Being the highest mountain in the world, a trek up and about Mount Everest is surely a difficult, life-threatening feat. Even for experienced climbers, climbing the famous summit means risking their lives. Above around 8,000 meters is called the death zone – merely because oxygen is severely lacking up there.
More than 280 people have died to try to reach its peak, and fatalities occur every year. And behind these deaths, there are amazing stories of survival that are testimonies of resilience, strength, and determination of climbers attempting to scale the deadly mountain.
Lincoln Hall is one of Australia’s greatest adventurers. While descending from Mount Everest’s peak in May 2006, Hall was left for dead but miraculously survived the night alone. Reportedly, Hall was overcome by a severe altitude sickness and showed no vital signs. The Sherpa guides tried to rescue him, but as the night began to fall and snow blindness set in, they were forced to abandon him.
Hall’s death was announced, as well as to his family. But 12 hours later, another group trying to ascend the mountain saw him miraculously alive, with jacket unzipped, no oxygen and no sleeping bag – just sitting out there. The group assisted him on his way down the mountain.
Hall passed away in 2012 due to a completely different reason: mesothelioma linked to exposure to asbestos when he was a child.
From May 10 to 11 1996, eight people died due to a blizzard in the Mount Everest – a tragic event that gained worldwide publicity. Beck Weathers, a pathologist from Texas, was a survivor in that so-called Mount Everest disaster, after having frozen nose, left hand and both feet.
Unusual weather conditions and a blizzard caused mountaineers to lose visibility and become disoriented due to different illnesses. Weathers had been left by the other members of their group after seeing that he had died from serious hypothermia. However, he somehow made it to Camp IV to catch up with other survivors. After a storm, he was again believed dead, but he was found to be conscious by a fellow climber. Frostbite claimed his nose, one hand, and feet, but he made it all the way to a lower camp with assistance.
It took him months and dozens of operations to recuperate, but he fully recovered and resumed a normal life – even saving his marriage after the traumatic experience. He also wrote the book Left For Dead: My Journey Home from Everest, which had a film adaptation entitled Everest in 2015.
British mountaineer Selina Dicker cheated death twice on the Mount Everest, in two different attempts to scale it.
During her first attempt in 2014, Dicker was at base camp when an earthquake hit Mount Everest, killing 16 Sherpas ahead of her. She did not continue her attempt that year, but it did not stop her to try again the next year.
In 2015, Dicker returned to Nepal to climb the highest mountain again, when a more disastrous earthquake hit a base camp that caused an avalanche. Fortunately, she managed to run to a ridge and escape the snow just in time, but around 22 mountaineers were killed. About 9,000 people died across Nepal due to the quake.
American journalist Jon Krakauer climbed the Mount Everest on an assignment for Outside magazine to describe the current state of Everest mountaineering in 1996. He was one of the climbers who survived the Mount Everest disaster. Being on a team led by Rob Hall, their group had the most number of fatalities.
In his article, Krakauer wrote about the experience of his group led by Hall and the other group led by Scott Fischer, who both brought climbers to the summit but faced great difficulties while descending.
Feeling that he could not accurately cover the entire event with one article, he wrote the best-selling and award-winning book entitled Into Thin Air. He described his writing as an act of catharsis, but he said the memories of Everest never left.
Also one of the survivors of the Mount Everest disaster in 1996, Lou Kasischke regretted climbing the mountain and advises against trying it. But because of that, he fulfilled his promise to his wife that he would live a story he could tell. He wrote a memoir of his near-death experience on the mountain entitled After The Wind: The 1996 Everest Tragedy, One Survivor’s Story. He acted as a technical adviser for the 2015 film Everest.
6. Charlotte Fox
Born in 1957 in Greensboro, NC, Charlotte Fox is America’s first woman to summit three 8000s peaks of the world. However, she gained real fame after the dreadful event of 1996 on Mount Everest. She was one of the surviving mountaineers. She successfully reached the summit of Mount Everest and got stuck for hours when a rogue storm hit the mountain with wind chills. Ms. Fox would be dead due to freezing if she and others weren’t rescued and evacuated by the helicopter. In an interview, she said: “The cold was so painful, I didn’t think I could endure it anymore. I just curled up in a ball and hoped death would come quickly.”
Rather than leaving mountaineering behind for the rest of her life, she continued scaling a number of myriad mountains around the world.
7. Michael Groom
Michael Groom became the first ever Australian to reach the summit of Kangchenjunga, the third highest peak of the world, in 1987. He climbed to the top of Mount Everest for the first time in 1993.
The most unfortunate event that also made Michael’s story remarkable was the Kangchenjunga descent – due to high-altitude condition, he became blind and was forced to spend the night there that caused him frostbite on his hands and feet.
When he returned back to his hometown, Brisbane, all 10 of his toes and part of feet were amputated. He was also told by his doctor that he might not ever walk again. But he wasn’t a person who would lose any war so easily – he taught himself to walk around the house first, then gradually increasing the difficulty, and eventually, he started walking again. Right after 3 years of that unfortunate incident, Michael was back again to what he loved doing – mountain climbing.
He went to Nepal and successfully climbed the world’s 6th highest peak, Cho Oyu. After climbing Mount Everest, K2, and Lhotse, he went back to climb Mount Everest for one last time in 1996. He was working as a guide for Rob Hall when that massive storm hit the expedition. However, he managed to summit and descent without any injury.
8. Neal Beidleman
Neal Beidleman, a mountaineer and climbing guide, was also a part of that unfortunate expedition. He was working as a guide with his dear friend and co-worker Scott Fischer (who died on his way back down that day). He is known for his several public talks on his experiences and team management. His famous stories were also featured on the US television news, Nightline.
Even after everything he lost and the horrible experience he had that day, Neal returned climbing to the top of Everest again, in 2018.
9. Sandy Hill
Sandy Hill Pittman, also the part of that mountain madness expedition team, was assigned to dispatch media files from Everest as an employee of NBC. She had an agreement with them that she will do daily feed. After two unsuccessful summit attempts to Everest previously, Sandy tried her luck one last time on May 10, 1996, but who knew a freak storm would hit the expedition, causing lives of several people. But she was lucky enough to come down to the base camp unhurt.