Gelje Sherpa was attempting to reach the summit of Mount Everest for the sixth time last month when he spotted a descending climber lying in the snow, not talking and in shock.
Mr. Sherpa, 30, had performed dozens of rescues in the Himalayas as a guide, but this one was the most difficult, he said. The ill climber was at an elevation of more than 27,200 feet, in an area that is known as the “death zone” because of the severe cold and oxygen scarcity.
For roughly the next hour, the two remained in that zone, he said. The guide acted as the stricken climber’s eyes, ears and strength as he carried him more than 1,000 feet down the mountain.
“He didn’t have nothing,” Mr. Sherpa said in a phone interview this week. “No energy, no oxygen, nothing.”
It was a brutal descent, and it was far from over. Near Camp 4, the final camp climbers reach before the push for the summit, the pair met other guides who helped them get from 26,300 feet to Camp 3 at 23,500 feet. For the next five or so hours, Mr. Sherpa and the other guides would take turns strapping the climber, who was wrapped in a sleeping pad, to their backs as they scrambled over rocky terrain. On icy and snowy patches, they put him on the ground and pulled him.
Mr. Sherpa captured part of the May 18 rescue in video clips that have been shared widely online. The footage shows his friend Ngima Tashi Sherpa in a bright red down suit with the ill climber on his back. Gelje Sherpa said that he spent two or three hours with the climber on his back and estimated that the man weighed more than 175 pounds with his climbing boots, gear and clothes still on.
The six-hour ordeal was a success, and the climber, Ravichandran Tharumalingam of Malaysia, was flown by helicopter from Camp 3 to a hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, before traveling home.
The rescue was a bright spot in an especially deadly year on Everest.
Alan Arnette, a mountaineer who covers Everest climbing, wrote on his website last week that 13 people died on the mountain during the spring climbing season, which ran from April to late May, and four were still missing. The most climbers to die on Everest in one season came in 2014, when 16 Sherpas were killed in an ice avalanche. Four days later, many Sherpas said they would not work for the rest of the climbing season in protest of exploitative working conditions.
These working conditions, which include a flimsy social safety net, perilous work and low pay compared to the tens of thousands of dollars their foreign clients spend to climb, in part fueled online criticism of the rescued climber.
A Twitter thread on Sunday called attention to Mr. Ravichandran’s social media accounts, which celebrated his Everest summit with little or no mention of the mountain guides who saved his life, and noted that he had blocked Mr. Sherpa, his rescuer, on Instagram. Mr. Ravichandran’s social media accounts were soon flooded with negative comments.
Mr. Sherpa confirmed that Mr. Ravichandran had blocked him, but he said that the climber had since unblocked him. Since the backlash began, Mr. Ravichandran has posted several times on social media about the guides who rescued him, naming each of them in several posts. On Monday, he wrote on Instagram that Sherpas “never leave you behind.”
In response to an emailed interview request, Mr. Ravichandran sent a link to an Instagram video shared by Tashi Lakpa Sherpa, the leader of his Everest expedition and the founder of 14 Peaks Expedition and Seven Summit Treks. In the video, which Tashi Lakpa Sherpa posted on Tuesday, he says that Mr. Ravichandran had called him from the hospital in Nepal and thanked him.
“Ravi has managed Sherpa bonus payment for the rescue person involved and he paid all the expenditure of the oxygen used in the operation,” Tashi Lakpa Sherpa said in an email on Wednesday. “After his recovery, he was very thankful to our company and all the Sherpa who were involved in the rescue mission.”
He said that, in addition to Gelje Sherpa and Ngima Tashi Sherpa, four other guides from his companies helped with the rescue: Ming Tenjing Sherpa, Nima Dorchi Sherpa, Dipen Bhote and Dawa Sherpa.
Some mountaineers have asked why Mr. Ravichandran was found on his own on the Balcony, a small flat spot near the summit.
Tashi Lakpa Sherpa said that two guides had been assigned to assist Mr. Ravichandran, who he said had reached the summit late on May 17 because of “physical weakness.” The descent was difficult and one of his guides went to Camp 4 to get help, he said. The other guide descended a few meters to use his walkie-talkie to speak with base camp and the expedition leader.
“I immediately coordinated with my team working above the camp to rescue Mr. Ravi,” Tashi Lakpa Sherpa wrote.
Gelje Sherpa had been assisting other climbers who wanted to get to the summit, but persuaded them to abandon their attempt so he could save Mr. Ravichandran.
The dramatic rescue was yet another achievement in the climbing career of Gelje Sherpa, who in 2021 became the youngest person to summit K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, in the winter. This week, he traveled from Nepal to Alaska to climb Denali as part of a delegation to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Jim Whittaker becoming the first American to summit Mount Everest.
Gelje Sherpa is from the Solukhumbu region of the Himalayas. He said that he started working in the mountains, first as a porter, because he did not have a good education.
Like many other Sherpas, he hopes his two young children will find safer and more secure jobs.
“I don’t want to bring them to the mountains for guiding,” he said. “Maybe if they like to do climbing for the fun.”