How can we prevent similar tragedies?

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine

Jon Krakauer

How can we prevent similar tragedies?
Question: Jon,

Is there any reason to believe that we can prevent similar tragedies in the future? Not that I want mountaineering itself to be regulated, but is there any indication that these guiding groups have learned anything from the tragedy?

Looking forward to Into Thin Air. I enjoyed Eiger Dreams immensely.

A. Patrick Roy
Memphis, TN
[email protected]

Jon: Dear Patrick,

I think similar tragedies are inevitable in the future. Sadly, horribly, in the days since you sent your question, five more climbers have lost their lives on Everest — strong, experienced mountaineers who perished on the North Col/Northeast Ridge route on May 8-9. And let's not forget what happened last year to the South African expedition, a mere two weeks after the calamity that claimed the lives of Rob Hall, Scott Fischer, Andy Harris, Doug Hansen, Yasuko Namba, Tsewang Smanla, Tsewang Paljor, and Dorje Morup.

The South African team had been present at Camp IV at 26,000 feet on the South Col on May 10-11 when disaster struck. They'd felt the ferocity of that storm that killed so many, heard the desperate radio calls for help, seen Beck Weathers stagger into camp crippled with extensive frostbite. When they set out for the summit 14 days later, on May 25, 1996, the South African team climbed right past the remains of Scott Fischer, and several hours later stepped directly over Rob Hall's lifeless legs as they traversed the South Summit at 28,700 feet.

Apparently, the bodies made little impression on them, however, because a member of the South African team named Bruce Herrod didn't summit until 5 p.m., by which time all his teammates had already tagged the top and descended back to Camp IV, leaving him alone on the top of the mountain, out of oxygen, with less than two hours of daylight remaining. In late April 1997, when a team of Kazakhs, Russians, and Indonesians led by Anatoli Boukreev reached the summit ridge on their way to becoming the first climbers to ascend Everest this year, they came across Herrod dangling from a fixed rope at the base of the Hillary Step, where he had expired a year earlier.

N E X T   Q U E S T I O N

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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