Storm Over Everest

The Hour-By-Hour Unfolding Disaster

Photo on left: Recreating the storm. (photo courtesy: Arcturus Motion Pictures), 
Photo on right: Everest as seen from the trail to Base Camp. (photo courtesy: Stephen McCarthy)

May 6
The Summit Attempt Begins

Three climbing teams -- Mountain Madness, led by Scott Fischer; Adventure Consultants, led by Rob Hall; and a national Taiwanese expedition, led by Makalu Gau -- depart Base Camp for Camp Two. They will be the first teams in 1996 to attempt a summit.

Neal Beidleman
Mountain Madness Guide

photo of Neal Beidleman

When we left Base Camp, we were all wary, of course, of mighty Everest in front of us, but certainly we were filled with hope and anticipation. And off we went. This was why we had come here; this is why we'd spent so many months on the mountain, arriving to the mountain, preparing for in those months and months beforehand, training and getting our lives ready to be here. This was it; this was our chance. So we took off, and it was a great feeling.

May 7
They Reach Camp Two

At Camp Two, the three teams have a rest day.

Lene Gammelgaard
Mountain Madness

photo of Lene Gammelgaard

I was sort of hyperventilating, and I thought, "What's going on? What's going on?" Of course, it was very, very exhausting, and there's no way you can walk fast or climb just at a normal speed. And I thought, "Well, I'm probably hyperventilating because I'm really, really tired." And then I realized that I was beginning to cry because it was so amazing. It was so stunningly beautiful, and it was so overwhelmingly happiness, whatever, bliss-giving. Of course, all the adrenalin and endorphins sort of probably kicked in. But the beauty of being high, it cannot be paralleled by anything else. It's just so tremendously beautiful.

May 8
Camp Two to Camp Three

A windstorm rips through Camp Two just as the climbers are about to leave. Mountain Madness leader Scott Fischer briefly debates whether to stay another day there, but the teams push forward.

Neal Beidleman
Mountain Madness Guide

photo of Neal Beidleman

The morning that we were going to leave Camp Two and head up onto the Lhotse Face, a tremendous windstorm came through Camp Two, and it picked up tents and anything that wasn't battened down and swirled them around. It was quite unusual to have such a strong wind at Camp Two.

Scott and I were sharing a tent, and we really wondered if we would be staying there another day or not. It was still pretty early in the morning, and we kind of let the winds subside.

And then shortly after the windstorm dissipated, Rob came by to our tent, and he told Scott that he'd decided that he was going to go up, which of course meant that we were going to go up as well because of our tied group decision. So we dressed and got ready to go, and up towards Camp Three we went.

Beck Weathers
Adventure Consultants

photo of Beck Weathers

I was optimistic. I felt calm about it. I didn't have any great sense of anxiety, fear or trepidation. I had already come pretty dad gum close to achieving everything that I actually set as a goal.

Going to the summit was never one of my goals. I wanted it, but I didn't want to put that as a goal, because I didn't think I was going to get it. And I didn't want to set something out there that was probably not going to be achieved, I decided when I went there.

One, I just wanted to be there. That was the first thing. I wanted to step on the mountain, I wanted to do some climbing on it, I want to be part of such a group. Second one was, I wanted to get through the icefall. And if I'd have just done that, I'd have been satisfied. My next goal was to get to Camp Two, and for me, the goal that I really had set as the top of my probable, achievable list was to get to Camp Four.

And so, moving out from Camp Three to Camp Four, I knew that I was going to get there. And that really had pretty much checked off everything that I realistically thought, as a 49-year-old pushing 50, that I could probably count on if I stayed healthy.

May 9 -- Daytime
The Climb to Camp Four

Wearing down suits and using supplemental oxygen for the first time, they begin the climb from Camp Three (24,500 feet) to Camp Four (26,000 feet).

Neal Beidleman
Mountain Madness Guide

photo of Neal Beidleman

Leaving Camp Three, we donned our down suits for the first time. We left some gear at Camp Three, and we headed up towards the Yellow Band and the Geneva Spur. Around the Geneva Spur is the South Col.

I was the last to leave Camp Three and kind of headed up at my own pace and started catching up and collecting people as we went. [I] definitely could feel the altitude and the strenuousness of the climb. Climbing above 24,000 into 25,000 feet is really hard. I don't care who you are, it really is. It's challenging, and it's hard work.

People think of the South Col because it's talked about so frequently as being a safe haven. There's only 14 places on earth higher than the South Col. It is not a livable environment -- it's very harsh; it's very windy. It's this huge saddle formed by Lhotse, the fourth highest peak in the world, and Everest. And the winds -- the air just wells up in the Western Cwm and spills over this thing in the Venturi effect and just scrapes the ground bare of snow and ice. It's an incredibly harsh environment.

Sandy Hill
Mountain Madness

photo of Sandy Hill

That first step out of Camp Three on May 9 was a step into a place that I'd never been. It was also the first time that we were using supplemental oxygen, which is something else that I had never done.

Using that device is a very scary thing because it's your lifeline. That's it. But you realize your air -- and with it your capacity to think and move and reason and everything else -- is coming, at least in small part -- and maybe in greater part, increasingly greater part the higher you go -- from what's being delivered by that mechanical device in that can. And that's a very slender thread to be hanging onto.

Beck Weathers
Adventure Consultants

photo of Beck Weathers

The weather at Camp Four had terrible wind. It was not storm-level winds, but there were winds that made you want to get outside and be certain that the tent had an extra set of rocks around the base of it, because it's starting to push the tent around pretty hard.

And you know that you're on the edge of storm conditions -- everybody's pretty tired; nobody wants to stand outside; it's cold. You're dehydrated, and all you really want to do is just lie down for a while. And it is a fairly discouraging place, and it's discouraging in part because you think, "We may have struggled all the way up here, and if this keeps up at all, then the whole crowd is just going to get to head back down, and party's over."

May 9 -- 4:00 P.M.
Taiwanese Climber Dies

Taiwanese climber Chen Yu-Nan slips and falls into a crevasse. He assures his team he's OK and will soon follow them up to Camp Four. But within a few hours he dies, and the news is relayed to his team leader, Makalu Gau, at the South Col.

Makalu Gau
Taiwanese Climbing Team

photo of Makalu Gau

Around 4:00 or 5:00 p.m., they told me Chen Yu-Nan died. The guy who told me this was crying, and I was in Camp Four and had no idea what to do. The two Sherpas with me in the camp also knew what had happened. At that moment, my mind was empty, and I didn't know what to do next. And the wind was blowing stronger outside.

The next morning the two Sherpas, Minma and Linma, told me that it was a bad sign to have a death on the mountain, and they didn't know what to do. I called Camp One and Camp Two to talk to Wanju and said, "What should I do? The Sherpas don't want to go up." He told me that he thought the Sherpas would go.

And then it occurred to me that Chen Yu-Nan had died, and we couldn't save him even if we did turn back. I thought things would be better if I could just reach the top. So we decided with the Sherpas, that if the weather on May 10 was better, we would climb to the summit, but if the weather was still bad, we would turn back and climb down.

May 9 -- 10:00 P.M.
The Weather Clears; the Final Decision Is Made

Team leaders Scott Fischer and Rob Hall decide to press for the summit.

Lene Gammelgaard
Mountain Madness

photo of Lene Gammelgaard

The wind had sort of died out about 8:00, 9:00 at night, that evening, and it was absolutely quiet. It was a wonderfully clear night outside and bright stars and high skies and perfect for climbing.

Lou Kasischke
Adventure Consultants

photo of Lou Kasischke

The point was we were going to leave, I think, 11:30. Be ready to go. And so I got out; I'm on the end; I'm all ready to go. Put my crampons on, tested everything, everything is ready.

And I stood there and stood there and stood there for probably a half an hour getting cold, and I never could figure out -- I ended up turning my headlamp off because I didn't want to use up the battery. To this day, I don't know what the delay was. But it was kind of a problem right out of the chute because everybody wasn't ready. And we stood around for 20 minutes to a half an hour on the col, outside of the tent, just standing there. Now, there wasn't any wind, but it was cold. It was really cold. But nevertheless, we got going.

May 9 -- After 10:00 P.M.
A Change in Plans That Has Consequences

The teams set off, but the original plan to have two Sherpas go ahead and fix ropes is abandoned, which will lead to bottlenecks later along the route.

Neal Beidleman
Mountain Madness Guide

photo of Neal Beidleman

The plan originally, as I understood it, was that both Ang Dorjee and Lopsang, the two climbing leaders of the Sherpa, would leave camp at 10:00 p.m., and they would work together, making sure that the trail was broken and the ropes were in place. Both had been to the top numerous times. They knew exactly where the rope should go, and what condition the old ropes should be in, where they might be, where the anchor points were. So we were using their experience from previous climbs to make sure that none of these bottlenecks would occur for our group as we came forward.

It's one of the challenges of climbing Everest, especially if you're the first people up for the year. The trail is not necessarily broken in; there's not a path that's beaten in; the ropes are not fixed in place. And doing all of that at the same time that you're climbing to the summit for the first time adds one more complexity. But the opposite side of that coin is that if you send strong enough people up there to fix those ropes beforehand, they may not recover and be a part of your team when you go for the summit. So it was a reasonable plan, for sure, and why Lopsang and Ang Dorjee didn't follow that plan, I still don't know today for sure.

Ang Dorjee
Mountain Madness Sherpa

photo of Ang Dorjee

We decide tomorrow we're going to summit. And then we talk a little bit about fixing line above Camp Four, and then I talk with Scott Fischer's Sherpa, Lopsang Jangbu, and then we sit together and we talk. OK, we're going to fix, you and me, we're going to fix line tomorrow morning. We may need to leave here half an hour before the other people and then we both talk. But next morning, he didn't come early. And then we had to go all together.

May 9 -- Sometime after 10:00 P.M.
Into the "Death Zone"

Now that the climbers are above Camp Four, the oxygen level is one-third that at sea level.

Lene Gammelgaard
Mountain Madness

photo of Lene Gammelgaard

In my instincts from when I started climbing that night, at the southeast ridge and for the rest of our summit bid and the way down, I was really in every, I think, cell of my body aware of the death zone. It's not just an expression; it's really where your body and your instinct and whatever might be left of your brain capacity up there due to the lack of oxygen -- you really, really know that there's no margin for error. If you make the slightest error here, you're really going to die from it, and that's probably why we call it the death zone.

Lou Kasischke
Adventure Consultants

photo of Lou Kasischke

It was cold, but you had the headlamp on, and once you got into a rhythm, I mean, it was just OK. And I remember actually feeling better than I thought I'd feel. Just once we got going, I'm not cold; I'm moving along; I'm keeping pace. Rob says, "Keep pace; you're fine." And we're just moving along.

I sensed at that point that the pace is pretty slow, which was OK. As long as I'm keeping pace, it's OK. But the pace was slower than I had expected or experienced. I knew one of two things was happening up above me. Either it's getting much harder to climb, and therefore the pace is slowing, or somebody's in trouble.

