Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Mount Everest tragedy reminds local mountaineer of bond with Sherpa

By LANCE BENZEL The Gazette - Updated: April 19, 2014 at 6:49 pm

For five decades Doug Ingram worked to achieve his childhood dream of attaining Mt. Everest's lofty summit.

When he succeeded after a weeks-long trek on May 21, 2013, the Colorado Springs mountaineer owed a debt of gratitude to a guide named Phinjo - one of the native Nepalese Sherpas known worldwide for their guts and know-how.

"They're the true heroes of the mountain," said Ingram, 65, crediting Phinjo's steady presence with buoying him to the top of the 29,020-foot peak past treacherous ridges, yawning crevasses and freezing winds that scored at the flesh of their eyes.

Ingram recalled their adventure a day after at least 12 of those "heroes" were swept to their deaths by an avalanche on Everest's icy slopes.

Report: Sherpas killed on Everest were working on NBC special

As word of the tragedy reached the U.S., Ingram and his wife, Susie, stayed up much of the night tracking news reports and messages from fellow adventurers to learn of his guide's fate.

Although Phinjo Sherpa, 43, wasn't harmed in the disaster, another Nepalese guide Ingram encountered during his two-month trek wasn't so lucky - suffering injuries that required an airlift to a Katmandu hospital, where he remains.

An estimated 200 mountaineers have died during attempts to claim the Mt. Everest summit since 1956, when Sir Edmund Hillary and a Sherpa named Tenzing Norgay became the first mountaineers to conquer the Himalayan peak.

Though engaged in a deadly business, Sherpas are notorious for their bravery - and their willingness to stick by their clients no matter the personal risk.

"When they sign on, it's "Hey, I'm here as long as you need me. If you're moving forward, I'm moving forward. If you're retreating, I'm retreating.

"They'll walk to their death. That's just their nature and their culture."

Ingram, a former swimming coach who now works at the United States Olympic Committee, said Phinjo's words of encouragement were a source of strength as the days wore on, pushing Ingram to press ahead in his quest for the peak.

He said he feels "chills" recalling the words Phinjo spoke before the final push: "Doug, you get stronger every day. Tomorrow we summit."

After reaching the summit, Ingram and Phinjo stayed just long enough for Ingram to snap photographs and deposit the ashes of fellow mountaineer and former co-worker Jimi Flowers, who died at Ingram's side on a 2009 mountaineering expedition on Capitol Peak in Pitkin County.

After sharing the adventure of a lifetime - in what was Phinjo's eighth time summiting Everest - Ingram said he came to look upon him as more than a guide.

"He and I - we're brothers. There's no doubt about it."

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