Edurne Pasaban, leader of the Endesa Expedition to Everest without oxygen, has played a crucial role in an operation to rescue several of her fellow countrymen. Several Spanish mountaineers got into serious difficulties last Sunday whilst making their descent from the summit of Lhotse.

Edurne Pasaban has gone through the most nerve-wracking weekend since the Endesa expedition to Everest without oxygen began. On Friday, her attack on the summit of Everest ran into complications when two of the Sherpas on the team began to feel unwell at camp 4, at an altitude of eight thousand metres. Despite the fact that the Sherpas recovered, thanks to the treatment administered by the other team members, their final assault on the summit was delayed by high winds which were far stronger than those forecast. This unexpected delay meant that it was no longer safe to climb to the highest point on the planet without the use of supplementary oxygen. Since she was determined not to use bottled gas right from the beginning, Pasaban finally erred on the side of caution and aborted the attempt. However, the expedition’s tent and some gear were left at camp 4 with a view to a new attempt next week.

Consequently all the expedition members returned to Base Camp safe and sound this afternoon. However, they were not able to rest after four days climbing, and a night spent at 8000 metres when nobody was able to sleep a wink: at nightfall worrying news began to filter through from Lhotse (the eight-thousander in close proximity to Everest and which shares part of the same route). Various Spanish expedition members had made it to the summit of Lhotse that day, some of them very late in the day, and they were having difficulties in making it back to Camp 4. At dawn on Sunday it was announced by radio that Carlos Pauner, Roberto Rodrigo and Isabel Garcia were suffering from frostbite and/or cerebral oedemaa and that the Andalusian Manuel “Lolo” Gonzalez had not returned to camp.

At this point the expeditions currently at Base Camp set in motion an extreme rescue operation. Edurne Pasaban went straight to the camp of the ‘Patagonian Brothers’ agency, from where the operation was being coordinated. The Argentinian guides Damian Benegas and Matias “Matoco” Erroz, who had just returned from the summit of Everest, did not think twice about changing course and climbing Lhotse. They found Lolo, incapable of moving and very weak having spent the night out in the open at an altitude of 8100 metres, but they found him alive! The commercial expeditions, who frequently come in for criticism, made all their oxygen available to the injured and mobilised all the Sherpas who were fit to help Lolo. Edurne Pasaban participated in the coordination of the rescue, facilitated communication between the teams and, according to various sources, did not hesitate to put up the money necessary to avoid bureaucratic delays that could have slowed up the rescue process.

There have been very few rescues made at an altitude of over eight thousand metres previously, but the joint action of all those involved proved to be invaluable. The Argentians and teams of Sherpas worked in shifts to carry Lolo by stretcher. They arrived at Camp 2 at midnight last night, where the other injured were being treated. This morning a helicopter evacuated Lolo and Roberto Rodrigo directly from Camp 2. The others have slowly made their way to Base Camp, where the doctors from Edurne’s expedition and Himalayan Experience were waiting for them in order to evaluate their injuries, treat them and request further evacuations by air if necessary.