Charlotte Fox
Mountain Madness

photo of Charlotte Fox

You start up this slippery slope of unconsolidated snow over down-sloping shale, where you step up a step and you're back two steps. And sometimes your ice ax plunges in between rocks and kind of throws you off balance. Or three people stop just when you're getting into kind of a rhythm.

It's laborious. It's not very easy walking; it's not like going to the bank to cash a check. So you're in the dark, too, and you've got this headlamp beam, and all you can see is where you're looking. So you see those people stopped, or you look down just as your foot's going in between two rocks, and you struggle back up. And there's a little bit of ice crystals always in the air up high when it's cold like that.

May 10 -- Sunrise
A Pileup at the Balcony

Rob Hall has asked his team to wait and rendezvous at this point; the balcony gets crowded as climbers from the multiple teams arrive.

Beck Weathers
Adventure Consultants

photo of Beck Weathers

When the sun first comes up, it's a very welcome thing. There's something about watching the light come up the valley towards you, which is kind of like a friendly thing moving up, and you know it's going to give you warmth. It's going to give you light. It's going to give you that opportunity to go ahead and go up higher on some tougher terrain.

You also know that it's going to start sucking some energy out of you, because it can be awfully hot when you're out in the direct sunshine. And it can just pull the strength out from you. And so the sun is both a friend, and it's a foe at the same time.

But it also is a clock. And you always are conscious of that notion of, every 15 degrees, an hour has gone by. You cannot be up there during that next night. And so you've got this clock working against you. And that starts to press upon you as you think, "I've got to keep this moving, get there by this time, so I can get back down safely."

John Taske
Adventure Consultants

photo of John Taske

When I reached the balcony, it's just on dawn. There were a couple of other people from our team there and they said, "Rob has asked us to wait here."

And I've thought about this since, because sitting here just sucking gas for an hour and a half at that altitude under those conditions is basically crazy. But I'd not experienced this before, so I didn't realize just how important it was to use every moment to keep on climbing if you're capable of it.

So that was really dead time, and perhaps I should have questioned that decision. But everyone else was stopped, and I thought there must be a good reason for this, so I'll wait, too. Rob would have his reasons for it. But I didn't actually see Rob actually say that to us. I wasn't there at the time. Rob had gone to do something else, talk to other people.

Sandy Hill
Mountain Madness

photo of Sandy Hill

We got up on the balcony, and there were members of what I now know to have been the Rob Hall expedition, and it might have been members of other expeditions, too. I had had so little contact with any of the other expeditions that were on the mountain that year that, even at that point, I was unable to identify where any of these other people came from.

But there were people that were standing on the balcony, and the balcony is not a terribly large place. I was thinking, "It is a magnificent view from here," but at the same time, I was a little disappointed at how crowded it was there on that balcony and disappointed that our team didn't have the balcony to ourselves.

May 10
Beck Weathers Forced to End Summit Attempt

Suffering from the aftereffects of eye surgery, Beck realizes he's not going to be able to summit. He tells team leader Rob Hall he will sit and wait for him to come back down.

Beck Weathers
Adventure Consultants

photo of Beck Weathers

I noticed problems with my vision when I moved into Base Camp. There wasn't any question that something was different at this altitude. I'd brought glasses and stuff to read, and when I put them on, the prescription was just off. It was as if I brought somebody else's glasses. So right off the bat, I knew that whatever the issue was, that my normal state of vision wasn't there anymore. And I noticed that I had much greater problems when I was trying to climb in darkness, that my night adaptability was drastically diminished. And I noted that as I moved up higher, then it seemed to get worse.

I just wasn't in a position to continue the climb. And frankly, it was OK. I'd done more than I thought I was going to do. I was not unhappy with what had occurred. And going to the summit of Everest, while it sounds better sitting in Dallas, you know, a lot of guys have been there, and nobody knows who they are. And nobody [who] even knew who I was cared one way or the other whether I'd went to the summit or I didn't go to the summit. The only person who would care would be me, and obviously, that wasn't going to happen. But I really did not mind staying there. It sounds like a big imposition to stay on the balcony all day, but it is one of the most gorgeous places on earth.

Sitting there was almost like a day at the beach. If I'd had a lounge chair, then it would have been perfect, because you're very warm, it's pleasant, there's no wind, you've got this incredible view. And if they could have just transplanted me and sent me there for the day, I'd have been perfectly happy to have done that several times. It was just delightful.

May 10 -- 7:00-10:00 A.M.
Neal Beidleman Helps Fix Ropes

In an effort to keep the climbers moving, the Mountain Madness guide steps in to help the Sherpas fix the ropes leading up the steep slope to the South Summit.

Neal Beidleman
Mountain Madness Guide

photo of Neal Beidleman

I didn't think of it as a huge deal at the time as long as the ropes got fixed. If people started getting stacked up behind this rope fixing, that would become a real problem. But I did everything I could to get up as high on the mountain to where these ropes needed to be fixed and get them in place so nobody would have to wait.

May 10 -- 10:00 A.M.
First Arrivals on South Summit

Weather conditions are good when Neal Beidleman and the first climbers get to the South Summit. But as more climbers arrive, the wind picks up.

Neal Beidleman
Mountain Madness Guide

photo of Neal Beidleman

When I arrived at the South Summit, it was still, in my estimation, a beautiful day. There was a little bit of a condensation cloud off of the ridge, there was some wind, but nothing that was out of the ordinary. I sat down, took a few pictures. I was very comfortable there.

I was a little bit nervous about the clock, and I think that's just normal anxiety about the clock, period. When you're climbing, you're always racing against that clock. But I was there, and there was not much I could do about helping other people get there any faster.

My assessment of the conditions were that they looked reasonable. I'd not been there before, but it seemed like the snow was fairly condensed. It looked like we were not going to be wallowing through deep snow. It looked like a reasonable approach to the Hillary Step.

Charlotte Fox
Mountain Madness

photo of Charlotte Fox

Upon arriving at the South Summit, there was wind. I mean, it was bracing, but it wasn't knock-you-over wind. It was pretty much enough to send a plume off of the summit and off the side of the ridge between us and the Hillary Step, but not anything that would knock you off. And the air was clear. There were no clouds. It was looking fine out. Clear and cold, just with a strong, steady breeze.

Michael Groom
Adventure Consultants Guide

photo of Michael Groom

I was very concerned about the strength of the wind having built up in the 45 minutes that I had been waiting on the South Summit. And I expressed my concern to Rob by telling him that, "In the time that I've been sitting here, the wind has really picked up," and I felt that we needed to make a decision and think seriously about heading back down, because that was my assessment of the situation.

It didn't concern me as a solo climber. If I was climbing by myself, I knew from experience that this is the sort of thing you expect on top of these big mountains. But in this guiding situation, the fact that it picked up fairly quickly was a concern for me at the time.

May 10 -- Midday
Three Decide to Turn Back

Lou Kasischke, John Taske and Stuart Hutchison, all members of Rob Hall's team, decide it's getting too late in the day for them to reach the summit by the turnaround time.

John Taske
Adventure Consultants

photo of John Taske

I reached just a touch below the South Summit at 11:30. I sat down and waited until the rope cleared. That took 20 to 30 minutes; they were so slow. And in that time, I relatively got more oxygen.

Sitting down with a constant flow of two liters per minute, if your breathing settles, you're getting more oxygen. The hypoxic pain and everything else settled down and I started to think and make what's called a "military appreciation," I suppose is on automatic. And I thought, "If I keep going now, I'll be out of oxygen -- get to the summit, but I'll be coming back down to the South Col in the dark and without oxygen and more tired than I am now."

And I basically made my decision up to say this is -- the turnaround time was 1:00, and some people had said 2:00, but even at the best, because it was now midday, I would not be on the summit until 3:00, perhaps later. The risks were escalating for me. I'm prepared to take some risks, but they were getting beyond what was acceptable to me.

I felt I had the bottle to get to the top. I was very tired, but I don't think any more tired than anybody else. And the desire to get to the summit is enormous. I'd spent six years training, huge amounts of money. Six weeks of slog to get to where I was and to miss out by 200 vertical meters was more than I could bear.

But the military training kicked in, and you had to weigh that up against other thoughts that were going through my mind. When you get to the summit, you're only halfway there. That's an old climbing adage. More people die on the way down than die on the way to the summit. All these things were balanced in my mind. But the military appreciation is if you make a plan in cold, unemotional, logical sequence, unless something desperately goes wrong, you don't vary that plan, because all sorts of other dangers come along. So you don't vary the plan. The plan was to be on the summit by 1:00 or 2:00 [p.m.]. If you weren't there by 1:00 or 2:00 or could not see yourself on the summit by 1:00 or 2:00, turn around. And so although that was hard, the decision was clear.

Lou Kasischke
Adventure Consultants

photo of Lou Kasischke

My thoughts at that point in time were: "OK, I know the right thing to do here is turn around. It's past the turnaround time, past my ability to get back in daylight, so it should be obvious what to do." The problem that I faced was, that isn't what I wanted to do.

Those moments I'll never forget, because they're etched in my mind forever, the struggle. It was a struggle at that point within myself, a struggle of the voices, the one force and voice inside of me saying: "Just do it, go for it, come on, 120 minutes, what's the big deal? Besides, others are still going, so it must be OK." All those voices were at work.

But there was another voice, and another voice was saying: "Wait a minute, think for yourself. It's getting too late. You committed to the turnaround time; you're committed to Sandy to come back home." All those struggles were on my mind back and forth.

May 10 -- 1:00 P.M.
First Climbers Reach Summit

At 1:25, guide Neal Beidleman arrives on the summit. Among the first group of climbers to arrive are Anatoli Boukreev, Jon Krakauer, Martin Adams, Andy Harris and Klev Schoening.

Neal Beidleman
Mountain Madness Guide

photo of Neal Beidleman

I took a few photographs and really took in the vastness of the world that you can see from up there. It's just an amazing place. It's the top of the world, literally. And I turned around and had a conversation with Anatoli about a couple of things. We shook hands and congratulated each other. Each of us walked just off the summit down to a little exposed area of shale and picked up a few rocks, summit rocks, and put them in our pockets.

And then as the clock ticked, Anatoli came over to me -- it was probably maybe half an hour or so after I arrived -- and said that he was going to descend. And I kind of thought for a second, "Wow, well, not everybody's here." But, you know, it's nearly 2:00 now, or right at 2:00, and two of our clients had been there, had made it to the summit, two of the six that started. And I had no idea what attrition had happened below on the mountain.

May 10
Bottleneck at the Hillary Step

There's a delay at the last big obstacle before the summit -- a 40-foot ice-and-rock wall known as the Hillary Step. Modern-day climbers use fixed ropes to climb it.

