On his last attempt to summit Mt. Everest, Japanese mountaineer Nobukazu Kuriki lost nine fingers to frostbite.
Still, the Nepal tourism ministry happily opened the mountain for a lone summit attempt this autumn for the first time since last spring's avalanche put an end to the climbing season.
Sherpas known as "the Icefall Doctors" repaired the ladders across the Khumbu Icefall, and accompanied Kuriki to Base Camp; a cameraman and Sherpa planned to meet him at Camp 2.
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As early as Saturday, Kuriki will attempt to summit the mountain on his own, without oxygen. It will be his fifth attempt after four unsuccessful tries.
Not everyone regards the attempt as a heroic adventure. Many experts on Everest are calling it unfair to put others in danger to pursue an ambition with the unnecessary risks of climbing solo and without oxygen.
Indeed, this expedition brings into sharp relief a question often debated in extreme sports: Is it selfish, even unethical, to pursue some dreams?
Kuriki has defended the decision:
"It's not for a record or honor. I believe everybody in the world has his or her own mountain in life. Many people might stop climbing or challenging themselves because others judge them negatively or it seems tough.
"By climbing and webcasting from Everest, I want to tell people that we can try together and share our adventures in life so they can keep trying for their dream," Kuriki said, according to CNN. "When I climb by myself, I can feel things I can't in a city, and therefore, I learn from nature and grow as a human being."
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Climbers certainly understand that sentiment; it's the impact on others that they question.
The mountains are for everybody," said Alan Arnette, a mountaineer who runs an Everest news and analysis website out of Fort Collins, Colo. and who was at Base Camp during last spring's avalanche. "If you want to go up there and risk your life, it's your business. But it's not fair to ask others to put their lives at risk for your ambitions - especially with something so aggressive."
Frank Farley, a professor of psychology at Temple University who studies risk, says extreme athletes are often unfairly singled out by the question while people who engage in other equally costly behaviors - reckless driving, gaining excessive weight - go unquestioned.
"We allow people to legally smoke, but society ends up picking up the bill through medical costs and lost employment time," he said. "I've often sort of felt, let's not pick on the extreme athletes, because at least they are attempting something that's part of a grand effort."
Still, he - and many others - believe there is a line, and that athletes probably cross it when their endeavors endanger others. To many, Kuriki's attempt seems to land past that line, for several reasons:
The vast majority of Everest summit attempts take place in spring, when the chances for good weather are much higher. In fact, summit attempts in autumn have just a 33 percent success rate, Arnette says, compared to 66 percent in spring. There have been just three summits on the south side of the mountain in the last 15 years. Add to that an increased risk for frostbite based on Kuriki's past experience, and an unusual acclimatization protocol.
"It adds up to one word: foolhardy," Farley said.
One matter further complicates this particular expedition: the rescuers would be the Sherpas who understood the risks before signing on to the trip. Some, then, fault the tourism ministry for encouraging it (it held a press conference to issue Kuriki his climbing permit).
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Everyone in Nepal is anxious to have climbers and trekkers return, Arnette says. But with money and reputations on the line, Sherpas would be hard-pressed to refuse, even if they think it's foolhardy.
"Sherpas are being forced into a position of rescuing someone who has been exceptionally foolhardy, but because of their life occupation and employment, it's a difficult place to put them," Farley said.
And even though Kuriki is attempting the most dangerous part of the climb solo, Sherpas will likely try to rescue him if anything goes amiss, Arnette says.
Kuriki reports that the conditions are sunny and quiet so far, and that he is planning to attempt the summit on Saturday. Still, it's anyone's guess what will happen at this point, Arnette says.
In 2012, when Kuriki made it to 27,000 feet before calling for help, Sherpas brought him back to Camp 2 and he was airlifted to Kathmandu.