Hiker Left for Dead on Mount Everest

Near the top of Everest, the soft morning light revealed clear blue skies for miles around.

By Cathy Free from Reader's Digest | December 2006

Just hours before, another climber, a German man named Thomas Weber, suffered similar symptoms, then collapsed and died, less than 20 yards from Hall. And ten days before, David Sharp, a climber from Great Britain, had become seriously ill from the high altitude and died beneath a rock overhang. Forty other climbers, intent on reaching the summit, had passed by, refusing to help.

Almost any experienced climber who’s been to Mount Everest knows somebody who didn’t make it back. Two of Dan Mazur’s friends, Rob Hall (no relation to Lincoln Hall) and Scott Fischer, died in the notorious snowstorm that killed six other climbers in 1996. Their bodies and nearly 200 others are scattered across Everest’s treacherous slopes, preserved for eternity in snow and ice.

“There are times when you literally have to step over somebody’s body to get to the top,” says Mazur. “It’s a grim reminder that you should never lose respect for the mountain.”

Near the peak on that crisp, clear May morning — “a mountaineer’s dream,” Mazur describes — he and his team members quietly realized they had a choice to make: Should they phone in Lincoln Hall’s predicament to his group, 7 Summits, and continue on? Or stay with him, until help arrived?

Mazur had reached the summit once before, in 1991. But for Brash and Osborne, who had spent $20,000 each to make this expedition, it was the dream of a lifetime. In the end, Mazur knew, there was only one possible decision to be made. “Luckily,” he says, “everyone made the right one.”

Osborne spoke first. “We can’t leave the guy,” he said. They all agreed.

Not only was Hall frostbitten and disoriented, he could slip and plunge down the 8,000-foot Kangshung Face at any moment.

“We found him sitting on a three-foot-by-three-foot platform covered with snow and ice,” says Mazur. “It’s hard to believe he didn’t roll over the edge during the night.”

The men got Hall away from the cliff’s edge and helped him back into his snowsuit. Rummaging through their backpacks, they shared their oxygen, lemonade and Snickers bars.

“Can you tell me how you got here?” asked Mazur.

“No,” said Hall.

“Can you tell me your name?”

Hall hesitated, then broke into a grin. “Yes!” he exclaimed. “My name is Lincoln Hall. Can you tell me how I got here?”

Thank God, he’s coming around, Mazur thought. But Hall wasn’t coherent for long.

“This is a great boat ride we’re on!” he kept saying. Still hallucinating, he stretched out his arms like he was about to do a backflip. He tried again to remove his snowsuit, then lunged for the cliff.

“Whoa! Where do you think you’re going?” Mazur grabbed him in a bear hug and tackled him onto the ice. Does this guy have a death wish? he wondered.

Then he flashed on his late friend Scott Fischer, who died on Everest. When climbers came across Fischer’s body, he was partially undressed, a bare arm sticking out of his unzipped down suit. Mazur knew it was common for people in the last stages of hypothermia to tear off their clothes. He also knew they tended to act like three-year-olds having a tantrum. Hall was belligerent — he wasn’t listening, or maybe he wasn’t capable of processing what was being said. Either way, Mazur decided, “I wasn’t going to let this guy we were trying to save kill himself.”

“Come on,” Mazur told his teammates, “we’ve got to keep him away from the ledge.” It looked like they’d have to anchor Hall to the mountain, to keep him from lunging off. They drove an ice axe into the snow, then attached a “sling,” mountaineers’ lingo for a strong nylon tether, which they tied to him with a figure-eight knot.

With the injured climber secured, Mazur radioed down to high base camp, where their team’s cook was waiting. “Go over to the 7 Summits camp, get their guys out of bed and get them on the radio,” he said. “Hurry!”

  • Your Comments

    • WhatDoesTheApeSay?

      Climbing Everest proves nothing. Hundreds of thousands of people do it. It comes down to planning and quality of equipment. The humanity these people showed puts them on a mountain higher than any peak in Everest leads to.

    • William Riley

      Could people contemplating a climb, just look at the videos of past climbers, call it good, and donate the cost of a climb to their favorite charity?

    • Jim

      Perhaps he should have gone skydiving, wait thats a dumb idea too.

    • William Riley

      Climbing mountains is a dangerous adventure. Do you have the right to persue this adventure, then fail in it, and demand that others put their lives at risk, in an attempt to save you?

      • Trust no one

        No one demanded anything. Three men decided a human life was more important than a summit.

    • thesparky1

      Come on, a 95 year old man made it along with a paraplegic, a child, a dog, an 80 year old lady, and thousands of other people who wanted to make the previously thought impossible feat. There are some commercial operators setting up to create gear and the technical guides to take pretty much anybody up there with a healthy heart. They are working with Nepal to get the rules lifted on the maximum amount of climbers who can go up and to also create a lot of permanent cement steps, reinforced ladders, and maybe an automatic transport for some of the climb. I guess the climbers who have made it prior to the modernization of the climb can boast they did it without all the technology.

    • James

      This is some attitude: “Only the strong will survive” We are not talking about animals.

    • Rene

      I think these people are idiots.