Sandy Hill
Mountain Madness

photo of Sandy Hill

There was a very confusing jumble of ropes on the Hillary Step. I'm not sure whether they were the ropes from the expeditions that were on the mountain that day or whether they were ropes that had been abandoned from previous expeditions. But there were many ropes that were blowing around, and it was very difficult to tell which ones were actually tied in and which ones had been, in fact, just iced in, which would have made for an unsafe hold. So I was confused and relieved when another member of the expedition came up behind me and helped do a little sorting out on that issue.

Makalu Gau
Taiwanese Climbing Team

photo of Makalu Gau

Because this was my first time to climb the South Summit from Nepal, I asked a Sherpa, "Where is the Hillary Step?" He said it was still in front of us. I asked how long it would take to get there, and the Sherpas said around one to two hours.

Then I saw the climbers from the American team and New Zealand team in front of us. Some were not moving at all, and some were moving very slowly. I understood that it was very high and they couldn't walk as easily as on the flat land. I thought, if it's just one or two hours, I could do it. Plus, there were some Sherpas from the American team and the New Zealand team who were carrying oxygen, and maybe some team members also had some. So I thought, what I should do is concentrate on climbing and reach the top and not think about anything else. I would only concentrate and hope that I would succeed.

May 10 -- 2:00 P.M.
The Summit Gets Crowded

More climbers reach the summit, including Sandy Hill, Charlotte Fox, Lene Gammelgaard and Yasuko Namba. On the way down, guide Michael Groom spots Rob Hall's client, Doug Hansen, 70 meters below the summit.

Sandy Hill
Mountain Madness

photo of Sandy Hill

I kept thinking like, "That must be it. Look at that: It's the tallest thing on the horizon," never mind the fact that the horizon was maybe an eighth of a mile away and only 5-foot elevation gain. But I would think, "That must be it." And then I'd get there to that spot that I'd been fixing on only to find that wasn't it. And then I'd get all jazzed and see the next highest thing on the horizon and think: "That one's got to be it. That has really got to be it."

Nobody described all these false summits to me, but this has to be it. And so I'd say, "I can make it that far for sure; that's it. But I wonder where all the people are?" And then I'd get that far, not very far, not very much higher, and lo and behold, that wasn't the highest spot either. This happened about four or five times until finally the last time, I could see that it was the summit because there were people up there, and there were flags and bits and pieces of things like you find on summits. So I knew then that that was the real one.

Lene Gammelgaard
Mountain Madness

photo of Lene Gammelgaard

We were a lot of people up there. There were a lot of people from Rob Hall's expedition, and we were, I don't know, four, five people from our expedition.

I recall from also the pictures that were taken of me and my team, friends on the summit, that I was sitting down and then really taking care that my crampons were really fixed on the side, because there was not really room for me to sit safely and comfortably anywhere. So I was kind of sort of hanging on with my butt and my crampons in the snow wall there, not to slide a couple of kilometers down to Camp Three, where I didn't want -- or Camp Two, [where] I didn't want to be at this point in time.

And at this point, it was still a perfect day -- no wind, clear blue sky. So we were -- I won't say I was having fun, because I was always, always, always, always, always overwhelmingly conscious of this is serious business and this is the death zone and this is the highest mountain and my accomplishment is kind of successful when I'm safe down. So that never, ever slipped out of my mind at any point.

Michael Groom
Adventure Consultants Guide

photo of Michael Groom

I left the summit at 2:30, maybe 20 to 3:00. I saw Doug Hansen 70 meters in the distance below the summit. He was going as well as anyone on the day. I mean, unless he hit the wall in that last 70 meters, which he could have, ... it may have taken him at the very most another 20 minutes, at the very most, to climb that last gentle, reasonably gentle 70 meters to the summit.

May 10 -- 2:00 P.M.
Beck Weathers Waits on the Balcony

As Lou Kasischke, John Taske and Stuart Hutchison descend, they find Beck Weathers still on the balcony. Beck declines their offer of help, saying he'll wait, as promised, for Rob Hall.

John Taske
Adventure Consultants

photo of John Taske

When Lou and Stuart and I started heading down, we reached the balcony where we'd waited for the period that Rob asked us to, and Beck was there. I didn't realize that Beck had not moved from there. And Beck then told us that he couldn't see and had promised to wait for Rob. The wind was starting to come up a little at that stage, as I remember it, so we said, "Beck, come on down with us." And Beck said: "No, no, I've basically given my word. I'll wait for Rob. I'll stay here and wait for him."

In good weather, that would have been obviously the right decision to make, because Rob was more experienced; Rob had a rope so he could have short-roped Beck down. We'd have had all sorts of trouble getting Beck down over the tricky bits between the three of us. And, in fact, it would probably have slowed us down so that the storm would have hit before we got to the col.

So even though in retrospect it cost Beck various parts of his anatomy, if there had been no storm, it would have been the right decision. In the event, it was the right decision for us, because we would have been tied up in the storm. Unfortunately, Beck would have caught it whichever way it went.

Lou Kasischke
Adventure Consultants

photo of Lou Kasischke

John Taske was just right in front of me. We basically came to the balcony together, and there was Beck. And it wasn't, "Oh, Beck." Hey, yeah, I forgot all about Beck. And the immediate concern was whether anybody had anything to drink. We were very dehydrated, very thirsty; anybody got anything to drink? My water bottle's a frozen block of ice in my backpack. It was more thinking about what are we going to drink, and we've got a ways to go yet, and "Beck, you're still here?" "Yeah." "OK, you want to come down with us?" "No." Yeah. It wasn't an alarm; it wasn't serious, "Oh, well, somebody's got to rescue Beck." I didn't think of it in those terms. I didn't think that at this time of day that we had an epic on our hands. I didn't think that all of this was going to happen. I mean, Beck's here, but he didn't want to go down with us because we didn't have a rope.

Beck Weathers
Adventure Consultants

photo of Beck Weathers

It was OK for them to go back and sit in the tent, but I figured, two hours more, three hours maybe, we're going to have a stream of folks coming back by. And at that point, everybody's day is going to be coming to an end, and I would just move down with the group, and then you'll be part of that little ensemble that comes down the face. It's not threatening. I wasn't frightened at all. Nothing was out there to concern you.

May 10 -- Sometime After 3:00 P.M.
The Descent Begins

As the teams come down from the summit, another bottleneck occurs at the Hillary Step, with some climbers still ascending while others are waiting to descend.

Charlotte Fox
Mountain Madness

photo of Charlotte Fox

People were enjoying the day. The day was beautiful. There wasn't a cloud out there. And so we thought we had time. There was a concern, though, particularly with Neal and with myself, that: "OK, we've made it. Let's go home. We're only halfway on this climb. You've gotten to the top, but you've got to get down."

And eventually, Scott did come into view, came to the summit. We left him there. Lopsang stayed with him, and the rest of us began to descend, because we knew it was going to take a little bit of time yet, even though it was downhill. Sure enough, we got to the Hillary Step, and there was still an enormous bottleneck of people trying to come over from the South Summit and up the Hillary Step. And we had to wait there for quite a while to pick our number, to go down and through that area. And after that, we were running really late, and here came the storm, as we got lower on the mountain.

Lene Gammelgaard
Mountain Madness

photo of Lene Gammelgaard

Around the corner from the South Summit, the weather changes. We're sort of climbing down into sort of a cloud cover that's unfortunately not only clouds -- because very often when you're up high, you climb up to the clouds just as if you're in an airplane and you're going up to a certain altitude and then above that, it's blue skies. But here, we were not climbing into the skies and then out on the other side. We were climbing into a very, very bizarre wind and storm that already had dropped a lot of new snow that was sort of very much like brown soap, sort of a mixture of popcorn and brown soap, very, very slippery.

Now the sort of fun-hearted adventure is over; now what I feared most of all, what I really prepared myself for and what I wished was never going to happen in real life, now we are in the middle of it. This is the seriousness of climbing a high mountain, ending up in an unexpected storm. So this is pure survival.

Sandy Hill
Mountain Madness

photo of Sandy Hill

At a certain point on the way down, I remember feeling that my thinking was becoming clouded. It was in simple things like not remembering which pocket of my pack I'd put my water in, whether it was the right or the left. And I had enough of my faculties about me to realize that that was a symptom of my circumstances there, whether it was hypoxia, dehydration, malnutrition, sheer exhaustion, whatever. But that inability to remember simple things like that -- which I always remember, but they were eluding me then -- was telling me that I was less and less sure-footed.

May 10 -- 4:00 P.M.
Rob Hall & Doug Hansen Still High on the Mountain

Three hours past the turnaround time, Rob radios Base Camp to say that he and Doug are still at the top of the Hillary Step.

Helen Wilton
Adventure Consultants Base Camp Support

photo of Helen Wilton

[Rob] was obviously with someone in trouble, but he didn't say who, and we just surmised that it was Doug, but we didn't know for sure. So we held our breath because we weren't sure whether this was going to be OK or was going to turn out to be OK after a few minutes or not. So it was a breath-holding time.

That was dispelled after another 15 minutes, and it was definitely an urgent call for help at 4:30. And everything started to mobilize from then.

May 10 -- Sometime after 4:00 P.M.
Sandy Hill Gets Sick

During the descent, Sandy Hill develops a case of acute mountain sickness; Charlotte Hill gives her a shot of dexamethasone to revive her.

Neal Beidleman
Mountain Madness Guide

photo of Neal Beidleman

I'd been above the South Summit from 10:00 that morning until now after 4:00. It's more than six hours, maybe six hours and 15 minutes or something like that. It's a huge amount of time to spend at nearly 29,000 feet. Half of that I had my oxygen off, and my bottle soon ran out, just minutes after leaving the South Summit. So I'm imploring people now to get going, to just keep moving. Let's go as quickly as we can, but safely, but let's not stop.

Charlotte Fox
Mountain Madness

photo of Charlotte Fox

Coming down from the South Summit, before we got to the last fixed ropes and the storm came in, I encountered Sandy down again, lying on the ridge. And I could tell that she had acute mountain sickness then; she was not moving very well, not speaking very well, and basically very confused, a sign of cerebral edema.

And as we had been taught to do, I pulled out a syringe of dexamethasone. We kept them in little toothpaste holders in our pockets just in case this happened, and inside our coats so that they were warm, and the liquid didn't freeze. I pulled that out, and we had sort of practiced in Base Camp that you pinch a muscle of the butt, and you really want it intramuscularly, and make sure that you get into that to deliver the liquid.

So I unzipped the rainbow zipper to her rear end, and knew she had layers of pile on, but that the needle would go right through that. And I just took a wing back and gave it to her. She was so out of it, she hardly flinched. But within five minutes, she was coming around. It worked; it cleared her head, reduced some of the pressure that was causing it, her cerebral edema. And by the time Neal got to us, he was able to take a hold of the back of her harness and help work her further down as Tim and I moved ahead together.

May 10 -- Dusk
Beck Weathers Develops Hypothermia

Beck, still sitting on the balcony waiting for Rob Hall, becomes hypothermic; his vision worsens. Descending with client Yasuko Namba, guide Michael Groom attaches Beck to a short rope to help him down.

