American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Everest, Deaths During the Spring

  • Notes
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2007

Everest, deaths during the spring. “I imagine you guys are surprised to see me here” were Australian Lincoln Hall’s words upon being discovered miraculously alive on the north side of Everest on May 26, after having been reported dead the day before. He was speaking to Dan Mazur and his party, who were on their way to the summit. “Can you please tell me how I got here? … You guys on this boat too?” Mazur said that Hall was behaving like a three-old-year child.

Mazur's account of the rescue appears below but it took several days and reportedly at least 15 Sherpas and 50 cylinders of oxygen to get Hall to base camp. A yak took him the last distance because of his weakness and seriously frostbitten fingers and big toe. Mazur’s summit party, knowing it was then too late to go for the top, turned around and went down to advance base camp.

The Hall saga is reminiscent of an incident during the disastrous spring of 1996, when the resurrected American, Beck Weathers, suddenly appeared alone at his camp on the South Col, saying, “It’s great to be alive.” Weathers was alive, but after having been out in the open for 20 hours at very high altitude and presumed dead when last seen. He was nearly blind and very badly frostbitten on his nose and the fingers of both hands.

Although Lincoln Hall did not die, eleven people did, making spring 2006 the second deadliest season on the great mountain (a dozen died in spring 1996). On the south side three Nepalese Sherpas, Lhakpa Tshering, Dawa Temba, and Phinzo, perished when a massive chunk of the notorious Khumbu Icefall collapsed on top of them. The remaining eight deaths occurred on the Tibetan side. A Russian, Igor Plyushkin, and a Nepalese, Tuk Bahadur Thapa Magar, succumbed to acute altitude sickness. German Thomas Weber died of a stroke. Two were killed in falls: a Swedish skier, Tomas Olsson, when one ski reportedly cracked while descending the Great Couloir, and an Indian soldier, Sri Kishan. And three died, as Hall nearly did, from exhaustion, exposure, and frostbite: a Briton, David Sharp, a Brazilian, Vitor Negrete, and Jacques Letrange from France.

There was much outraged commentary, including entries on mountaineering websites, about how as many as 30 people may have passed the dying David Sharp at 8,500m as they went for the top or descended from their summit bids. Their actions were depicted as heartless and reflected a supposed deterioration in climbing ethics due to the advent of large numbers of “amateurs” in recent years. But armchair critics can fail to take into account possible reasons:

* Many simply did not see him. It was a dark night, and headlamps focus on restricted areas. The day was cold, so passersby would have had hoods around their faces. Almost all were wearing oxygen masks, which limit viewing areas. Sharp was in a shallow cave, where he was difficult to spot.

* Some may have seen him but thought he was a long-dead Indian, the body of whom he was actually lying on top of.

* Others may have seen—even recognized—him and thought he was dead already.

Some climbers did stop and try to give him help. Turks tried, but they were occupied

rescuing their own member and could give only limited assistance. Sherpas from other teams also tried, but they were themselves exhausted, and their oxygen supplies were running low. Sharp did not have a Sherpa helping him; he reportedly refused to have one. He wanted to climb alone, and so he did. It is extremely difficult to piece together his movements. He climbed alone and died alone.

Although reports of this kind of alleged callous behavior by climbers, all determined to fulfill their personal ambitions to get to the summit regardless of others’ predicaments, made good newspaper stories, there were several instances in which “amateurs” sacrificed their own summit successes to help strangers in distress. The reaction of Dan Mazur s party when they came upon Lincoln Hall was not unique.

Elizabeth Hawley, AAC Honorary Member, Nepal

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