushwaha, a 45-year-old father of 15- and 10-year-old daughters, attended the University of Saskatchewan now working in cybersecurity in Ottawa. He came home to Saskatoon this week to visit his mother and some friends asked him to come talk at their schools.
Students sat in silence as he recounted his adventure, passing around his winter jacket, axes and boots. They peppered him with questions about climbing, the rescue and other topics.
Grade 10 Bedford Road student Brandon Peepeetch said it was an honour to meet someone like Kushwaha. Classmate Emily Neudorf agreed.
"He decided to not focus on himself, but just go back and help someone. That was just really inspiring," Neudorf said.
Kushwaha talked to the students about physical fitness and mental strength, but also emphasized the importance of learning math, physics, biology and other subjects for mountain climbing.
"Everything you learn today influences your success in the future," he said.
"Purge your mind of everything unnecessary and focus. If you have a dream, get up every morning and take a few steps toward it."