Much hay gets made of the selfishness and vainglory now synonymous with Everest’s contemporary climbing scene. But every season a handful of quiet heroes perform selfless, and often lifesaving deeds. Many of these acts go entirely unrecognized, but sometimes the effort is so impressive that those involved earn the American Alpine Club’s David A. Sowles Award, presented for “unselfish devotion, at personal risk or sacrifice of a major objective, in going to the assistance of fellow climbers imperiled in the mountains.”
Enter Tap Richards, Jason Tanguay, Dave Hahn, Andy Politz, Lobsang Temba Sherpa and Phurba Tashi Sherpa in 2001, and their astonishing rescue of a client and guide who were debilitated and forced to spend the night at 28,500 feet. It was one of the highest, and dodgiest, rescues ever performed. Afterward, Eric Simonson, owner of International Mountain Guides, wrote that it “epitomized everything that is best and worst about mountaineering.” Other superstars who’ve received the Sowles Award over the years include Pete Athans, Ed Viesturs, Anatoli Boukreev and Todd Burleson.