- 1996 Everest Disaster
The 1996 Everest Disaster refers to a single day of the 1996 climbing season,
May 11, 1996, when eight people died on Mount Everestduring summit attempts. In the entire season, fifteen people died trying to reach the summit, making it the deadliest single year in Everest history. The disaster gained wide publicity and raised questions about the commercialization of Everest.
Jon Krakauer, on assignment from "Outside" magazine, was in one of the affected parties, and afterwards published the bestseller " Into Thin Air"cite book|title=Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster |authorlink=Jon Krakauer |last=Krakauer |first=Jon |publisher=Villard |year=1997 |location=New York |isbn=0-385-49478-5] which related his experience. Anatoli Boukreev, a guide who felt impugned by Krakauer's book, co-authored a rebuttal book called "The Climb". [cite book|title=The Climb: tragic ambitions on Everest |last=Boukreev |first=Anatoli |authorlink=Anatoli Boukreev |year=1997 | location=New York |publisher=St. Martins| isbn=0-312-96533-8 |coauthors=G. Weston Dewalt] Expedition members Beck Weathersand Lene Gammelgard wrote about their experiences of the disaster in their books "Left For Dead" [cite book|title=Left For Dead: my journey home from Everest|authorlink=Beck Weathers |last=Weathers |first=Beck |coauthors=Stephen G. Michaud |location=New York |publisher=Villard| year=2000| isbn=0-375-50404-4] and "Climbing High" [cite book|title=Climbing high : a woman's account of surviving the Everest tragedy |last=Gammelgard |first=Lene| location=New York |publisher=Perennial| year=2000| isbn=0330392271] . The storm's impact on climbers on the mountain's other side, the North Ridge, where several climbers also died, was detailed in a first-hand account by British filmmaker and writer Matt Dickinsonin his book "The Other Side of Everest" [cite book |title=The Other Side of Everest: Climbing the North Face Through the Killer Storm |last=Dickinson |first=Matt |authorlink=Matt Dickinson |year=2000 |publisher=Crown |location=New York |isbn=0812931599] .
outh Col Events
Adventure Consultants' 1996 Everest expedition consisted of these
Jon Krakauer, a journalist, was on assignment from "Outside" magazine. Hall had brokered a deal with "Outside" for advertising space in exchange for a story about the growing popularity of commercial expeditions to Everest.
Anatoli Boukreevwas the lead climbing guidefor the Mountain Madness expedition headed by Scott Fischer. Neal Beidleman was the third guide. The team included eight clients.
*Martin Adams (47)¹ - had climbed
Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro
*Charlotte Fox (38) - had climbed all 54 4200 m peaks in
Coloradoand two 8000 m peaks
*Lene Gammelgaard (35) - accomplished mountaineer
*Dale Kruse (45) - personal friend of Fischer for many years, first to sign up
*Tim Madsen (33) - climbed extensively in Colorado and Canadian Rockies, little experience of 8000 m peaks
*Sandy Hill Pittman (41) - had climbed six of the
Pete Schoening(68) - one of the first Americans to climb Mount Vinsonand Gasherbrum I
*Klev Schoening (38) - Pete's nephew; former US national downhill ski racer, no 8000 m experience¹All ages given relative to 1996.
*"Sirdar" Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa (23)
*Nawang Dorje Sherpa
*Tashi Tshering Sherpa
*an additional, unidentified Sherpa
Pete Schoening had decided not to make the final push to the summit while still at Everest Base Camp. The team began the assault on the summit on May 6, planning to bypass Camp I and stop at Camp II for the night. However, when the guides reached Camp I, they found Kruse suffering from altitude sickness and possible cerebral edema in one of the tents. Kruse returned to Base Camp with Fischer for treatment.
Ming Ho "Makalu" Gau led a 13-member team to Everest and was climbing with Mingma Tsiri Sherpa, Nima Gombu Sherpa and one other sherpa that day.
The previous day (May 9), Taiwanese team member Chen Yu-Nan had died following a fall.
Delays reaching the summit
Shortly after midnight on
May 10, 1996, the Adventure Consultants expedition began a summit attempt from Camp IV, atop the South Col(7,900 m/25,900 ft). They were joined by six client climbers, three guides and Sherpas from Scott Fischer's Mountain Madnesscompany, as well an expedition sponsored by the government of Taiwan.