Beck Weathers
Adventure Consultants

photo of Beck Weathers

When the day went on, and the light started to go out of the sky, and you're beginning to see that time of day when the mountain is transitioning from day toward night, and nobody's shown up, this is way too long. And not only that, because the sun is beginning to move away from you, that warmth that I'd enjoyed all during the day now was starting to go away. And I'm not moving. And it doesn't take a lot of getting colder, when you're not actually moving around, to start having an effect on you.

And then my eyesight, of course, did not go from good to bad again instantly. It just shaded off to where I now had real concerns about whether I could see well enough if I just bolted out of here and headed down, which still would have been the right thing to do. But I was concerned that I really couldn't see that well anymore.

And it became apparent to me that I was starting to go into fairly serious hypothermia. One, I was beginning to shiver pretty hard, and all that comfort had left. And I began to hallucinate. And so I could see a couple of different fields moving and transitioning and flowing across. And I had this enormous sense of apathy that was settling in. It wasn't -- I didn't have any sense of dread at all. I just had this sense that I'm sitting here, and I'm watching this. I know it's not real, that these images that I'm seeing in front of my face aren't really existing.

And I realized that I could easily sit here and just simply never get up. And the thing about it was, it did not disturb me. It didn't frighten me that I was thinking, you know, I'm probably sitting here, and I may never get up. I was completely apathetic. The combination of seeing things and recognizing that I didn't seem to care, you think would alarm you, but in fact I was detached. I just was saying, "Isn't that interesting? How odd." And at that point, Mike and Yasuko came down.

May 10 -- Dusk
Lou Kasischke, Stu Hutchinson and John Taske Find the Tents

The three climbers who turned back early find Camp Four just as the storm hits.

John Taske
Adventure Consultants

photo of John Taske

As I looked down from the mass of the mountain onto the col, the tents were only 300, 400 meters away. And behind them was this wall of snow and storm swirling, coming towards the tents. Within 15 seconds of getting off the mountain and onto the col, the front of the storm had reached me, and visibility was down to 15, 20 meters. By the time I'd made it halfway, within 100, 200 meters, it was basically whiteout conditions. Fortunately, I had a sense of direction and a bead on the tents, so I made it to them, but otherwise I would have been lost.

The noise was unbelievable. It was like a dozen express trains coming. The disorientation that comes with being like swimming in a bottle of milk basically, you can't even see where your feet are on the ground. You really had a sense of urgency. "This is not good, and if I don't keep my wits about me, I could be in big trouble here." And within a couple of minutes, coming across the tents, was a great relief. At least you knew you'd get some shelter inside the tents.

May 10 -- 5:00 P.M.
Rob Hall & Doug Hansen Still High on the Mountain

Base Camp has two radio transmissions with Rob, who is still not moving down the mountain. There is no indication of Doug's condition; Guy Cotter suggests that Rob leave Doug behind and start to descend.

Guy Cotter
Adventure Consultants Base Camp Support

photo of Guy Cotter

At 5:14, I radioed Rob and said, "Are you moving?" And the response I got from Rob was "Yeah." However, at 5:35, I radioed Rob again, and he was still in the same place. And that was when the alarm bells really started going off in my head, because things weren't happening. Rob was not able to move Doug, and I don't know what condition Doug was in; nobody does. There was no indication from Rob what had happened to Doug at that stage. He did not give us any update about Doug's condition. So that was when I felt that things were really starting to unravel.

Ten minutes later, I indicated to Rob that, you know, he probably should carry on moving down, that maybe he should leave Doug. It was a very difficult thing to say to somebody, they should leave their client. But if there was no action happening anyway, and Rob was the only rescuer there and he wasn't able to do anything, the first rule of the rescuer is to look after yourself.

May 10 -- Sometime after 5:00 P.M.
The Teams Merge; Conditions Worsen

With Camp Four still in sight, guide Neal Beidleman takes responsibility for Yasuko Namba from guide Michael Groom, who has his hands full helping Beck Weathers descend.

Neal Beidleman
Mountain Madness Guide

photo of Neal Beidleman

At this point, it's pretty clear that things are falling apart. Now we've got Sandy, who's starting to recover, but clearly, you know, not where she was just prior to this. There are people moving on the mountain now, and it's really hard for me to even see who I need to try to help or, you know, who's in our group. People are moving in and out from different teams as we go down.

It's hard enough for an individual, I know speaking personally, to keep myself together and to make sure I'm concentrating and not tripping over my crampons and slipping off. And now there's all these people. There's all these distractions, and I remember thinking to myself, "There's so much going on here, I don't even know who to pay attention to and who to watch out for."

Beck Weathers
Adventure Consultants

photo of Beck Weathers

By the time that Mike showed up with Yasuko, it was pretty clear to me that I needed to be -- if nothing else, I needed to have somebody clearly there to show me where the route was. I couldn't see it well enough any longer to know where I was going. And I wasn't seeing my feet worth a damn. And going downhill when you're half blind is -- it's difficult. I've done it before, and it can be pretty scary.

So Mike got Yasuko with Neal so he could watch after her, and he short-roped me, which is to basically put me on a short tether, so if I decide I want to walk off the face of the mountain, then we'd at least be going together as friends.

May 10 -- 6:00 P.M.
The Storm Rolls in

As the climbers reach the steep ice pitch just above Camp Four, the storm intensifies, and they lose sight of the tents.

Charlotte Fox
Mountain Madness

photo of Charlotte Fox

This came out of the jungles. We'd seen it a lot of days like this, where it just boils up and everything becomes white. But this had thunder and lightning, and it boiled upward, and it started to crack. And there's lightning and really loud thunder, and I'm thinking, "This is really not what you want to see at 8,000 meters." So we tried to hurry it up some more, but of course people are failing at that point, and we're trying to help people along.

I remember getting to the top of the last fixed rope at right about 6:00, checked my watch. I looked at my headlamp. It was getting dark. Everyone had said, "Don't bring an extra headlamp battery; it's weight." Well, in my experience, I thought it was a few ounces that could make a difference, and it turns out it did. So I changed out the battery, and we headed down. And I could see that people were just stacked up on the ropes; they were collapsed; they were sliding. People were helping people down as it grew darker and darker.

Sandy Hill
Mountain Madness

photo of Sandy Hill

We had all watched the wind on the South Col from Base Camp for all the days preceding. All the days of our expedition, there is wind at sunset coming off the top of Everest. So it didn't seem like anything extraordinary. And because one naturally looks up for storms, and that's the direction I was looking, it didn't seem like a storm could possibly be a danger at that point.

But in as long as it took me to recount that to you just now, it all went white. And suddenly, those bright-colored tents were not only gone, but it was almost impossible to make out the identity of a person who was 6, 8, 10 feet in front of me, and farther than that, impossible.

Instantly, we were in -- it felt like a sea of milk. You simply couldn't see anything, and it became more important than ever that we stayed close. And I think that was very, very clear to all the members of our team who, if they had not heard Scott's words before -- "Stick together like a Boy Scout troop" -- I know that's what I was thinking, because without the ability to hone in on camp with my two eyes, I didn't know which direction we were headed. So once we were in the whiteout, I certainly had to rely on the instincts of others.

Michael Groom
Adventure Consultants Guide

photo of Michael Groom

And then more members of the Scott Fischer team caught up to us. And for some stupid reason, I decided not to keep my bearing on Camp Four, and I decided to follow the others in front of me.

And then I remember we became very low on light, and the wind really picked up, as it often does on the South Col. I mean, the South Col is just like a wind tunnel, and the wind, the jet stream wind just howled through the South Col.

And I recall a moment of not hope, but a moment of "We're almost there," because we came across an old oxygen cylinder, which sort of indicated to me that we were getting close to Camp Four.

But after that, things just got worse. It was dark, and the visibility was down to nothing. Beck lost his gloves, or one of his gloves, so I had to give him one of mine. I had to keep my hand in my down suit so it didn't freeze. And then we just became hopelessly lost with the rest of the group, which I don't recall the numbers, but it probably would have been at least a dozen other climbers.

May 10 -- 6:00 P.M.
Makalu Gau Meets Scott Fischer

Below the South Summit, Makalu comes across Scott, who is not walking but sitting and sliding down the ice.

Makalu Gau
Taiwanese Climbing Team

photo of Makalu Gau

At the beginning, all of us, the two Sherpas and I, had headlamps, but now they were running out of batteries. And it's windy at that time, just like a cyclone in Taiwan. And it was snowy. I couldn't see the two Sherpas, so I called their names loudly, "Minma, Linma." But it was too windy, and I guess they couldn't hear me, so I thought after they found the way back, they would come back to me and bring me to the camp. So I waited there, but the wind was too strong and I almost fell down.

I started to walk slowly, thinking that the closer I could get to Camp Four, the better. But it was very slippery, and it was dark. I thought if I fell down from the mountain, I would die, so I decided to stay.

Then the guys behind me were getting closer. A Sherpa was not walking, but moving on the ice on his butt. He was dragging the rope behind to protect Scott and moving slowly. Then I heard, "Scott, are you OK?" And he kept shouting it. As he was getting closer, I thought this was a good opportunity because they had headlamps. So I asked where they were going, and he said they were going to South Col. Then I asked if I could follow them. I thought it shouldn't be a problem because I didn't need them to drag me with the rope; I just needed to follow them because they had the headlamps. He said OK, and I was very glad.

Then I got closer to the Sherpa, and he sat on the ice. At that time it was very windy and snowy. He didn't move, and shouted to Scott, "Scott, move, move!" But Scott didn't move. Then he walked down to Scott. When Scott moved a little bit, the Sherpa stood up and started walking. Then I just followed him. And after a little while, we stopped because Scott stopped moving. I said to myself, "It doesn't matter, because they are going back to South Col today; if I just follow them, I'll get back to South Col, too." So we just waited there.

May 10 -- Sometime Around 7:00 P.M.
The Group Becomes Lost on the South Col

Weak and tired, about a dozen climbers wander the South Col trying to get their bearings on Camp Four as the storm rages.

Beck Weathers
Adventure Consultants

photo of Beck Weathers

I didn't think getting to the camp was going to be desperate, because the weather conditions, while they're deteriorating, are in and of themselves -- the wind and the cold -- not that bad. I mean, if you've been in these places before, you're in a lot worse conditions than this and not concerned about them at all.

It's not the immediate condition I think that you're sensing so much as it is-- I don't think it's a foreshadowing, but there is a sense that things are starting to move in the wrong direction, and at a quicker pace. And once you know when you get on the col, it's such a small place, relatively speaking, that what kind of weather can come in there that is going to make it where you cannot move toward the camp? It's just inconceivable to me that we're going to come into something where the cold and the wind is going to be able to do that, short of just blowing us completely off our feet and off the mountain.

