In 2006, a lone British climber named David Sharp become the focus of one of the most intense and protracted controversies in Everest’s history. Early on the morning of May 14, Sharp was discovered near comatose in a small alcove high on the Northeast Ridge. He had been climbing solo, only loosely affiliated with a low-budget expedition of independent mountaineers. Thus, no one reported him missing, and it took several days before anyone could even figure out who the climber was. But his identity would make no difference; Sharp would not survive, even though he was passed by an estimated 40-plus climbers that day, only a few of whom attempted to revive and move him.
The incident appeared even worse a week later when the Australian climber Lincoln Hall was rescued under what appeared to be similar circumstances. Could more have been done to save Sharp? Should more have been done? Did other climbers have a moral obligation to help a stranger who seemed closer to death than life? The media chaffed and roared, pointing fingers, leveling blame at the big-money expeditions that walked past the Briton. But like many things, the account was full of complicated details and deeper explanations. In the end, Sharp would become the fallen protagonist of one of Everest’s most vivid and disturbing parables.