Many thanks to reporter Kylie Hubbard for this one!
Knoxville resident climbs Mount Everest, completes daring rescue
On May 23, Knoxville resident John Quillen sat on top of the world. But the climb to Mount Everest wasn’t typical. John Quillen, Knoxville
On May 23, Knoxville resident John Quillen sat on top of the world. But the climb to the summit of Mount Everest wasn’t typical.
Quillen, a drug and alcohol counselor, arrived in Nepal in early April and hiked for 10 days to reach base camp. From there, Quillen met Neal Kushwaha of Ottawa, Canada, and spent a month participating in acclimatization — climbing between camps one, two and three to get used to the changes in altitude.
On May 18, the pair, along with their Sherpa companions, started their push up the mountain and by May 20 found themselves in good standing between camp one and two, and were taking a rest when the unthinkable happened.
An oxygen bottle fell from a higher point in the mountain and struck at least two people, including the head of a Sherpa. The Sherpas are a Himalayan people whose members often serve as porters on mountain-climbing expeditions.
“The ugliest part about it is that several people walked by this guy and did not help him, in both directions up and down,” Quillen said.
Kushwaha and Quillen knew that they couldn’t be bystanders, so they moved into action.
“That could have been us and we actually said that to each other. Like that could be you, that could be me, that could be one of our Sherpas, that could have been us,” Kushwaha said. “And (also) some people walking right by us but we had to go do something.”
The duo along with their Sherpas moved the man hit in the head to a safer location before Quillen moved to help a different man who was struck on the leg, ripping his body suit.
Meanwhile, Kushwaha and his Sherpa tended to the head of the injured Sherpa, as blood continue to come from his wound.
“Neal (Kushwaha) and his Sherpa had to get on the radio and beg what they call the HRA (Himalayan Rescue Association) to dispatch somebody to come up because he’s a Sherpa and he doesn’t have any insurance,” Quillen said. “Western climbers have insurance. We really had to beg some people to come up.”
To make a safe area for a helicopter rescue, Kushwaha and his Sherpa moved the man several feet down the mountain, losing a lot of ground that had already been climbed.
Once the injured were secured, Quillen and Kushwaha along with their Sherpas moved quickly to camp three, but were physically and emotionally exhausted.
“That’s where good fortune I think favors our attempts to help him. It put us into camp three probably late at night around 9:30, 10 (p.m.), which is way too late to be going up the most dangerous part of the climb, the Lhotse Face, which pushed our whole summit schedule ahead several hours,” Quillen said.
This advancement in schedule allowed the duo to take their time to camp four, commonly referred to as “The Death Zone.” They arrived late on May 21 to stay their first night in the the Death Zone, where they experienced rough weather but a clearing the next morning.
“Most people barely survive up there and we were cruising around just re-energized, ready for our summit push, and I can only account for that in divine terms,” Quillen said. “You look at any account of Everest and … it’s a survival game and we were definitely thriving right before our summit push.”
At 7 p.m., the team started their summit push and arrived early the next morning to a nearly empty mountain. Quillen spent a total of 45 minutes on the summit and Kushwaha spent 35, when most get about enough time for a picture.
“It was sunny, it was clear, it wasn’t windy and if it was, it was only at the summit, which is normal. Hardly anybody there and when they did come, it wasn’t anything spectacular,” Kushwaha said. “As magical as it gets, we could probably come to Everest ten more years in a row, and never have that experience again. That’s how crazy it is.”
The two spent two more nights in the Death Zone before heading back to camp two on May 25 and base camp on May 26.
“It was a blessing from God in my mind, no doubt about it. And kind of a nod to the time we took to spend on somebody else,” Quillen said. “That’s the only way I can conceivably see it.”