Neal Beidleman
Mountain Madness Guide

photo of Neal Beidleman

The wind on the col was ferocious. It was blowing extremely hard and gusting even stronger. Of course, we were very tired, in a weakened state. We had crampons on our feet and were walking around rocks that are frozen into Coke-bottle ice.

And so we're quite clumsy as it is, but the wind certainly knocked us down many times. It was very hard to stand up against the wind. And even though at times we knew we had to move into the wind, our tendencies were to turn our backs to the wind and let it assist us in our walking. It was like being sandblasted from the little ice particles of the spindrift that came with the wind and extremely cold. My eyes froze together many times, eyelashes together from my own breath, the humidity in my breath.

It was extremely dangerous to expose any bare skin into the wind, and hence we all tried to avoid that. So we're walking with hands above our arms sheltering our eyes or actually looking away from the direction that we're walking and being buffeted around. It was incredibly hard to try to maintain a course or any kind of mental bearing because the only thing that was constant was the wind.

Sandy Hill
Mountain Madness

photo of Sandy Hill

We all knew how long it looked like it would take to get to those tents, and we were walking in the whiteout for longer than that. It became obvious that we weren't just going to bump into the tents; we had to do some thinking about how to get to those tents. I certainly wasn't prepared to do that. I was planning on relying on my line of sight to get me there, and that was impossible.

So there were some ideas that we would turn to the right, that we would turn to the left, that we would go this way, that we would backtrack. And after a time, it became apparent that we weren't getting anyplace, any closer, necessarily, to where we intended to go and that we were walking on very dangerous ground. And I was very familiar with the fact that the South Col is slightly larger than a couple of football fields and that the dropoff on at least two sides of that football field is extremely severe.

At a certain point, the collective wisdom was that we should stop walking and stay put and to wait until somebody got some real positive signs about what direction we should go.

May 10 -- Overnight
The Group Becomes "the Huddle"

Lost and disoriented in the whiteout conditions, and in danger of walking off the side of the mountain, guide Neal Beidleman recommends they sit and huddle to stay warm.

Neal Beidleman
Mountain Madness Guide

photo of Neal Beidleman

Finally, I just had this premonition that somebody, one of us, was going to take the wrong step and fall off the face on either side. I wasn't even sure exactly what direction we were facing anymore. So I just yelled to everybody to sit down: "We've got to huddle up. Put your backs to the wind; let's try to regroup a little bit." Like the previous night and the other nights, eventually the storm would dissipate enough that we could get ourselves together. As bad as it was, we could get ourselves together and make the short distance back to the tents. I mean, we were on the South Col. It's big, but it's not that big.

So we did. We got together and we sat down on this craggy, rocky, barren, hard ice and snow covered landscape that was now in the dark. When the lights would shine down, all you would see is just particles of ice whipping by like you're driving 60 miles an hour in a blizzard. There were just lines of snow going across in front of the lights.

Charlotte Fox
Mountain Madness

photo of Charlotte Fox

I began giving up hope on the whole situation about the time we sat down and tried to wait out the terrible storm, because it was just so brutal. I just didn't know how many hours, as depleted as I was, that I could endure anymore. It was so bitterly, bitterly cold for this Southern girl.

And as we sat there and tried to stimulate each other, beating each other on our backs, and flapping our arms and legs to stay warm, I just became tireder and tireder and had less and less hope. So I turned inward and just decided to go into that hypothermic sleep that's so comfortable, that people mention when they're dying of hypothermia. And it just seemed like the easiest thing to do, rather than endure any more pain. And so I started letting myself slip away, but it wasn't happening as quickly as I would have liked. I was still in so much pain.

Beck Weathers
Adventure Consultants

photo of Beck Weathers

My right hand ceased to function and I couldn't make it move. And so I thought: "Well, I know how to solve this problem. I've been cold like this, so that your body parts cease to work." And so I was just going to take off the gloves for a little bit, and take my arm and stick it up underneath my coat, up against my chest, and then hang onto it until I could feel my hand move again. And then I would know that it was OK, because if I could make it move, it was going to work OK. It wasn't going to be awful frostbite.

And I pulled the gloves off. But I'd never had that kind of force of wind and cold coming at me. And you can feel when it hit that little bit of my arm now, which doesn't have all that extra glove stuff on it. I mean, you could just feel it crawling up your arm. It's like you've taken the thing and were freezing it, and it was just moving up, inch by inch, all of a sudden. And I wasn't smart enough to take that glove and clip it on. And I lost the grip. And it went instantly out of space. And you went, pow! It's gone.

May 10 -- Overnight
Makalu Gau Radios for Help

Makalu tries to call Camp Four but doesn't succeed.

Makalu Gau
Taiwanese Climbing Team

photo of Makalu Gau

When I was sitting there, it was windy and snowy. Then I started shaking, and didn't feel comfortable sitting there. So I lay down and felt better, thinking I should find a cave or a big rock or a big ice block to hide behind. But then I thought there shouldn't be any around.

So I started to look for something and then found a wireless radio in my pocket. I was wearing three gloves on each hand, so I took off one from one hand so that it was easier to turn on the radio. Then I spoke on the radio loudly: "Hello, camp? Hello, camp?" But it was too windy. And I shouted until I felt pain in my throat, then I thought it was out of battery, so I put it back.

At that time I had a hard time breathing, so I put on the oxygen mask, but it was even harder to breathe with the mask on, and I realized that there was no oxygen left in the bottle. I thought the oxygen mask was useless now, so I took it off and put it away in my bag. But the wind was so strong that it blew the snow onto my face, so I hid back in my jacket, and started shaking because of the cold.

May 10 -- Overnight
Radio Contact Between the Huddle & Camp Four

Guide Michael Groom has a radio and contacts teammates at Camp Four for directions; they try flashing lights, but they're impossible to see in the storm.

Michael Groom
Adventure Consultants Guide

photo of Michael Groom

I knew we were frustratingly close, like within 100 or 200 meters, my guess at the time was. My radio was functioning. I'd now climbed down out of the radio shadow caused by the South Summit, and I had a fully functioning radio, and I was speaking to Camp Four. I was asking for all sorts of help, but I didn't expect them to come out into the storm and try and find us, because they would have ended up like us, hopelessly lost and disoriented.

And that's when I spoke to Stuart to ask him, you know, "Have you got a torch or a camera flash that you can set off so we might be able to see the light in the storm?" Which he did, I'm sure, a couple of times. But the visibility was so poor that we didn't pick up anything.

John Taske
Adventure Consultants

photo of John Taske

Several people had radios -- I didn't have a radio -- so we could hear later on in the evening on the radios people calling out for some indication of where they were lost. They felt they were on the South Col, but they were lost. And so we would get out as a group and shine our headlamps into the storm. But we needed a strobe light; the headlamps didn't penetrate this more than 10 meters, so it was basically a useless exercise.

But getting outside, while the conditions were unbelievable, within no time flat, the thin piece of skin between your goggles and the oxygen mask just froze. And you couldn't communicate. It was wonderful; you couldn't even get the comfort of a companion to talk things over because the noise was so loud that you had to take your oxygen mask off and scream to be heard, and even conversation became exhausting.

So everyone gave up on that and retreated into their own little world, wondering what was going to happen to them. I thought quite often about the people trapped out there and there was nothing we could do. To head off into those conditions, you'd just kill yourself. You'd lose your sense of direction within 50 meters and not survive. And I thought, this is absolutely hopeless.

May 10/11
A Few Finally Reach Camp Four

With a brief break in the storm, Klev Schoening and Neal Beidleman correctly guess Camp Four's location. They relay directions to rescue the others.

Neal Beidleman
Mountain Madness Guide

photo of Neal Beidleman

But when we left that huddle, it was no sure bet that we were going to make it to Camp Four. We could see Everest and Lhotse; we could make them out. And after trying to refocus our eyes and get our wits about ourselves just somewhat, Klev Schoening and I sort of -- I don't know, we just came up with this direction. Klev was very, very forceful in his thinking. I had been trying to stand people up and had looked up just a little bit before that, and Klev was standing there for a long time pondering which direction the camp might be. And we discussed it, and he was very forceful in his reasoning, and I concurred.

And when we got there, I recognized a person walking to me. It was Anatoli, and we had words, and he was like, "Neal, Neal." It was very emotional, but a different kind of emotion than I felt at the top when I was completely lucid. I was in this kind of numb state of just exhaustion and cold and trying to get my wits about me as well. And he said, "Are you OK?" I remember talking, but not very well. My face was so cold, my mouth was almost frozen. It was just -- it was thick. It was hard to even enunciate words.

I remember turning around and pointing, and I didn't even know how many people were left there because it wasn't clear to me exactly how many people got up with us. I had a vague idea it was maybe half, but I wasn't quite sure. But I was like, "This way."

Michael Groom
Adventure Consultants Guide

photo of Michael Groom

I tried to go with them, but I had Beck and Yasuko, and I literally had -- I think I had one person on each shoulder. But after 20 meters, I think Yasuko had fallen over twice, and it was just a hopeless situation. And in that 20 meters, we also came across, I think it was three of the Scott Fischer group who just couldn't keep up with Neal and the others.

And someone said to me -- and I don't know who it was, but it was certainly an American voice, so it could have been Beck or one of the other three -- "You're the strongest; go and get someone and bring them back to get us." And I thought, "No, that's a stupid idea, because I might never find Camp Four, and if I did, they might not find you."

But then I thought after a bit of calculation or thinking about it, I thought: "Really, it's the only choice. If we're going to survive, I need to go and try and find Camp Four and send back help," because this group of three of the Scott Fischer group and Beck and Yasuko were going nowhere. So I said to whoever it was, and I very clearly remember saying to Beck twice, "Stay here; do not move, and I'll go and get some help." And I said that to someone else, too. I said it three times, and off I went.

John Taske
Adventure Consultants

photo of John Taske

When Mike stumbled, half fell into the tent, he was not making a lot of sense. He was totally wasted. He was hypothermic, hallucinating, mumbling various phrases.

But one thing I do remember him saying was, "Send four Sherpas," and he pointed the direction: "Yasuko and Beck are over there." And amazingly, what turned out was correct. Even under those circumstances, somehow or other, they were in that direction, and they were about 300 or 400 meters away, that we found 300 meters the next day. "But, Mike," after that, we said, "there's no four Sherpas to send." And he said, "Well, if you don't, if we don't get them now, they'll be dead by the morning."

May 10/11 -- Overnight
Some of the Huddle Is Rescued

Arriving back at the tents, Lene Gammelgaard and Neal Beidleman give guide Anatoli Boukreev directions to find the others. On his first try, Anatoli cannot find the huddle and turns back. He heads back out and rescues three climbers.

Lene Gammelgaard
Mountain Madness

photo of Lene Gammelgaard

Anatoli came back, and he was really sort of insisting, "Where are they? I can't find them." And I, at that point, was not aware of how long he had been gone. And then, "Right down there, just walk," and I think I just sort of described it with again, sort of describing the terrain -- you know, "Walk to there," and so and so. And he went out, and in two attempts he brought back Sandy and Charlotte and Tim. And then he collapsed. There was no more in him.