The expeditions quickly encountered delays. At the Balcony, the failure of the climbing Sherpas or guides to set the fixed ropes by the time the team reached that point cost the team almost an hour. (There is some question as to the cause of this failure, which cannot now be resolved as the expedition leaders perished. [http://away.com/outside/destinations/199609/199609_everest_clarification_4.html Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa's response to Krakauer's article.] ] )
Upon reaching the
Hillary Step, the climbers again discovered that no fixed line had been placed, and they were forced to wait for an hour while the guides installed the ropes. Because some 33 climbers were attempting the summit on the same day, and Hall and Fischer had asked their climbers to stay within 150 m of each other, there were bottlenecks at the single fixed line at the Hillary Step.
Climbing without supplementary oxygen, Boukreev reached the summit first at 1:07 pm. [http://away.com/outside/destinations/199609/199609_everest_clarification_2.html Anatoli Boukreev's response to Krakauer's article] ] Many of the climbers had not yet reached the summit by 2:00 pm, the last safe time to turn around to reach Camp IV before nightfall.
Boukreev began his descent to Camp IV at 2:30 pm. By that time, Martin Adams and Klev Schoening had summitted, but Beidleman and the remaining four Mountain Madness clients had not yet arrived. After this time, Jon Krakauer noted that the weather did not look so benign, and at 3:00 pm snow started to fall and the light was diminishing. Gau summitted about 3:00 pm and noticed incoming bad weather at 3:10. [http://classic.mountainzone.com/climbing/misc/gau/index-ie3.html Gau's account and pictures.] ]
Sirdar, Ang Dorje Sherpa, and other climbing Sherpas waited at the summit for the clients. Near 3:00 pm, they began their descent. On the way down, Ang Dorje encountered client Doug Hansen above the Hillary Step, and ordered him to descend. Hansen did not respond. When Hall arrived at the scene, he sent the Sherpas down to assist the other clients, and stated that he would remain to help Hansen, who had run out of supplementary oxygen.
Scott Fischer did not reach the summit until 3:45 pm. He was ill, possibly suffering from either
HACEor HAPE, and exhausted from the ascent. Rob Hall and Doug Hansen summitted even later.
Descent in a blizzard
Boukreev recorded that he reached Camp IV by 5:00 pm. The reasons for Boukreev's decision to descend ahead of his clients are disputed. [ [http://www.salon.com/wlust/feature/1998/08/cov_03feature.html Salon Wanderlust | Coming down ] ] Boukreev maintained that he wanted to be ready to assist struggling clients farther down the slope, and to retrieve hot tea and extra oxygen if necessary. [ [http://outside.away.com/peaks/fischer/anatoli.html Summit Journal '96: Scott Fischer Returns to Everest: Anatoli Boukreev response ] ] Boukreev's decision not to use bottled oxygen was sharply criticized by Jon Krakauer. [ [http://outside.away.com/peaks/fischer/krakreply1.html Summit Journal '96: Scott Fischer Returns to Everest: Reply from Jon Krakauer ] ] Boukreev's supporters (who include G. Weston DeWalt, who co-wrote "The Climb") state that using bottled oxygen gives a false sense of security. [ [http://www.gsk.com/people/mogens/acclimatisation.htm GlaxoSmithKline: On top of the world - Acclimatisation ] ] Krakauer and his supporters point out that, without bottled oxygen, Boukreev was unable to directly help his clients descend. [http://www.salon.com/wlust/feature/1998/08/cov_03feature3.html Coming Down page 3] DWIGHT GARNER "salon.com" 1998 August] They state that Boukreev said that he was going down with client Martin Adams, but Boukreev later descended faster and left Adams behind.
The worsening weather began causing difficulties for the descending team members. By now, the blizzard on the Southwest Face of Everest was diminishing visibility, burying the fixed ropes and obliterating the trail back to Camp IV that the teams had broken on the ascent.
Fischer, helped by Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa, was unable to descend below the Balcony(8350 m/ 27395 ft) in the storm. Sherpas left Makalu Gau (at 8230 m/27000 ft by Gau's account) with Fischer and Lopsang when he too became unable to proceed. Eventually, Lopsang was persuaded by Fischer to descend and leave him and Gau.
Hall radioed for help, saying that Hansen had fallen unconscious, but was still alive. Adventure Consultants guide Andy Harris began climbing to the Hillary Step at 5:30 pm with supplementary oxygen and water.
Krakauer's account notes that by this time, the weather had deteriorated into a full-scale blizzard. "Snow pellets born on 70-mph winds stung my face." Boukreev gives 6:00 pm as "the onset of a blizzard".
