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!”