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Survivors Look Back
By the time the survivors of the storm of May 10, 1996, returned home they'd been battered by months at altitude, by frostbite, hypothermia, and windburn, and by the loss of eight of their friends, guides, and fellow climbers, including guides Rob Hall and Scott Fischer. But for many, the trauma was just beginning.

By August several national magazines had published competing versions of the fatal storm. Many accusations were made: that Russian guide Anatoli Boukreev had been negligent; that Lopsang Sherpa had held up the ascents on summit day; that guides were too willing to bring wealthy yet inexperienced clients to one of the most dangerous places on earth.

The popularity of Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, of the half-dozen competing accounts published subsequently, and of the IMAX movie filmed just days after the killer storm, created an army of amateur Everest historians—and placed those who had been on the mountain at the center of a heated public controversy. Here, an update and audio outtakes from some of those accidental celebrities.

Beck Weathers, 56
Beck Weathers - Click to EnlargeDallas, Texas

Twice abandoned and presumed dead on the South Col, a bludgeoned Beck Weathers—stricken with severe frostbite, corneal lacerations, and hypothermia—was hauled down to Camp I and evacuated by helicopter.

"He was in such bad shape," his wife, Peach, says, "I never got the chance to say, 'I told you so.'" In the next year, Weathers (himself a pathologist) underwent ten surgeries, the longest lasting 16 hours. "They didn't sew up, they just put in zippers," he says. "No sense wasting time." His entire right hand and most of his left was amputated; surgeons fashioned a thumb out of muscle from his side and back.

Weathers' 2000 biography, Left for Dead, details his recuperation, including facing a battered marriage and recognizing the profound depression that he says drove him to climb. With the help of an assistant, Weathers is back at work, and he remains on the lecture circuit. "These years have been the most interesting, stimulating, and positive of my existence," he says. "Everest in many, many ways was one of the best things to happen to me."

Charlotte Fox, 45
Charlotte Fox - Click to EnlargeAspen, Colorado

It was a runaway train," says 21-year Snowmass ski patrol veteran Charlotte Fox of the aftermath of 1996. "I mean, things were bad enough, but the media got a hold of it and everything we said was twisted to fit whatever story they had already created."

Fox had climbed thirteen 18,000-plus-foot [5,486-meter] mountains before the '96 expedition and was the first American woman to ascend three 8,000-meter (26,250 foot) peaks: Gasherbrum II, Cho Oyu, and, in '96, Everest. She had signed on to Scott Fischer's Mountain Madness expedition with her boyfriend, Tim Madsen; after the tragedy, the intense media scrutiny contributed to the end of their relationship. "I've never lost my passion," she says. "I climb almost all my days off. I'm out cragging, or ice climbing, or ski mountaineering."

Though Fox used to speak publicly about 1996 to help raise money for the Access Fund, a climbing advocacy nonprofit on whose board she served, she's given that up. "I just want to go on climbing instead of talking about it," she says. "I hope 1996 is not the defining moment of my life."

Ed Viesturs, 43
Ed Viesturs - Click to EnlargeBainbridge Island, Washington

If we had left, run away at that point, we would have left this pall of gloom and death," mountaineer Ed Viesturs says of his team's decision to stay and push on with their own summit attempt after the 1996 tragedy. The IMAX film that resulted (Everest: Mountain Without Mercy)—with Viesturs in the starring role—would go on to gross $120 million, one of the most successful documentaries of all time.

Viesturs has now summited Everest five times, as well as eleven other of the world's fourteen 8,000-meter [26,250-foot] peaks (see "8,000-Meter Man," Adventure, February 2001).

Much of the funding for those climbs has come from his lecture-circuit fees. "You know, a lot of people saw that movie, and because of that a lot of opportunities occurred for me," says the climber, who had a cameo in the 2000 Hollywood release Vertical Limit. "Corporations love the messages that came out of that expedition .... We picked up the pieces, stayed together as a team, and finished what we set out to do." Viesturs hopes to check 26,660-foot [8,126-meter] Nanga Parbat off his list this May.

Hear from more of the surviving climbers—and more about the 50th anniversary of Everest's first ascent in the April 2003 issue of Adventure. We revisit the boldest climbs, the continuing controversies, and the mountaineers who made history


Audio: Beck Weathers (1:48)
"You would think the hardest part of that whole experience would have something to do with the mountain and point of fact it doesn't."

RealPlayer 28.8 | 56.6

Audio: Peach Weathers (0:43)
"We were asking that he get proper medical care, not understanding what being at the top of Mount Everest is like ..."

RealPlayer 28.8 | 56.6

Audio: Charlotte Fox (0:32)
"Jon Krakauer's book really captured the essence of the whole event quite well."

RealPlayer 28.8 | 56.6

Audio: Ed Viesturs (1:04)
"A typical client that goes to Everest has a lot of experience ..."

RealPlayer 28.8 | 56.6

Audio: Ed Viesturs (0:55)
"There's been a lot of close calls since '96, so some people learn and some people don't."

RealPlayer 28.8 | 56.6

Audio: Ed Viesturs (1:18)
"I wanted to turn the season into something more positive, and kind of demonstrate that you can climb Everest ..."

RealPlayer 28.8 | 56.6

Plug-In: RealPlayer

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April 2003

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