Several climbers became lost on the South Col. Mountain Madness members Beidleman, Schoening, Fox, Madsen, Pittman, and Gammelgaard, along with Adventure Consultants' Mike Groom,
Beck Weathers, and Yasuko Namba, wandered in the blizzard until midnight. When they could no longer walk, they huddled some 20 m from a dropoff of the Kangshung Face.
Near midnight, the blizzard cleared enough for the team to see Camp IV, some 200 m away. Beidleman, Groom, Schoening, and Gammelgaard set off to find help. Madsen and Fox remained with the group to shout for the rescuers. Boukreev located the climbers and brought Pittman, Fox, and Madsen to safety. Boukreev had prioritized Pittman, Fox and Madsen over Namba, who seemed close to death. Boukreev did not see
Beck Weathers. Having made two forays to rescue these three climbers, Boukreev, in common with all other climbers then at Camp IV, was exhausted. Neither Boukreev nor any of the other climbers at Camp IV felt able to make another attempt to reach Namba.
The next day
May 11, at 4:43 am, Hall radioed down and said that he was on the South Summit. He reported that Harris had reached the two men, but that Hansen, who had been with him since the previous afternoon, was now 'gone'. In addition, he said that Harris was missing as well. Hall was not breathing bottled oxygen because his regulator was too choked with ice.
By 9:00 am, Hall had fixed his
oxygen mask, but indicated that his frostbitten hands and feet were making it difficult to traverse the fixed ropes. Later in the afternoon, he radioed to Base Camp, asking them to call his wife, Jan Arnold, on the satellite phone. During this last communication, he reassured her that he was reasonably comfortable and told her, "Sleep well my sweetheart. Please don't worry too much." Shortly thereafter, he died, and his body was found on May 23by mountaineers from the IMAXexpedition.
The climbing Sherpas located Fischer and Gau on May 11, but Fischer's condition had deteriorated so much that they were only able to give
palliative carebefore rescuing Gau. Boukreev made a subsequent rescue attempt, but found Fischer's frozen body at around 7 pm.
Indo-Tibetan Border Police
Less well known are the other three fatalities of the day, who were the climbers from the
Indo-Tibetan Border Police North Colexpedition from India. The expedition was led by Commandant (equiv to Lt. Col) Mohinder Singh, and is credited as being the first Indian ascent of Everest from the North sideEverest : The First Indian Ascent from North by Mohinder Singh. Delhi, Indian Pub., 2003, xvi, 166 p., photographs, $77. ISBN 81-7341-276-6.] .
May 10 1996, by Subedar Tsewang Samanla, Lance Naik (equivalent to Lance Corporal) Dorje Morup and Head Constable Tsewang Paljor were part of a six man summit attempt from the North Side. Being a traditional type of expedition, the summit team did not have any Sherpas to guide them in their ascent. The team were the first team of the season to go up the North Face. It would be their responsibility to fix the ropes during ascent and break the trail to the top, a task that has its own share of difficulties. The team was caught in the blizzard above Camp IV. While three of the six members turned down, Samanla, Paljor and Morup decided to go for the summit.Krakauer, op. cit. p. 239]
At around 6:00 pm (3:45 pm Nepal Time), [http://books.google.com/books?id=FattUWiYu80C&pg=PA23&lpg=PA23&dq=tsewang+samanla&source=web&ots=xwJU49j40p&sig=8bvqymCFGqVxyylEJI7AYuDL5Nw#PRA1-PA23,M1 American Alpine Journal] ] the three climbers radioed to their expedition leader that they had arrived at the summit. While the Indian camp was jubilant in their celebrations, some of the other mountaineers at base camp already expressed their reservations about the timing, which was quite late in the day to be on the summit. There is also a dispute whether the three had actually reached the summit. Krakauer claims that the climbers were at 28,550 feet, roughly 500 feet short of the topmost point. This is based on the interview given by a later Japanese team to Richard Cowpens of the London "
Financial Express". Due to bad visibility and thick clouds which obscured the summit, the climbers believed they had reached the top. This also explained why the climbers did not run into the teams that summitted from the South Side.
The three climbers left an offering of prayer flags, katas and pitons. The leader, Samanla, decided to spend extra time for religious ceremonies and instructed the other two to move down. There was no radio contact after that. Back at the camps below, anxious team members saw two headlamps moving slightly above the second step - at 8570 meters. None of the three managed to come back to high camp at 8320 meters.
