Ever since the disaster on Mount Everest in 1996 as documented by Jon Krakauer in his bestselling book Into Thin Air, I have wondered what kind of person would need to climb the tallest mountain in the world (29,029 feet; 8,848 meters).
I once asked my brother who is an avid naturalist and hiker, likes altitudinous places, and who is adventurous but not crazy, if he had ever considered climbing Everest.
Thankfully, he said, “No!”
“Are you certain?” I pursued.
“Yes. No way!” And so I stopped worrying.
May is the time of year when people who like pushing beyond their limitations may try for the summit of Everest. The Guardian reported last month a remarkable event that took place on the mountain: an Israeli climber, Nadav Ben Yehuda, saved a Turkish-American climber, Aydin Irmak, and “carried [Irmak] on his back for eight hours.”
To appreciate the magnitude of this selfless and highly unusual feat, which Ben Yehuda characterized as “automatic” (he is a former IDF soldier and was trained never to leave a fellow soldier injured or dying on the battleground), note this passage from the blog accompanying the article describing the physical and mental effects on a human being at that elevation and the ethical challenges that come with being there:
“The biological reality of climbing 8000m+ high mountains is that when you’re in the death zone you are burning 13,000 calories a day. The lack of oxygen will have you suffering from hypoxia, it will prevent you from eating as all your blood will be diverted to keep your muscles oxygenated, you will most likely be hallucinating. You do not have a few days in the death zone, you have one day and if you have to stay overnight up on the mountain you are most likely dead anyway. You are starving, you are dying on your feet, and most people can barely manage to lift one foot ahead of the other on the ascent. If you stop to help someone and they can’t walk then they are dead and any effort you make to save them could see you dead as well. It is grim, it is horrible, but that’s the way it is. Oxygen bottles help but they’re heavy and need to be carefully rationed. You get a trickle of extra oxygen to help you along but it is nothing like breathing seaside air. The real problem with Everest is that it’s filled with amateur climbers who don’t respect the mountain and the risks involved. The ethical dilemma isn’t whether or not to stop and help someone on Everest. At that point it’s too late. People will do what they can but unless they possess superhuman features then what they can do is very little. No one is getting carried down off the mountain. The dilemma as I see it is whether to attempt the climb in the first place, knowing that it is littered with bodies and that it’s going to be filled with amateur climbers who will put themselves, their Sherpas, and their fellow climbers at risk.”
Nadav Ben Yehuda is an extraordinary individual to have even attempted to climb this mountain. That he saved another human being in the way he did is even more unusual. And given the enmity created between Turkey and Israel by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is one of the world’s most relentless and unfair critics and haters of Israel, the story is even more noteworthy.
However, it is likely that Nadav had no idea that Aydin is an American-Turk. Nadav was simply a climber and he saw another climber in desperate need. Selflessly, he responded and saved a life at the risk of his own.
From whence came his strength on that mountain to carry another human being for eight hours? Who knows?
From whence came his moral fortitude to dispense with the ethic that says ‘each man for himself?’ Clearly, his training as a soldier in the IDF buttressed by the ethics of his nation that emphasizes that the fate of one is the fate of all.
From the top of the earth, far above the fray of distrust, politics and tribe, Nadav Ben Yehuda acted the life of a tzadik, a wholly righteous man!
To Nadav Ben Yehuda—Kol hakavod! You make me proud!