Daily Express
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Still determined to conquer Everest

Published on: Thursday, May 15, 2014

Kota Kinabalu: Her plans to scale the world's highest mountain cut short by the deaths of 16 Sherpa guides last month, Doris J Sitaun is still determined to realise her dream of becoming the first Sabahan woman to conquer Mount Everest next year.

Without saying how much the unsuccessful attempt had cost her, she remains encouraged by the fact that when the moment came it was not unpreparedness on her part but the grief being too much to bear among the remaining Sherpas for their comrades that forced her to turn back.

Among the dead on April 18 below Camp 1 was Sherpa Dorje Khatri who was carrying the Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS), Barisan Nasional, Malaysia and Sabah flags to be flown at the peak.

"Snow was falling hard and the phones were ringing endlessly.

The Sherpas were on their walkie-talkies and as I sipped coffee during breakfast at 4,300 metres high, I heard that Dorje was one of them," said Doris, on her return, here, Wednesday.

"I arrived in KK, kissed the ground, hugged my family and friends and straight away was already feeling excited about preparing for next year's expedition.

"Now that I know how exactly the Everesters do the climbs, I am very confident that I can make it next year given there are no other obstacles along the way," she said.

Although the Nepalese Government allowed Doris to continue her climb, the surviving Sherpas declined to take any climbers up the mountain to protest the lack of support by the government to the tragedy.

Nevertheless, the Nepalese Government extended her expedition permit for five years, enabling her to return for the next expedition window next year.

"When I arrived at the Everest base camp for this expedition, it seemed like a whole village of tents suddenly sprung up from the group because there were over 300 climbers either waiting to climb or preparing themselves and acclamatising for their climbs.

"It was a big crowd of excited climbers and if you add up the Sherpas and support climbers, there were over 700 people. You can see everyone was in high spirits. I have never seen the base camp this full of life before - it was nowhere near to what I experienced in 2012 when I came to acclamatise.

"Once I finished my acclimatisation climb up the Laboche Peak, which stands at 6,119 metres, a day after the avalanche, I trekked back to the Everest base camp. Everything was so gloomy due to the tragedy.

"I had to trek back to the Everest base camp to wait for the result of a meeting between expedition agents, Sherpas and representatives from the Nepalese government to discuss the tragedy and what would be done with the climbers who are waiting to complete their expeditions.

"That was when I learned that my expedition had to be cancelled because all the remaining Sherpas lacked the will to bring any climber up," she said.

Doris gained many new experiences - especially those that will greatly help her for next year's expedition. "At least through this trip, I gained a lot of experience and knowledge on how to take on the highest mountain and I am ready for it.

"One of the sweetest memories up there was the opportunity to participate in a Pooja - a prayer ceremony conducted by the Sherpas and a Lama or monk to bless the climbers, their equipment and their journey ahead.

"The ceremony started with the Lama blessing all our equipment and all the climbers before we were served a traditional drink which is completely identical to our local Tapai - even its taste, smell and effect.

"We then feasted on a specially prepared traditional meal and did the Nepalese traditional dance.

It was a very beautiful experience for me," said Doris.

Asked the scariest moment during the expedition, the mother of three said it was not the climb proper but getting there.

"Even every experienced Sherpa climbers will tell you the most dangerous part of the climb is the flight from Kathmandu to Tenzing Hillary Airport in Lukla.

"The airport and the landing is notorious for being very dangerous due to the very short runway and the unforgiving weather that can easily take down the Twin Otter - the only plane that could land there," said Doris, who returns to work on Monday.