The next day, two Japanese climbers, Hiroshi Hanada and Eisuke Shigekawa, of the Fukuoka Mountaineering Club, aided by three Sherpas, making the summit attempt, found one of the climbers shortly above First Step. The climber, (whom Krakauer believes to be Paljor) was still moaning and frostbitten from exposure over the night. The Japanese climbers left him and set out for the summit. After they climbed the second step, they ran into the other two climbers, probably Samanla and Morup. Krakauer notes "No words were passed, No water, food or oxygen exchanged hands. The Japanese moved on ...".
The apparent indifference of the Japanese climbers was inexplicable, as the Indian expedition leader told later, "The Japanese had initially pledged to help the search for the missing Indians. But hours later, they pressed on with their attempt to reach the summit, despite bad weather." [http://outside.away.com/peaks/japan.html ITBP Climbers killed] ] The Japanese team pressed on and summitted at 11:45 am (Nepal Time). By the time the Japanese climbers descended, one of the two Indians was already dead and the other near death. They could not find any trace of the third climber further down.
Much discussion ensued on why the Japanese did not help the Indian climbers. While the consensus suggests a rescue mission at such a high altitude was out of scope, it is not understood why the Japanese did not offer any succor to the dying Indians.
The disaster was partially caused by the sheer number of climbers (34 on that day) attempting to ascend, causing bottlenecks at the Hillary Step and delaying many climbers, most of whom summited after the usual 2 pm turnaround time.
Jon Krakauer criticised the use of bottled oxygen. Krakauer wrote that the use of bottled oxygen allowed otherwise unqualified climbers to attempt to summit, leading to dangerous situations and more deaths. He proposed banning bottled oxygen except for emergency cases, arguing that this would both decrease the growing pollution on Everest—many bottles have accumulated on its slopes—and keep marginally qualified climbers off the mountain.
In May 2004, Kent Moore, a physicist, and John L. Semple, a surgeon, both researchers from the
University of Toronto, told " New Scientist" magazine that an analysis of weather conditions on May 11 suggested that freak weather caused oxygen levels to plunge by around 14%.cite journal
title = The day the sky fell on Everest
journal = New Scientist
issue = 2449
pages = 15
date = 29 May 2004
url = http://www.newscientisttech.com/article/mg18224492.200-the-day-the-sky-fell-on-everest.html
accessdate = 2006-12-11 ] cite web
title=High winds suck oxygen from Everest Predicting pressure lows could protect climbers.
quote=Moore explains that these jet streaks can drag a huge draught of air up the side of the mountain, lowering the air pressure. He calculates that this typically reduces the partial pressure of oxygen in the air by about 6%, which translates to a 14% reduction in oxygen uptake for the climbers. Air at that altitude already contains only one third as much oxygen as sea-level air.]
=List of fatalities [http://www.adventurestats.com/tables/removed/evfat.htm List of Everest Fatalities] AdventureStats.com] =
*Highest mountains of the world
Kangshung Face, Mount Everest
Geography of China
Sagarmatha National Park
Geology of the Himalaya
List of deaths on eight-thousanders
Everest (film) IMAXmovie
* [http://outside.away.com/peaks/fischer/index.html Summit Journal '96: Scott Fischer Returns to Everest - contemporary reports, original 'Into Thin Air' article and responses.]
* [http://outside.away.com/outside/magazine/0996/9609fede.html Outside Magazine's description of 'The Descent, Step By Step'. Includes Krakauer's mistaken belief that Harris had fallen near Camp IV.]
* [http://www.americanalpineclub.org/AAJO/pdfs/1997/21_hawley_everest_aaj1997.pdf Elizabeth Hawley "A Season on Everest - The rest of the story" (American Alpine Club).]
* [http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/everest/ The Website for the 2008 PBS Frontline television show titled Storm Over Everest.]
* [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2008/05/08/DI2008050802853.html PBS Frontline: 'Storm Over Everest' - washingtonpost.com]
* [http://www.taiwanpanorama.com.tw/en/show_issue.php?id=200769606122e.txt&cur_page=1&table=2&h1=About%20Taiwan&h2=Disasters&search=&height=&type=&scope=&order=&keyword=&lstPage=&num=&year=2007&month=06 Everest's Worst Disaster, a Decade On]
* [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90374592 Climber Recounts Tragedy in 'Storm Over Everest']
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