Mount Everest dealt a particularly savage blow last year. On May 12, Rob Hall died on the South Summit of Everest after becoming incapacitated on the descent from his fifth time on the summit. During May 10 and 11, Rob’s Adventure Consultants’ expedition clients Doug Hansen (USA), Yasuko Namba (Japan) and Andy Harris ( a New Zealand guide) also perished in storm conditions at various places on the summit pyramid between the South Col and the Hillary Step. With a total of eight deaths on both sides of the mountain during the storm (plus four others in separate incidents), followed by a miraculous rescue of several climbers from the South Col, the tragedy received massive international media coverage for months. Rob Hall’s selfless act of remaining with his stricken client Hansen on the summit ridge combined with his calm and reassuring phone conversations to his pregnant wife Jan Arnold in Christchurch profoundly touched many people around the world.
With the passing of Rob Hall, New Zealand has lost its most talented expedition organizer and a particularly energetic and successful professional climber. Rob’s skills in many fields were recognized well beyond the international mountain fraternity in which he was best known; they marked him as a great ambassador for New Zealand. Awards by the U.S. Navy (for rescue services in Antarctica), the Himalayan Rescue Association (for the rescue of a stranded Polish climber from Lho La on Mt. Everest ) and by the New Zealand government (the 1990 New Zealand Commemoration Medal, for completing the Seven Summits in seven months) and, in 1994, the MBE (for “services to mountaineering as a professional adventurer and mountaineer”) are all indications of the value others placed on his endeavors.
Born in 1961, Rob grew up in Christchurch, the youngest of nine children. He was propelled into Himalayan climbing while still in his teens. By the age of 21 Rob had made the second ascent of Ama Dablam’s difficult north ridge and the second ascent of Numbur, both in Nepal. He loved winter in New Zealand, and grabbed the coveted first winter ascents of Mt. Cook’s Caroline Face, La Perouse and Black Tower.
Rob was on his 20th climb on an 8000-meter peak when he died on Everest. He reached the summit of these giants on 10 occasions. Rob made a deliberate decision to use bottled oxygen every time he went above 8000 meters, being convinced many climbers he had witnessed were deluding themselves about their ability to do without it. He maintained a determination to make good guiding decisions above 8000 meters, to stay warm and hence free from frostbite. Above all, he wanted to enjoy himself yet still have reserves to assist weaker team members.
Rob was an extremely positive decision-maker, a natural leader and a wise counsel. In large multi-national base camps everyone always looked to Rob to solve problems in an equitable and efficient manner. With an endearing smile and an honest heart, Rob had the talent of a peacemaker. He had the diplomatic ability to smooth a path through many ruffled feathers in foreign government departments. With a cleaner environment in mind, Rob’s influence and actions helped change climbing regulations in Asia. He was a giver, not a taker, always having time for the elderly and the young. Behind the scenes, Rob worked hard for the New Zealand Alpine Club. He strongly believed in de-mystifying mountaineering, considering it not to be an activity just for the elite. As a guide, he allowed many climbers to pursue their private dreams. Importantly, he also made his own dreams reality. For Rob, the joy was always in the journey, not the destination.
For Jan Arnold and for Sarah Arnold-Hall, bom just two months after Rob’s death, the loss has been immense. Mountaineers around the world have sent many wonderful messages of sympathy and support to ease the hurt.
“For myself it was something of a dream: my fifth of the world’s six highest summits in little more than a year. Fortune had smiled on me. I gazed across to Everest where we had stood on the South Summit just 11 days before. What a fantastic planet we live on and how privileged I am to journey across its mountains.”
—Rob Hall’s last published words after his Makalu ascent in 1995.