Israeli Everest climber saves Turkish ‘brother’
Had he chosen to continue climbing, Ben-Yehuda would have been the youngest Israeli ever to make it to Everest’s summit.
NADAV BEN-YEHUDA and Aydin Irmak Photo: Nitzan Arny/Israeli Embassy in Nepal
Nadav Ben-Yehuda was moving fast on the bitterly cold night of May 19,
skillfully maneuvering through the final 1,000 meters from Mount Everest’s Camp
IV to its summit – the highest in the world at an altitude of 8,848
He had trained for two years prior, climbing all over the world
since he finished his army service, and he chose to do the final stretch of
Everest – the summit climb – a day after the rest of his group to avoid
pedestrian traffic jams, despite a less than desirable weather forecast and a
dangerous extra day spent in Camp IV without a sleeping bag.
started the climb I was supposed to be fully exhausted but I climbed really
fast,” Ben-Yehuda, 24, told The Jerusalem Post, over the phone from Kathmandu,
Nepal, on Tuesday afternoon.
He continued trudging, with his Sherpa guide
trailing behind him, until he suddenly came to a stop some 250 m. away from the summit.
Shocked, he saw
the body of his friend from the base camp, Aydin Irmak, 46, sprawled lifelessly
on the icy ridges.
“When we saw my friend Aydin there was no question,”
Ben-Yehuda said, noting that on his way to Irmak he had already passed two dead
bodies clipped to the climbing rope.
Knowing that they were going to die,
these men had purposely fastened their bodies to the ropes affixed to the snow
covered ridges, freezing into a permanent slumber. In the end, four people died
on that icy Everest night – but Ben-Yehuda and Irmak were not going to be among
“Spring 2012 will be remembered as the deadliest season of
Everest ever,” Ben-Yehuda said.
Grayson Schaffer, an editor at Outside
Magazine who is stationed at base camp, wrote on his magazine’s website that the
mood at the camp since the weekend “has been overridingly gloomy since the news
of the mishaps first began trickling down the mountain,” when four additional
climbers died on Saturday.
Had he chosen to continue climbing, Ben-Yehuda
would have been the youngest Israeli ever to make it to Everest’s
“It really changed my plans,” he said.
Lifting Irmak over
his shoulders, Ben-Yehuda carried his Turkish-New Yorker friend alongside his
Sherpa guide for about eight hours back down to Camp IV – without gloves, as
they made the rescue process too challenging – and without oxygen, as his mask
had already broken.
“You don’t feel it straight away,” he said of
climbing without oxygen, a sentiment that quickly changed. “You are about to
faint all the time.”
During the breathless march downward, the group
passed by a Malaysian climber, also prostrate and semi-conscious. Unable
to carry a second person, Ben-Yehuda said he luckily soon crossed paths with a
British climbing team, who were able to bring the Malaysian man oxygen and
The negative 40-degree Celsius temperatures left both men
with severe burns all over their faces, and Ben-Yehuda’s ungloved hand is
blackened to a crisp, some of which may need to be amputated, he explained. But
eventually, the men made it back to Camp IV, where a helicopter came to their
rescue – allowing both of them to live.
To Ben-Yehuda, the choice to
forgo his summit climb and save his new friend was simple, a
“Aydin was climbing the day before me – I found him on the
way down. I decided not to go up,” he told the Post. “This was the idea and it
worked, because we just ate dinner together.”
Ben-Yehuda was speaking on
the phone from a dinner hosted by the Israeli ambassador to Nepal, Hanan
Goder-Goldberger, at a new Kathmandu blind restaurant called Dining in the Dark,
which is a partnership between the Israeli embassy and the Nepal Association of
Calling Ben-Yehuda a “hero,” Goder-Goldberger said he was
proud that despite all the physical training that the young man had performed to
make it to the summit, he made the noble decision and turned around, to save a
Ben-Yehuda handed over the phone to Irmak, also at the dinner, who
described to the Post his full-body exhaustion and the pain he was feeling
waiting for his fingers to heal. Irmak, too, had lost his gloves in the 200-km.
per hour winds.
The first problem for Irmak occurred when his Sherpa
guide showed up late, causing him to trail two hours behind the rest of the
group that had left on the evening of May 18.
“Unfortunately, also the
mask of my oxygen broke,” he said.
At the recommendation of the Sherpa
guide, Irmak took his mask as well as three or four oxygen tanks of about 5
kg. each and successfully completed the 11-hour walk to the summit. By
the time he arrived there, members of his group that had departed earlier were
already leaving the summit to return to Camp IV.
“I was the only one,
myself,” Irmak said. “On the way [to the summit] I also waited almost half an
hour so that the strong wind would stop. You have to find a place to hide and
Once he found his window of opportunity to actually stand on the
summit, Irmak stayed there for about five or six minutes and then began his
“I started walking and walking and walking,” he
said. “I don’t know how long I walked.
And it of course was dark and I
was out of oxygen. Then I needed to stop. I don’t remember.
think I remember is Nadav’s voice – ‘Aydin, Aydin, are you there brother? Can
you move your legs?’” “When I woke up there were four dead bodies around me,” he
The entire trip slumped over Ben-Yehuda’s back was a
semiconscious journey for Irmak, but one from which he “remembers
“I kept saying, ‘You go, let me go.’ You know how hard it is
to be carried,” Irmak said. “If you don’t let them go they’re going to die too.
They had no oxygen and we only had one light.”
“I believe I almost died,”
he continued. “Nadav saved my life.”
In an effort to express his
gratitude, Irmak tried to give his Everest summit certification to Ben-Yehuda,
but the authorities would not allow such a transfer, he explained. Since they
met at base camp, the two men “had a brother relationship,” according to
“We were in a group of people from all over the world, but Nadav
and I had a really good relationship,” he said. “Sometimes you see someone and
you become automatic family, you make jokes.”
The two brothers could not
be bothered with the growing tensions between Israel and Turkey, and instead,
continue to think of each other as family and friends.
“I don’t know what
the hell is going on between the two countries. I don’t care about that. I
talked to his family today and I told them you have another family in Turkey and
America,” Irmak said.
While Ben-Yehuda said he plans to return to Israel
in another week or so, where his hand will be treated, Irmak said he must remain
in Nepal until he can get his bicycle out of house arrest. After biking for two
years around the world through 19 countries, beginning in Amsterdam, Irmak had a
desire to literally “take this bicycle from New York City to the top of the
world.” From Kathmandu to base camp, he carried the bicycle “Sherpa style on
While the authorities initially granted him a permit to take
the bike up to 7,900 m., once he arrived at base camp they changed their minds
and “arrested” his bike. This was around the time he met Ben- Yehuda, who was
the first person to arrive at the base camp after the Turkish
Irmak is not only determined to climb a mountain again, but he
is determined to do it with Ben-Yehuda. “If the opportunity comes I will
go again. I am not scared of anything. I will climb one more time with
Ben-Yehuda too, who actually won a stair-climbing competition in
Ramat Aviv two months ago, is determined to continue with his climbing. While he
would like to return to Mount Everest at some point, he said that this mountain
was never specifically his lifelong dream, like it is to many other
“It’s not like a dream or something,” he said. “It’s a really
interesting mountain and it’s the highest altitude. You have much more beautiful
mountains in the Alps, but this is the highest altitude.”
For now, he
will keep visiting the hospital in Nepal every morning for check-ups on his hand
until he returns home, where he said he will definitely stay in touch with
Irmak. “If you get me a passport to Pakistan I would go to K2,” he added,