Sandy Hill
Mountain Madness

photo of Sandy Hill

Anatoli had come out and was looking for us. He had a bottle of oxygen, and he had a pot of tea. I remember he gave us all a little bit of the tea and determined that he was going to take Charlotte back first and promised me and Tim that he would be right back, which gave me lots of hope, because if he said he was going to be right back, then we couldn't be very far. So after giving us the tea, he left us with the bottle of oxygen, and there we were.

Charlotte Fox
Mountain Madness

photo of Charlotte Fox

What I recall about the walk back to the tents was just being locked arm in arm with Anatoli and wanting to sit down. And then he would pull me back up by my arms, and just sometimes maybe throw his arm over my shoulder, just to hold me erect and keep me moving. That was the key: Keep me moving. I did walk in under my own power, I know that.

Arriving at the tents was unbelievable, because suddenly there was warmth and light and hot, steaming tea and life. The tent that I crawled into had Neal in it, and he handed me this wonderful, spicy cup of steaming hot tea. And when I crawled in I was shaking so violently, I couldn't even hold it. He had to give me my first sips. And then finally I warmed up enough, I could hold the tea.

It was just a mess in there. There were clothes; there were boots, sleeping bags, packs, everything. But all I know is I could crawl under some things and stay warm, and I had that tea in me. And there was Neal with his big eyes of concern, helping me out. And it didn't seem very long after at all that Anatoli arrived with Tim and Sandy, and they both came in. And we were just basically dogpiled in there, just staying warm and exhausted, and not really worried about anything else but the fact that we were going to make it, and trying to take care of ourselves.

May 10/11 -- Overnight
Beck Weathers & Yasuko Namba Still in the Storm

After his three rescue attempts, Anatoli Boukreev collapses with exhaustion. Beck and Yasuko remain outside in the storm.

Michael Groom
Adventure Consultants Guide

photo of Michael Groom

Once I raised the alarm at Camp Four, I thought that it would only be a half an hour and Beck and Yasuko would be brought back into Camp Four. But having said that now, I wouldn't expect anyone to go out in those conditions unless they were tied to a very long rope; otherwise, they'd end up in the same situation as we had been for most of the night, hopelessly lost and disoriented. But I think I did just collapse thinking, "OK, everything's under control now; they'll be all right." And how wrong I was.

Beck Weathers
Adventure Consultants

photo of Beck Weathers

Your whole clothes fill up with the driven snow and the ice that's coming at you. You don't even realize it so much at the time, because everything is just nonstop cold and misery. But it's driving inside through the seams of your zippers that are not all the way down and closed, and it's coming in, and it's re-freezing and holding there. Even the stuff right up against your chest is frozen. And so my clothes got to the point where they were just a carapace of ice on the outside.

I eventually went unconscious, but up to the last part when I was sliding under, I was still thrashing around, trying to generate heat. And I think Yasuko was next to me, and I was pretty much trying to shove her and pummel her, and try to keep it going. And at some point in there, though, I went almost into a dreamlike sense of floating across, and it was like, I thought I was being carried. And I had this sense of just gently moving away. And at that point, I wasn't cold. But I wasn't giving up. I was becoming unaware.

May 10/11 -- Overnight
Makalu Gau Begins Hallucinating

Still trapped at 27,100 feet with Scott Fischer, a hypothermic Makalu hallucinates that his family is trying to speak to him through a TV.

Makalu Gau
Taiwanese Climbing Team

photo of Makalu Gau

But finally my voice was getting weak, and I realized that I didn't have enough energy left. The snow was falling harder, and I felt weaker, and I slowly got sleepy.

But when I almost fell asleep, there was a black-and-white TV coming into my mind, a very old TV. There were electrical waves and images in it. And then my kids' images came out from that TV, and they were speaking, but I couldn't hear what they were saying. But I felt like they were saying, "Father is climbing and hasn't come back yet."

Then suddenly their images disappeared, and then all the climbers' images came out, and someone was saying: "Hey Makalu, you made it! You succeeded in reaching the top. Come down quickly, and let's celebrate." Then all my relatives' images came out together.

At that time my mind was very complicated. I felt like my brain was exploding. And then suddenly I regained consciousness and thought I would die here.

May 11 -- 4:45 A.M.
Rob Hall Still at South Summit

Rob Hall radios Base Camp and says he is still at the South Summit. He relays that Doug Hansen is no longer with him.

Guy Cotter
Adventure Consultants Base Camp Support

photo of Guy Cotter

So the following morning, May 11, I had my radio on early, and Rob called through at 4:43 saying he was on the South Summit.

To think that Rob had got that far down, but wasn't in a position to get up and move to get himself on the route on the way down, it was very sobering. The implications of being up there and not moving are not great, but still we had hope. Rob, we felt, was at the oxygen cylinders that were there in a cache there, albeit probably scattered around and probably disorganized after any number of people had been through picking all the good bottles out. You know, there was still some hope. Rob was talking. He was able to use his radio. There was the potential of rescue getting up to him.

When we asked Rob about Doug, he said, "Doug's not with us anymore; Doug's not here." And that was it. Doug obviously hadn't made it down to that position with Rob, but we got no more information from Rob about that. He didn't say anything about what had happened.

May 11 -- Daylight
Beck Weathers & Yasuko Namba Left for Dead

Word spreads that Beck and Yasuko haven't made it back to the tents. Two rescuers find them and presume they're dead, or very near death. The decision is made to leave them there.

Neal Beidleman
Mountain Madness Guide

photo of Neal Beidleman

In the first light of the morning I remember lurching up and just trying to like focus as hard as I could and figure out what to do next. I remember looking over to Tim and saying, "Tim, is everybody back?" And Tim was the one who then said that Beck or somebody had stood up into the air and then just fallen over and that Yasuko was unconscious, that she was dead. I believe he used the word "dead."

That was the moment that it really hit me that the bridge that I thought I had crossed, this baton to, not just Anatoli as a responsibility to him, but to the general Camp Four people, something had gone awry. And Tim, whose information I knew was vague -- we were all vague about things -- but he was very, very certain. I asked him several times, that this woman Yasuko was dead, and that Beck had fallen off and he didn't even know where Beck was anymore.

John Taske
Adventure Consultants

photo of John Taske

When the sun came up the next morning, we realized we were missing quite a number of people. Things were chaotic, absolutely. Stories or messages came to us -- we didn't have a radio; we relied on Jon Krakauer or Stu Hutchinson, whoever had a radio, to tell us what was going on. Mike was still recovering from his ordeal from the night before, so we were missing everybody. And at this stage, we were just in survival mode, really. No one was leading; no one really needed to lead at that stage because nothing could be done. We just had to wait out the storm if possible.

However, about midmorning, to my recollection, the storm abated a little. The winds dropped enough for people to think about rescuing Rob. So two Sherpas who were fairly fresh were sent off to see if they could find Rob, who we knew was still alive from the radio calls the night before. And Stu Hutchinson and one of the other Sherpas went looking for Beck and Yasuko.

They came back about midmorning -- and because Mike couldn't move from the tent, our tent became the area for conferences and decision making. I do remember, we were all in the tent; there was at least Jon Krakauer, Stu, Mike, myself, Frank Fischbeck. And when Stu came back to tell us that he had found Beck and Yasuko, he got as close as possible to Yasuko; he'd cracked a carapace of snow and ice off her face to see her just moving purposelessly. She wasn't able to move too much. And she was deeply unconscious.

The wind was blowing at his back towards the Kangshung Face, and Beck was very close to it. And he was quite reasonably fearful of getting too close to Beck in case a gust of wind blew him over. Beck was right on the edge, apparently. But he sat and watched Beck for five to 10 minutes, and Beck did not make a move in that time.

So he came back with the Sherpa, and the decision was whether we should bring them back to the tents. And at that stage, there was a small amount of discussion, but I think I said it first; I'm not sure. I said, "This is crazy; we'll be hauling them back into about 80-, 100-mile [per hour] gusts." No one was strong enough to carry them; we would be dragging them over rocks, about 300 meters, rocks and rubble on the moraine, and to me it seemed a pointless exercise. At that stage, we weren't sure we would survive. So the decision was made to leave them there.

May 11 -- Midmorning
Mountain Madness Team Starts Descent from Camp Four

With Scott Fischer still missing, guide Neal Beidleman decides to bring his team down to Base Camp. Guide Anatoli Boukreev stays at Camp Four to assist in a rescue attempt of Scott.

Neal Beidleman
Mountain Madness Guide

photo of Neal Beidleman

It was important to get our clients and our Sherpa off of the mountain. The South Col is a deadly place. It's extremely high, and it was clear that Anatoli was going to stay because he felt a deep obligation himself for many, many reasons, to go back up and try one more time to make it to Scott and to try to get him down. He was convinced that if he got there, that he could make a difference.

So I was like, "Anatoli, if that's what you have to do, then go for it. But I've got to go with these clients. We've got to get down. We were out all night. Who knows what's going to happen this next night if we stay here?"

Charlotte Fox
Mountain Madness

photo of Charlotte Fox

The morning after the night, it was so difficult to wake up and put on boots. We were all so groggy from altitude and from not eating and not drinking, it literally took about an hour to put on one climbing boot. You would stare at it for a while -- no, first you had to find it. Then you would stare at it for a while, then you would have to lay down and think about it for a while.

And so, it just took such an enormous amount of energy just to prepare to go down the mountain, that the last thing I was thinking of was where I'd been the night before. I needed to look at the fact that there was a future, and start moving on it. And I just wanted to get down at that point, and everything, of course, looks different in the daylight. So I didn't realize where we had been or what had happened in a lot of ways, during the night. And I was more concerned with the fact that we were going to live, and how to make that happen in the next few hours.

May 11 -- Midmorning
Adventure Consultants Team Stays at Camp Four

With leader Rob Hall and guide Andy Harris still high on the mountain, and guide Michael Groom unconscious in his tent, the team decides to stay another night at Camp Four.

Lou Kasischke
Adventure Consultants

photo of Lou Kasischke

This is now the morning of the 11th. Getting reports from Stu that Rob is still up on the mountain, Andy's missing, and Mike is in his tent unconscious and thought to be dying. So our leadership is gone. And so the question is, what do we do now?

John Taske
Adventure Consultants

photo of John Taske

When we heard that two Sherpas had headed up the mountain in an attempt to rescue Rob, at that time two climbers -- I think it was Pete Athans and one other -- had made it up from Camp Three over the Lhotse Face to us, and they were saying now's a good time to leave if you can. We, again, had a little meeting to decide on what we should do, and there was no way I was going to leave if there was a chance that Rob could be rescued, which we thought was possible at that stage, because I thought with at least some medical knowledge, I might be able to help him. And the others all decided the same at the time, that we would wait and not go down at that time.

May 11 -- Midday
Mountain Madness Arrives at Camp Three

The team is met by climbers, including filmmaker David Breashears, who is on Everest filming an IMAX documentary.

