Climbers’ bid to save Ochoa earns prize nomination

1st September 2008, Comments 0 comments

Navarre's regional government has nominated the international team of climbers who tried to rescue the late climber Iñaki Ochoa de Olza for this year's Prince of Asturias Awards sports prize.

1 September 2008

BILBAO -- Navarre's regional government has nominated the international team of climbers who tried to rescue the late climber Iñaki Ochoa de Olza during a Himalayan expedition in May for this year's Prince of Asturias Awards sports prize.

The 15 climbers fought unsuccessfully for five days to save the life of 41-year-old Ochoa, who succumbed to a combination of acute altitude sickness, frostbite, and brain and lung damage at 7,400 metres during the final stage of an assault on Annapurna on 23 May.

On 19 May, Ochoa, a well-known climber who had taken part in 30 expeditions to the Himalayas, gave up on his bid to reach the summit of the 8,091-meter Annapurna when he suffered an attack that left him nearly unconscious. He remained without medication with his Romanian climbing partner, Horia Colibasanu, until Switzerland's Ueli Steck reached them three days later.

In the meantime, other climbers in the area began a desperate and dangerous mission to save Ochoa's life that was unprecedented in the history of Himalayan climbing. It is an unwritten rule among climbers never to put the safety of others at risk if injured.

A Kazakh climber, Dennis Urubko, tried to get oxygen bottles to Ochoa in an effort to keep the Spaniard alive. Below him at Camp 2, a Polish doctor was waiting with a hyperbaric chamber, which is used to treat acute mountain sickness. A Russian mountaineer, Sergei Bolotov, who was suffering from pulmonary edema, had refused to return to base camp so he could be of help. Swiss climber Simon Anthamatten also played a key role in trying to help his Spanish colleague.

The Romanian Colibasanu made it back to base camp although he required medical attention after spending three days at an altitude that few people can handle, and where the air is so thin that helicopters have trouble flying.

Ochoa's family said they want his body to be left in the Himalayan mountains that he loved so much.

"This is incredible, wonderful, because these 15 deserve it," was the reaction of Ochoa's brother Pablo when he learned of the nomination.

The prize, which will be awarded in Oviedo on 3 September, recognises "those who have achieved new goals in man's fight to surpass himself".

Ochoa, from Navarre, was the first Spaniard to climb an eight-thousand-meter peak in 24 hours and held the Spanish record for climbing Aconcagua in the Andes (five hours and 45 minutes) until 2004.

"All my life I begged for sponsorship, and now I get so many clothes I don't even have time to open the boxes," Ochoa said shortly before embarking on his final expedition. He had made a living working as a guide in the Himalayas, walking out on the job on two occasions. "Better to be poor and free than rich and embittered," he would tell friends.

Of the 137 mountaineers who have attempted to summit Annapurna, 55 have died.

[El Pais / Oscar Gogorza / Expatica]

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