Nadav Ben Yehuda's right hand can't grasp a pencil. No longer can he sit on the side of a mountain scrawling poetry in his climbing notebook. The nerve damage causes him to drop things without warning.
But Ben Yehuda still has his life, which wasn't a certainty as he lay on his back on the Nepal side of Mount Everest a year ago, cursing and looking for hope in a sliver of sky between the rocks and clouds.
In 2012, the 24-year-old set out to become the youngest Israeli to summit Mount Everest. With five years of ice climbing and three years of Israel Defense Forces training, Ben Yehuda aimed to climb the highest peak on each continent.
Yet none of his training prepared him for the crowds he encountered at Everest base camp 18,000 feet above sea level. Ben Yehuda often climbed alone and welcomed run-ins with other adventurous souls, but there he found hundreds of people at the base of the world's highest peak.
"It was like looking at the Woodstock festival," he said. "I saw all of those tents and I thought, 'Is it possible that all of the ice climbers in the world are here?'"
With 10 deaths last year, the third-deadliest Everest climbing season on record, questions are being raised about the safety of granting government permits to so many climbers, many not versed in the perils of living miles above sea level.
Until the late 1970s, only a handful of climbers reached the top each year. The number topped 100 for the first time in 1993. By 2004, it was more than 300. Last year? More than 500.
The deadliest year was 1996, when 15 people died. Eight of them succumbed during a blizzard so violent that journalist Jon Krakaeur chronicled the tragedies in his bestseller "Into Thin Air." Another 12 climbers were killed in 2006. This year there have been media reports of eight deaths, as of May 23.
The mountain represents both choice and risk: Are you ready to push life to the edge to reach the top of the world? Or does life matter more?
Hoping for the summit
At base camp in April 2012, Ben Yehuda watched climbers learning to don shiny new crampons -- metal traction aids strapped to boots soles. Some put them on backwards. Others were familiarizing themselves with the horizontal ladders used to cross dangerous ice crevasses
Ben Yehuda was immediately worried.
Meanwhile, American geographer Jon Kedrowski, 33, was looking for his elite expedition team, which included Canadian Sandra LeDuc, 34, who was climbing for charity. Team leader Arnold Coster told him their tent was by the helicopter pad. Kedrowski counted at least 40 tents and 30 teams.
Nepali-Canadian Shriya Shah Klorfine, 33, was bolstering her experience by climbing peaks near base camp. Ascending Everest was her dream, one that worried her husband, Bruce. He didn't think she had enough experience. A Sherpa watching her climb concurred.
The climbers arrive in April to acclimate to the altitude before heading toward the summit. Between May 15 and 30 is usually the best window. There are typically 11 days in spring when people can stand on the summit, according to meteorologist Chris Tomer, Kedrowski's best friend.
This wasn't the case in 2012, with bad weather cutting the window to four days. A monsoon would move in afterward. The dry year in the Himalayas brought added dangers of shedding glaciers and unstable rock.
Forecasts pegged the first window at May 19. Teams assembled their gear at base camp. Groups, including International Mountain Guides, went team to team asking when climbers were leaving for the first succession camp. It was estimated 150 to 250 people would be climbing simultaneously.
Because steep vertical ice walls and tricky passages require a single-file ascension, IMG and others warned against so many people climbing at once. Few listened.
Back in Denver, Tomer was worried. He warned Kedrowski that winds might pick up earlier than anticipated, slamming the summit window shut and stranding climbers.
Everest pierces the jet stream, the flow of air that carries airplanes, and the sustained 100-mph winds make summiting outside of May nearly impossible. In May, the winds coming off the Indian Ocean lighten, lifting the jet stream above the summit by 10 to 15 feet, enough to stand on top of the world, Tomer explained.
Kedrowski and LeDuc decided to wait a day so the crowd could move ahead. They might still be able to summit May 20, they thought. Klorfine and Ben Yehuda, however, began their separate ascents.
Disaster in the death zone
Before the summit at 29,028 feet, climbers must traverse the aptly named "death zone" at 26,000 feet. There are more than 200 bodies in the area, although it's presumed you can't see them beneath the ice.
Climbers need liquid oxygen to breathe. Frostbite and extreme altitude sickness are real dangers. Unrelenting winds can make a 1-mile trek hours long.
Above this lies the Hillary Step, named for Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer Everest. It's a nearly vertical rock face stretching 40 feet to the summit. Because climbers can't pass each other, a logjam extended from Hillary Step to the death zone.