Report from Base Camp
by Audrey Salkeld
May 16, 1996
First of all, a couple of corrections to the bulletin of 12 May: Andy Harris, the guide of Rob
Hall's team who vanished in the vicinity of the South Col camp, is believed to have fallen down
the Kangshung Face and not the Lhotse Face, as previously stated. Also, Anatoli Bukreev, who went
back up the South East Ridge in the storm to look for Scott Fisher, is of course not a Sherpa,
but comes from Kazakhstan. He was acting as a guide with Scott's group. He returned from his mission
badly shocked and would say nothing more than that Scott was already dead. Later, in a moving
testimony at the memorial puja held yesterday for the five who were lost, Anatoli apologized to
his friend for arriving too late.
A bold helicopter airlift on Monday May 13 whisked the two most serious frostbite victims from Camp
1, above the Icefall on Everest (20,000 ft), to hospital in Kathmandu. Seaborn Beck Weathers, whose
hands and arms were badly affected and Ming-Ho "Makalu" Gau, with a badly frostbitten nose, was
picked up in an army 'Squirrel' helicopter, piloted by Lt. Colonel Madan, K.C. The IMAX team, who
had escorted Weathers down from Camp 2 that morning, helped trample out a landing place but were
unsure whether it would be visible from the air. Suddenly, Araceli had a bright idea. 'I have a
litre of Kool-Aid,' she said, and dribbled a huge red cross in the snow to guide the pilot in.
The story of Beck Weathers' survival, his Lazarus-like rise from the dead, is nothing short of
miraculous. He had set off for the summit with the rest of Rob Hall's party before midnight on
the 9th, but at some time the next day he abandoned his attempt as he was having difficulty seeing.
However, he was also unable to see himself back to camp, and settled in to wait for his companions.
Later, he tagged on to returning members from Scott Fisher's group but lost them again as they
approached the Col. The last thing he remembers of that night is taking off his gloves and unzipping
his jacket to put his cold hands inside.
Around 9 o'clock the next morning (Saturday 11th), at Base Camp we received a radio message that
two "bodies" had been found just above Camp 4. One was the dead Japanese woman, Yasuko Nanba, the
other Beck, whose "death" had been confirmed by a doctor on the Col. No attempt was made to move
either victim. Beck lay lifeless on the ice, facing the sky, for sixteen hours. In the middle of the
afternoon Todd Burleson and Pater Athans reached the Col to organize rescue operations. Some time
later Todd was inside one of the tents when he looked out to see an apparition approaching.
Staggering towards him, arms rigidly outwards like tree limbs was a figure burnt almost black by
the sun. His face was swollen and the eyes closed to slits.
Beck had suddenly woken up, gained some impression of what was
happening and been overwhelmed with the desire to go on living. He
could see nothing but felt the fresh wind blowing and realized it
must be coming over the Col. That was the direction in which he
needed to go, and he set off into the wind.
Todd could not believe his eyes, and he went out and steered the
phantom into the tent and began administering oxygen. He did not,
could not, think the man would survive. His hands and
arms were frozen to the elbows and he must be chronically
hyperthermic. Against all expectations, Beck began slowly to
revive. The next day, Todd and Pete began escorting him down the
mountain. The party was met at the "Yellow Band" above the Lhotse
Face by Robert Schauer and Ed Viesturs of the IMAX team, who took
over the escort duty. They were amazed at Beck's fortitude and good
humor. He did not complain at all, and fully appreciated his
situation. He knew he was doomed to lose both hands-a bitter blow in
his career as a pathologist-but he was so grateful to be alive.
When the little party reached Camp 3 where Dave Breashears and Araceli were waiting, they quickly
gathered everything together and kept on walking, to arrive at Camp 2 that same night, ready for
the evacuation the following morning.
Since the successful airlift, one of the highest aerial rescues ever, the more lightly injured have
been treated at Base Camp and many of them helicoptered out also. Several expeditions have packed
up and left, or are in the process of leaving. Of those remaining, some, like us, entertain hopes
of yet reaching the summit if weather permits. Meteorological forecasts are being sought from a
number of sources, while tentative plans are being made to leave Base Camp and head up the mountain
for the last time within the next few days. Our members are still all in excellent condition, but
the season is fast running out. [The latest spring date Everest has ever been climbed is, I believe,
the 29th of May!]