Neal Beidleman
Mountain Madness Guide

photo of Neal Beidleman

When we walked into Camp Three, which at this point almost seems like the lowlands although it's still at 24,000 feet, we come into the tents that are there, and Jim Williams and David Breashears was there. And there was hot tea for us and some comforting words, although it was very solemn.

It was hard to explain. There was no elation in me about making it to this point. I felt like we had really, really lost. We had gone up with a certain number of people, and we'd come back just a mess. Scott wasn't there, and I knew that Rob's team was even more of a mess. It wasn't clear to me exactly what was going on, but I knew it was really bad.

May 11 -- 3:00 P.M.
The Rescue Attempt to Save Rob Hall Fails

Due to poor weather, several Sherpa are forced to turn back approximately 100 meters below Rob on the southeast ridge.

Guy Cotter
Adventure Consultants Base Camp Support

photo of Guy Cotter

So amongst us all, we realized that we had to tell Rob what had gone on, the fact that he wasn't going to get rescued that day. It kind of fell on my shoulders to call Rob and tell him that the Sherpas weren't going to make it. I think he needed to know that. There was no way we were going to string him along and say, "They're about to arrive," and "Hold on, they'll be there in a minute." You know, we didn't want to do that to Rob. So we decided that I would pass on that information, and then I told Rob that we'd try again the next day.

So Rob just said, "Give me a couple of minutes," and I guess the implications of that call probably sunk into Rob. And then he came back on the radio and said: "OK, well, make sure they're here by 9:30 tomorrow morning. I think I can wait that long, but make sure they bring some of that hot, sweet tea that they drink." I think by that stage, he was definitely hanging out for a drink. And it went through my mind at that time that it was very unlikely that Rob would survive another night. And I think that same thought entered everybody's minds at that time.

Michael Groom
Adventure Consultants Guide

photo of Michael Groom

I was incapacitated, and Lou had snow blindness. And that was it. We had to spend another night, which is extremely dangerous under these sort of conditions, the night of the 11th, the night we had to spend at Camp Four still in storm conditions.

And it was that afternoon, on May 11, that I more or less had my final conversation with Rob still up on the South Summit. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I think I said that Beck and Yasuko were dead. With a bit of hindsight, I wish I'd never said that. But I did say it. And I knew that by the sound of the voice that was coming through from Rob that his time was limited, too. And that was the last conversation I had with Rob.

May 11 -- Late Afternoon
Beck Weathers Makes It to Camp Four

Waking up on the South Col, Beck forces himself to start walking in a series of squares, hoping to stumble upon the tents, which he finds just as he's about to give up hope.

Beck Weathers
Adventure Consultants

photo of Beck Weathers

When I first woke up, I knew, one, I didn't know where I was. I knew, two, that in the grand scheme of folks on that mountain, I'm not the priority; I'm not a big dog. And three, I thought that nobody's coming, and if I want to get out of this, you've got to get up, got to get moving, and you've got to do it yourself, and you can't depend upon somebody else coming to help you out.

And so I got up. I got rid of the gear that was going to slow me down, my pack, my ax. And I first started just thinking, "Can I see Everest?" I'm standing next to the tallest thing on earth. And I figure, OK, if I can see where the summit is, then I've got a sense of direction. And I couldn't see a thing. My eyes were bad. I don't know what the visibility was, but I could see about as far as my feet. And so that was a total waste of time.

And then I thought, "Well, I'll just start walking in bigger squares. And if I walk a ways, then something" -- I didn't know what it was going to be -- I said, "I'll see something, and it's going to trigger a memory, something that's going to jar me. And that will make it OK. I'll know how to get out of here." And that didn't work.

And then I said, "OK, the only thing that's left is, what direction is the wind?" And I could feel that. The wind was still blowing. And if you looked into it, you could feel that on your face, coming at you. And that gives you a direction. And I thought the camp was upwind, and that would at least keep me from going in circles.

I frankly thought maybe everybody left. I didn't think anybody was going to be on the col any longer. I thought I was up there long enough that they would have come in, regrouped, and gotten out of there. And so I actually thought I was going to go up -- if I made it, that I would get to where the tents were, and then at that point, I would have to keep moving down, because I thought if I could make it to Camp Three, there would be tents there. I was pretty sure they would still be there.

When I'm walking across, heading back in those final moments, I've already come to the realization that this isn't going to work; that I'm still moving, but it's so little time left that I'm beginning to think I'm getting low, that this isn't going to happen. And I'm still moving, but I've already settled into my mind that I'm going to have to go ahead and die. There will come a point which [I'm] not going to be able to go forward.

And it's when I see the tents that, for the first time in that journey across there, that I realized, I am not going to die. There is the tent; there is the camp, what I was trying to get to is right in front of me. And at that point, I knew that I wasn't going to have to sit down; I wasn't going to have to watch that sun disappear below the horizon and just accept it.

There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to get off this mountain in one piece, maybe not a good piece, but I was going to get off the mountain. And they got me into Scott's tent, into two sleeping bags, and some hot water bottles to try to warm me up a bit. And after they had done what they could do, practically, then I was there in the tent for the rest of the night.

May 11 -- Late Afternoon
Makalu Gau Arrives at Camp Four

Sherpas reach Makalu and Scott Fischer at 27,100 feet, just below the balcony, and help Makalu down to Camp Four. As he leaves, he sees two Sherpas unsuccessfully giving CPR to Scott Fischer.

Makalu Gau
Taiwanese Climbing Team

photo of Makalu Gau

When we had almost reached South Col and saw the tents, I thought everything would be OK. The slope was getting flat, but it was still hard for me to walk. At that time some climbers and Sherpas saw us and came up to help me walk. Then we got into the tent, and they gave me oxygen to breathe and helped me to change into some dry clothes. But the zipper on my coat was frozen by the ice, so they boiled some water and took off my gloves and put them into the hot water. And it was so hard to take off my shoes, but finally we got them off, and they changed my clothes. I thought, "At least I'm back to the tent; everything should be OK now." Then they prepared some food, but I couldn't eat. They gave me some warm juice and milk tea to drink. I was very tired, and they put a lot of sleeping bags around me and gave me oxygen to breathe, and then I slept in Camp Four.

May 11 -- Late Afternoon
Another Accident

As the Mountain Madness team is descending, rocks hurtling down the Lhotse Face hit a Sherpa in the head, knocking him unconscious.

Neal Beidleman
Mountain Madness Guide

photo of Neal Beidleman

We get down almost to the very end of the Lhotse Face. There's just a small drop off and a little ice cliff that you repel through, and then you're sort of on not flat, but gentle ground back to Camp Two. And Klev was at one of the anchor points just below me, and there was a Sherpa from a different team just above him who I didn't recognize at the time. And I was just up on the rope far enough that I could still move back and forth.

I happened to look over my shoulder for some reason as I was maneuvering, and I see these rocks hurtling down the face -- some round, just tracking straight down, and a couple others that were on edge, like Frisbees, and they're just making these wild arcs down towards us. And I remember just almost running, leaping back and forth on the rope, dodging these. And one of the bigger like softball-size rocks is heading straight down on my left as I'm looking up.

Klev and this Sherpa are right at the anchor point, so they don't have the ability to move side to side on the rope. And I just hear this deadening thump, and Klev starts yelling. He's just out of his mind yelling; he's like, "Oh my God! Oh my God!" And I looked up, and there's no more rocks, there's a couple little pebbles that came by, and I repelled the rest of the way down.

And the Sherpa that was just in front of him was slumped over, and I could see -- both Klev and I are looking, this rock had hit him square on the side of the head and just basically knocked him out, and there's blood coming out of his ear and his nose. It was just a horrible scene. I just couldn't believe that this was still happening, this nightmare that wouldn't end.

Klev is trying to help, and we're trying to see if the guy is conscious, and he's like half conscious, but not really. So after some period of time, I told Klev just to get down, just repel down; don't worry about it; I'll figure it out. And just before he left, he helped me, and I put him on a double repel with myself so I had the weight of the Sherpa. And the last two repels are difficult to do this because there's a little bit of an angle. And I repelled down with this guy between my legs, and below on the flats, there were more Sherpa who had come up from Camp Two to help out with this rescue, and I could see them just a couple hundred feet below watching.

I'm trying to repel down with this guy who's starting to flail his arms and act belligerently. It's just a classic, massive head injury kind of reaction. And he's bleeding, and I'm trying to hold his head and keep him still as I'm repelling down. And I had to switch anchor points a couple times, but eventually I repel down, and I just sit there at the top of the more gentle glacier, right at the base of the Lhotse Face. And the Sherpa came up and saw what was going on and picked this guy up and just whisked him away, and he was gone. All of a sudden, I was just sitting there with one other Sherpa, and he looked at me, and I just waved my arms and said, "I'm OK, I'm fine; just go help your friend out."

I just remember sitting there for about 20 minutes or a half an hour by myself just trying to grasp what had even happened all the way up until just minutes before that. And then I spent, I don't know, maybe an hour walking slowly back to the camp by myself. And when I got to camp, it was just this buzz of activity, and there were other people from other teams with radios, and there were doctors moving around. And I felt like I just -- I don't know, I just came staggering into camp, and a couple people came out to see if I was OK. The fact that I was walking meant, compared to other people, I was just fine. I found my tent, and I went over to it, and I just laid down in it and just cried for about an hour. It was very intense.

May 11/12 -- Overnight
Another Brutal Night at Camp Four

Temperatures plummet to -40 degrees and the Adventure Consultants team endures another tough night sleeping in the tents on the South Col.

Lou Kasischke
Adventure Consultants

photo of Lou Kasischke

I think the only time I was really cold was the night of May 11, when we were on the South Col, and the wind was hammering us, and it was as cold as I could ever imagine. I couldn't get fully in my sleeping bag because I had to have all my climbing gear on. I had to be dressed as though I was going to be outside any minute. So I was dressed to be outside, but I couldn't get fully inside my sleeping bag in order to be warm. The cold from the snow, from the wind, it was cold as I've ever been.

And I know that a big part of that was the fact that my own body wasn't generating body heat. I hadn't had food in days. I'm breathing very little oxygen. My body just isn't functioning like a normal person's in order to generate body heat. I'm not working; I'm not walking; I'm not climbing. So I'm just there, and my internal engine isn't cranking up any body heat, and I don't know what the temperatures were, but I know they were 40 below zero before wind chill. I mean, you shiver and you do everything you can inside of your tent to try to stay warm. It was a challenge.

John Taske
Adventure Consultants

photo of John Taske

I can remember at one stage during the night, I must have been half asleep, probably the second night of the storm, and all of a sudden I was suffocating and being stung by a dozen bees. I thought I was dreaming, but what had happened was that the tent had buckled and bent. Instead of being convex, it was concave, and the side of the tent was pressed by the wind, flat on my face. I couldn't breathe, and the stinging was the snow hitting the tent on the outside and stinging my face through the tent. It gave me a heck of a fright. I sat up and yelled, actually. And of course, as I did, the tent flapped back, and I felt a little bit embarrassed. I thought, "What an idiot, yelling out at that stage of the game." But at the time, half asleep, and all of a sudden being suffocated and stung a dozen times or more was pretty frightening.

