New Zealand climber Mark Inglis has defended himself against criticism from the world's most famous mountaineer, saying there was little his team could do to save a dying climber on Mt Everest.
Inglis became the first double amputee to conquer the world's highest mountain last week but on the way to the 8848-metre summit, the team found British climber David Sharp, 34, near death in a cave 300 metres below the summit, a place known as the "Death Zone."
They tried to help but Inglis said they could do little for him and they carried on to the summit.
Their decision not to abandon the summit bid and try to save Sharp drew strong criticism from Sir Edmund Hillary, who said they should have abandoned their climb and tried to save him.
Sir Edmund with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first men to reach the summit of Everest as part of a British expedition in May, 1953.
"It was wrong if there was a man suffering altitude problems and was huddled under a rock, just to lift your hat, say `good morning' and pass on by," Sir Edmund said today.
Sir Edmund said the 1953 British team would have abandoned their summit bid if another climber's life had been in danger on the mountain.
Everest has claimed at least 150 lives.
"I think it was the responsibility of every human being. Human life is far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain.
"My expedition would never for a moment have left one of the members or a group of members just lie there and die while they plugged on towards the summit."
However, Inglis said nothing could be done to save Sharp.
Inglis said when they found Sharp he was barely alive. He was virtually frozen solid, could not speak and the only signs of life they could detect was movement in his eyes.
Mr Inglis is a former professional search and rescue mountaineer and like the rest of his party, it grieved him to leave Mr Sharp.
"But most importantly I was only one member of a team. I had very little to do with David apart from recognising the fact that he was in there.
"Other members of our team spent time with David. Various experienced sherpas of ours spent time with David, all to no avail."
Mr Inglis said the criticism had focused on him.
"I walked past David but only because there were far more experienced and effective people than myself to help him."
He said he was in front of Sharp for only a few seconds but his discovery prompted a lot of debate and radio traffic with the base camp about what could be done to help him.
He said Mt Everest was one of the harshest environments in the world.
"It was a phenomenally extreme environment. It was an incredibly cold day. When we stood on the top at 7am it was minus 38 (degrees Celsius)."
He said the cold hard facts of life were that there was little they could do.
It would have killed Sharp to warm him, he said.
Inglis said they had been in contact with Sharp's family and they now wanted to give them some privacy.
His father John Sharp, of Glendale, Guisborough in England was reported to have said David was "a great son, a very able climber and we loved him."
His mother Linda Sharp said Russell Brice, who led Inglis' expedition, and a sherpa had tried to help David but it was too late.
"One of Russell's sherpas checked on him and there was still life there. He tried to give him oxygen but it was too late.
"Your responsibility is to save yourself – not to try and save anybody else," she told the north east of England newspaper the Northern Echo.
"I can't say how grateful I am to the sherpa and to Russell," she said.
Inglis said at that height it was impossible to rescue a climber.
The mountain was littered with bodies.
"You have to step over so many. You have to physically step over so many."
Inglis said there were at least nine bodies on the route he took to the summit.
"Part of the route is called Rainbow Valley because when you look down it all you can see is the colouration of people's suits," he said.
He would not talk about what Sir Edmund had said and said he was not sure if it would achieve anything to discuss the situation with him.
However, he said he was very happy with what his team did on the mountain.