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

He’d spent seven hours clambering up the mountain through ice and snow, and now an exhausted Daniel Mazur sensed that success was near.

Although it was ten degrees below zero near the top of Everest, the soft morning light revealed clear blue skies for miles around. This is perfect — we’re definitely going to summit today, the climbing guide told himself, digging his crampons into the ice and taking a few more cautious steps. He and his companions were less than three hours away from the spectacular 29,035-foot summit.

Near the top of Mount EverestRichard I'Anson/Lonely Planet ImagesNear the top of Everest, the soft morning light revealed clear blue skies for miles around.

It was 7:30 a.m. when Mazur climbed onto a narrow ledge called Mushroom Rock to rest and offer encouragement to his SummitClimb teammates, Andrew Brash of Canada, Myles Osborne of England and their Sherpa guide, Jongbu.

As the men looked out on the snow-covered peaks below, Mazur suddenly saw a flash of bright yellow to his left. Was it a tent? No way, he thought, squinting to take a closer look. No climber would camp out at this altitude. The yellow blur moved again, and Mazur’s jaw dropped in amazement. What the hell? he wondered.

Perched precariously on the edge of a jagged cliff was a man sitting cross-legged, trying to change his shirt. His thick snowsuit was unzipped to the waist and he had no hat, gloves or sunglasses.

Without an oxygen mask, sleeping bag, food or water, there was no reason for Lincoln Hall to be alive at 28,000 feet, and he seemed to know it. Pulling his frostbitten hands out of his shirt, Hall looked up at Mazur.

“I imagine you are surprised to see me here,” he said.

Hall had been alone on the mountain since 7:30 the night before. Following an arduous climb up the north ridge, he and his teammates had reached the summit at nine that morning. After celebrating the glorious view of the earth’s curve and posing for victory photos, they started on their descent, hoping to reach camp before dangerous afternoon storms rolled in.

But at 28,000 feet, Hall’s feet had stopped moving and he was overcome by a deep fatigue. He turned to one of the Sherpas he was climbing with. “I need to lie down — I need to sleep,” he told him.

With 25 years of experience behind him, Hall was a seasoned mountaineer. He had climbed Everest once before, in 1984, but failed to summit. Now, although he didn’t have the presence of mind to realize it, he was suffering from cerebral edema, a severe form of altitude sickness. The condition causes the brain to swell and leads to a stumbling, intoxicated gait, hallucinations and, eventually, death.

In fact, this area of the mountain, right below the summit, is known as the “death zone.” It is incredibly steep and icy, requiring climbers to use fixed ropes and ice axes to hack their way to the top and then back down again. And because of the high altitude, if a climber is going to get sick, it usually happens here.

Normally, the descent from here to advanced base camp takes about two hours. But Hall was weak and increasingly uncooperative as the edema overtook him. Two Sherpas had to lower him down between them, wasting precious daylight, while the rest of the group kept going.

After nine hours, Hall went limp. He appeared to be dead, and the Sherpas were ordered by their leader to leave him on the mountain.

Checking one last time for signs of life, one of the men poked Hall in the eye. When there was no response, they gathered his backpack, food, water and extra oxygen and returned to the high camp.

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  • Your Comments

    • devgill

      I am never and will never be impressed with anyone climbing the himalayas. They have destroyed that environment. salutation tho to Mazur for doing the right thing.

    • abcdefz

      I don’t know what it is, this particular day, this particular author, this particular story… but I find this account *truly* heartbreaking. To me, because I know *I’ll* never do it, the unimaginable, doubtlessly (and literally) breathtaking, spectacular experience of standing on the top of the world, balanced against the fact that simple, mundane logistics, mean that people die, and REMAIN both ‘there’ and ‘gone’ … leaves me at a total loss for words to describe how that makes me feel… leaving fellow adventurers to die because you HAVE to make it to the top. Dear God, how could you LIVE with yourself…

    • HC

      Helping someone in distress is what every human should do. At the very least, do everything that is within one’s capabilities to help. Yes, it’s not smth that you get medals for, but even animals exhibit such spirit and grace. “40 people who passed by” are behaving worse than beasts. People don’t expect you to sacrifice your own life for someone else’s, but the least you could do is stop climbing up but head down to find help. Surely you have enough resources (i.e. food and oxygen) for that? Unless of course you plan to reach the summit and die there.

    • ann

      How could ANYONE human leave a person for dead. As far as these two Italians, shame on them! What AHs.

    • PRex

      Are your penises larger as you gaze over what you think you’ve conquered? It really is rather disgusting.

    • Mark

      Why is the article titled Hiker Left for Dead on Everest? Clearly this guy did not strap on hiking shows for an enjoyable afternoon trek to the hills.

      Mark O’ Mailey

    • JayCkat

      I think people are forgetting one thing here. Once in the Death Zone, nobody can carry you off Everest. People can help guide you down the slope, share O2 bottles, help anchor you to prevent you from being blown off the mountain but you still have to save yourself with your own two feet.

      The difference between Lincoln Hall and David Sharp was simply that… Hall could walk while Sharp was frozen to where he set.

      In the Death Zone the human body is dying. There is simply not enough O2 to keep the body alive. Now include the temperature with wind chile can be as low as minus 75 Celsius, winds can be sudden and powerful (upto 175miles/hr… for comparison a Category 5
      Hurricane starts at 156miles/hr), and you are climbing a mountain.

      And please… don’t say stupid things like I would stay to comfort… the only reason you are warm is because you are active. The moment you stop moving your body cools down. And before you know it you are sleepy, feel the need to sit down and are soon dead.

    • http://twitter.com/badcrosbys David Crosby

      These people all seem like self centered lunatics..

    • jay

      I can’t imagine leaving someone. I can imagine the agony of defeat. Actually you guys won.You will reach the real summit someday and God will welcome you in.
      God bless and never stop exploring.

    • Krl0129

      So glad people have compassion for others in this world.  And isn’t ‘I saved a man’s life’ a better story to tell people when you get home rather than ‘I climbed to the top of a mountain’

      • David Ward

        how would you go about saving a man’s life at 28k feet? please run the logistics through your mind before answering. also, please read a couple of books like “into thin air” to give you an understanding of just what the human body and mind go through at that altitude. you are eye level with jumbo jets at that height. better yet, watch “Everest, Beyond the Limit”. it’s on netflix.