May 12 -- Morning
Mountain Madness Wakes Up at Camp Two

Waking up after a good night's sleep on the morning of May 12, the Mountain Madness team officially learns that their leader, Scott Fischer, is dead.

Charlotte Fox
Mountain Madness

photo of Charlotte Fox

In Camp Two, the morning after we had arrived there and slept 12 hours soundly, in one position, we came out to have some tea and some breakfast, and the Sherpa that cooked for us said that Scott wasn't coming down, that it was official. We were just in disbelief, because I can remember seeing he and Lopsang behind us moving along, as we were going down the mountain. And so we thought, "Well, he's going to be OK." And how can Scott, Scott Fischer, be dead, and not make it? He's stronger than our whole team put together. How can this be?

And then we heard about the other people being dead, and rumors of yet other people. There was just disbelief. But we could do nothing more than to descend one more time through the Khumbu Icefall -- scary enough -- and just get to Base Camp, and get some medical attention, and collapse. And from there on, it was just mayhem.

May 12 -- Morning
Adventure Consultants Survivors Descend from Camp Four

Michael Groom, the only surviving guide, gathers his team unaware that Beck Weathers is in one of the tents.

Michael Groom
Adventure Consultants Guide

photo of Michael Groom

I remember on the morning of May 12, going around at various tents, I'd recovered enough to be able to get up and get moving, and I realized we had to move that day if the rest of the team was going to survive.

I just had to turn my back and forget about my feelings for Rob and Andy and Yasuko and Doug and take on my responsibility as the only surviving guide and get the remaining members of my team back down to the safety of Base Camp. As hard as it was, that's all I had to concentrate on, was getting everyone down, including myself.

Lou Kasischke
Adventure Consultants

photo of Lou Kasischke

The idea was to leave everything, and we're going to make a run for it. And another moment in this experience I'll never forget was, because I was ready, I crawled outside my tent, and I stood up, and I buckled right back down to my knees. I couldn't stand up. I stood up again, and I'm right back down to my knees. And I was there now on my knees, on the South Col, I can't stand up. And I hear voices, "Ready, ready," and I'm saying to myself, "How am I ever going to get out of here? I can't even stand up." But I stood up and started to move. And of all the days on Everest, all the days, that was the hardest day, trying to get down.

May 12
The Last Three Climbers Leave Camp Four

Incredibly, Beck Weathers is one of them. Preparing to leave, teammate Jon Krakauer happens to hear Beck calling from his tent and rushes over.

Beck Weathers
Adventure Consultants

photo of Beck Weathers

It's daylight, but I'm not aware of things coming to life, in essence, the camp waking up and people doing things. And Jon comes over, and he looks in the tent, and he sees that I'm alive.

And "Hello, Jon," and I ask him if he can get Pete Athans to come over. I had been in Antarctica with Pete. I knew him. And he was probably the guy that when I thought of the people up there, I would have thought he's a lead kind of individual. And Pete comes over, and I'm alive. I don't know how surprised he was; he didn't show it if he did. But he moved fairly quickly, and Todd came back over with him.

We poured two liters of tea down me, and in about the length of time it took to do that, then the crampons, which were in the tent with me, were strapped back on, and we stood up and said, "We've got to get out of here." And by the time that we stood up and got out of the tent, we were the last three people there.

Lou Kasischke
Adventure Consultants

photo of Lou Kasischke

As we were coming down the Lhotse Face on the 12th, as far as I was concerned and what I was told and what I believed, Beck was dead. It was just part of the experience, and we're now moving down.

I thought our first destination was to be our old campsite, but then I was directed to continue to go down to your campsite at the IMAX expedition. And I was sitting there, and I think we were talking about all the people who were dead, and me or somebody included Beck's name. And it was you who said, "No, Beck is still alive. He came back." And I think I said, "No, Beck's dead." And you said, "No, he's still alive." I looked to my right, and John Taske was sitting to my right as well as Stu Hutchinson, and John was as perplexed as I was. But the three of us were sitting together when we were having that conversation, and that's when I was told Beck was alive.

May 12 -- Afternoon
Adventure Consultants Descend to Camp Two

Beck Weathers is brought to Camp Two's mess tent, which has been turned into a makeshift hospital.

Beck Weathers
Adventure Consultants

photo of Beck Weathers

When I get into the Camp Two hospital, our mess tent -- which is what it used to be -- I'm stripped completely naked. And I'm lying on the ground, and I have an IV put into my arm, and we're getting lukewarm water to try and thaw my hands out. And as you're getting laid out and people are just kind of wandering around you, you're just like a piece of meat in the middle of the floor.

You get a chance, really, for the first time to see your flesh exposed, as opposed to having it partially covered. For instance, my left hand, I'd not seen until we got down there. And I really, of course, had no idea what my face looked like, which is just as well. But you do get a chance to see now, for the first time, really in a leisurely way, to stare at your right hand. And there's a line of demarcation, and it's absolutely gray, and it doesn't look like anything alive. And you know that at the very least, most of it's going away. You don't know that you're going to lose the whole thing, and that was misleading. I had no signs of classical swollen hands, blisters, all of the things you see in a textbook, because my hand was so frozen that you couldn't have any of that happen. You have to have a blood supply for those changes to occur, and I think it fooled everybody. It fooled the folks who were in the tent; it fooled the folks who helped me out in Kathmandu. And when I got back it fooled hand surgeons that I saw, because I was still able to move my hands, because your hands are driven by the muscles in your forearms, not in your hands. And even though they were dead, I had little puppets. They were still sliding and gliding and moving, and I just didn't realize they were completely gone.

Lou Kasischke
Adventure Consultants

photo of Lou Kasischke

I didn't feel as though I survived Everest until I got back to Base Camp at the bottom of the Khumbu Icefall. Up until that point, I was still, in my mind, felt that I wasn't safe, I wasn't secure. I still had a lot of hard work ahead of me.

I felt good getting to Camp Two, because now I can sleep for the first time in five days. Now I can eat something; now I can get something to drink. But I'm not safe. And I was even pretty emotionless, even when Beck's there, even as I'm discovering all these problems that we are having, Beck's survival and Beck's frostbite and all of that. I'm still pretty emotionless because I'm still thinking that I haven't survived this yet myself.

May 13 -- Morning
Makalu Gau & Beck Weathers Evacuated by Helicopter

Sherpas help carry Makalu down the mountain from Camp Two until they get slightly above the Khumbu Icefall, the safest place for a helicopter to land.

Makalu Gau
Taiwanese Climbing Team

photo of Makalu Gau

Because it took a whole day for me to walk from Camp Four to Camp Two the day before, I was already very tired. It was really hard for me to walk. So 10 Sherpas from other teams carried me in turn. Each Sherpa carried me 50 to 100 meters and then changed to the next Sherpa. But after a little while one of our Sherpas found a plastic boat and asked me to lie down in it. They put a sleeping bag on me and gave me the oxygen, and then all the Sherpas dragged the boat together. It was faster.

After a while, we heard the helicopter coming. When the Sherpas heard the helicopter, they started dragging faster, and it was getting very fast. It was kind of painful for me, and then they stopped and asked me, " Makalu sir, are you OK?" But I had the oxygen mask on my face, so I just said, "OK, OK." Then they kept dragging me until we reached the helicopter. Then the climbers from the American team and other teams helped the Sherpas to lift me up and get me into the helicopter. At around the altitude of 6,000 meters, the helicopter flew up. I thought everything should be OK and we would get [to] Kathmandu soon.

But after a little while the helicopter stopped at the Base Camp, and they took me out of the helicopter. I didn't understand why, but I thought, "It's OK; I could go see my fellow climbers in Base Camp." Two or three of our Taiwanese climbers came over to me. When they saw me like that, they put their arms around me and everybody cried. I said, "It's OK, I'm still alive, I'm still alive." After a few minutes, the helicopter came back to the Base Camp, and they put me onto the helicopter again. There was an American in the helicopter -- Beck Weathers. So we both sat in the helicopter. We closed the door and the helicopter left from Base Camp, and we got to Kathmandu in less than one hour.

May 14 -- Afternoon
Return to Base Camp

The full realization of the tragedy starts to sink in; the survivors organize a memorial service.

John Taske
Adventure Consultants

photo of John Taske

Coming back down the mountain after the storm, I really didn't have time to think too much about the mates that were still up there. Basically, I was still in survival mode.

Got back to Base Camp, and the first thing that we did at meal time was obviously go to the meal tent. This used to be the hub of the climbing group. There was always fun, laughter, conversation, playing cards. There was always, always something going on in the dining tent. And when I walked in there, it for the first time really struck me. There were just empty chairs everywhere. The few people that were there were even less significant because they weren't saying anything; everyone was quiet. And it was the first real time I missed my mates and realized that Doug wasn't going to be there, Beck wasn't going to be telling his Texas jokes, Yasuko wasn't going to be quietly sitting in the corner. They were all gone. And Rob.

Guy Cotter
Adventure Consultants Base Camp Support

photo of Guy Cotter

When everybody finally got back down to Base Camp and the mountain had been cleared of climbers for the time, we had a little wake where everybody got together and spoke about those who had perished, reflected on the trials that they'd been through. Some people had been through some shocking times and somehow got out of it.

That was a very cathartic time, to listen to what everybody else had to say about what they'd been through themselves and also talk about those who had been lost. It was like we were in our own little world up there. We were the only ones who were ever really going to experience what we'd experienced, and it seemed that we were moving out into the world of the international press, the international media, that had a different view of what had gone on, and they were hungry for some sound bites that they could use in the news, which seemed to have no correlation to what we were going through whatsoever.

And so it was very difficult to actually leave the mountain, walk away and leave all that behind and then face the questions, the surviving relatives, the media and all of those aspects that was the next big challenge to face after being on the mountain. And that whole thing was very strange and still is to me, because I arrived in Kathmandu, and there were magazines in the newsstands already talking about Everest and American tragedy and so on and so forth which just seemed very strange from where we'd come from.

What we experienced there -- and I think this is what mountaineering provides in general -- is it polarizes life. Here we were, we were involved in the situation that had everything. There was tragedy; there was death. You know, it was a disaster. But at the same time, some good things came out of it. It showed the strength of humans and the way they can support each other and the amount of care that was there from one person to another, to risk their own lives and their own expeditions to go and assist other people and help them through those dreadful times.

And I think that was a real indication of the strength of character and the type of characters that are involved in mountaineering and what they'll do for each other, even though it has a detrimental effect on them reaching the summit or even risking their own lives to do it. I don't think that's something that we see very often in our modern world, and it's really good to know those sort of human attributes still exist.

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posted may 13, 2008

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