I wrote a blog a few weeks back titled “Climbing Everest” based on the movie Everest that depicted the real life tragedy of the day twelve climbers died on May, 10 1996 on Mount Everest. The movie had a huge impact on me. I’ve since read the book, Into Thin Air, by journalist and bestselling author, Jon Krakauer, based on his personal account of that tragic day, almost exactly twenty years ago.
I confess that until I saw the movie, I wasn’t aware the tragic event ever happened. And now I can’t stop thinking about it. I was twenty years old in 1996. Old enough to keep up with current events, but possibly still too young to care? Whatever the case, I completely missed out on this headline news. I’ll chuck it up to ’96 being the year my father died, as well as the year I came out. So I was a little preoccupied. But now that I know, I feel like it happened just yesterday, yet the bodies froze twenty years ago and are still lying somewhere on that mountain, along with hundreds of other climbers who have perished through the years.
There is a lot of controversy surrounded by how the tragic events of the day escalated; was the storm that descended on the mountain that no one had seen coming, therefore was not prepared for, the main culprit? Or did the actions of some of the surviving climbers, as well as the ones who died, contribute to the ferocious calamity of that day?
I don’t have enough space on this blog to go into all the specific details, (you’d need to read the book) but I can touch on a few of the many factors that seemed to have contributed to the severity of the disaster; Greed, selfishness, bad decisions, and a storm with terrible timing all seemed to play a role in twelve climbers never making it off that mountain.
When the climbers began for the summit on May 10, they had no idea time would be so critical. Lead guides of two of the expeditions, Rob Hall and Scott Fisher, had decided on a stern 2:00 (the latest) turnaround time. Meaning, no matter where the guides or their clients were on the mountain at that time, everyone would turn around and go back because getting caught in the summit after 2:00 means the sun will most likely be gone while you’re still descending. Everest is a lot more dangerous, as well as cold, in the dark.
For whatever reason that day, neither lead guide instructed their climbers to turn around at that time. In fact, one of Hall’s clients, Doug Hansen, with Hall’s guidance, was allowed to the summit at 4:00. There is a theory that the lead guides, business competitors, allowed their clients late arrival atop the mountain because each man got a little greedy and wanted the most clients on their expedition to make it to the top.
Krakauer, led by Hall, was surprised that Hall, known for his meticulous planning and extreme emphasis on safety, would have strayed from his plans. But he did, and that decision proved fatal for him, Hansen, and a junior guide, Andy Harris, who stopped his descent after reaching the top to climb back up to help them.
The three climbers got caught in the strong storm, and no one was able to get to them. The storm also claimed Fisher’s life. He made it to the summit at 3:30. Also past the predetermined turnaround time. Exhausted during his descent, Fisher laid down to rest and never got back up. The next day he was found lying dead, frozen, in his path. A friend moved him to the side and buckled his climbing bag across his face.
But the timing of the day was off before anyone even came close to the summit. Days earlier, it was agreed among the numerous expeditions that two people from each group was to climb ahead of everyone on summit day and fix the lines and ropes. When not everyone showed up, the ones who did refused to do the work alone and therefore the ropes were never fixed. When the climbers arrived at the destinations, they had to wait hours for the lines to be fixed. This created a traffic of climbers, while eating up precious time.
This was a bad decision that contributed to the fatality of that day.
Anatoli Boukreev, a Russian guide on Fisher’s team who survived the tragedy, received a lot of criticism for his actions on the mountain. Some believed he didn’t do the job he was hired to do. As a guide, he was expected to remain close to the clients at all times, but on the day of the summit, Boukreev ascended well ahead of the rest of his team, and after making it to the summit, he descended without waiting for any of the clients. By the time the storm hit, Boukreev was already at camp and in his tent.
The reason for his quick exit was reasoned to have been because he wasn’t using supplemental oxygen. Using oxygen not only gives a person more strength and keeps them as coherent as a person can be at that altitude, but it also helps stave off the cold. Boukreev couldn’t wait for his clients, especially at the top of the mountain, because he would have froze to the death, which is why not using gas was irresponsible and selfish on his part. He couldn’t assist the clients the way he was paid to do because he was too vulnerable to the elements. He had to take care of himself first. (Boukreev did save two people’s lives later in the night.)
Maybe had Boukreev had oxygen and had stayed close with his team, he could have prevented some climbers who died on the mountain from getting caught in the storm.
We’ll never know what could have been. That is the reality of life, isn’t it? We only know for certain the decisions that have been lived.
The story of the Everest disaster has captured me some twenty years after it’s been lived and I can’t get it out of my head. There’s so many parallels between what happened on that mountain and what happens in life every single day.
On that mountain, the climbers’ lives were interconnected. The actions of one person, directly affected the life of the other. Bad decisions and mistakes had a bearing on everyone, and cost some climbers their lives. There was so much more that went wrong on that mountain than I had room to write, but it seemed to be a domino effect from one bad decision to the next, and it was inevitable that something horrible was going to happen.
We are all connected in this world. Our lives interconnect with each other, whether we believe it or not, because like on Everest, the decisions we make can change the course of another person’s life.
If someone chooses to drink and drive and smashes his car into someone else, killing that person. That person loses his or her life, but what if that person was an only parent to a small child? Maybe that child grows up in the custody of the State, and is in and out of foster homes, filled with a life of abuse and instability so severe that by the time the child reaches eighteen, he/she is so traumatized by their experience they never recover.*
Without the appropriate help, because no one took the time to really evaluate the emotional and mental well-being of the child, he/she is thrown out into the world completely unprepared and non-adjusted. Based on these circumstances, that child may make a bad decision that could alter the life of someone else, they way it did the child’s life years back.
It’s the domino effect. It happened on Everest in 1996, and it happens in life every single day. It’s why I believe we need to take care of each other as though we are all climbing Everest together.
* Please note I am not implying that all foster homes are bad and filled with abuse. I do acknowledge that there are wonderful families opening their homes to children in need and are providing them with fulfilling and stable lives, but unfortunately sometimes abuse happens.