The Descent, Step By Step

Outside magazine, September 1996


The Descent, Step By Step
By John Alderman and Katie Arnold


The Summit
1:12 p.m.: Under blue skies and bright sunshine, Krakauer summits with Harris and Boukreev, snaps a few photos on the 29,028 foot pinnacle, and then beats a hasty retreat. Moments later, he stops to shoot this photo of Beidlman and Adams on the summit ridge, noticing for the first time the blanket of clouds moving across Lhotse.
3:12 p.m.: With oxygen bottles running low, Beidleman decides that Fischer's clients wait for Fischer to summit. Beidleman calls for an immediate descent. Just below the summit, climbers pass Fischer, who's still on the way up.
3:20 p.m.: After waiting more than a an hour at the summit for Hansen, Hall, with Hansen in tow, descends into the storm. Fischer and Lobsang Jangbu follow a few minutes later.


The Hillary Step
2:30 p.m.: Boukreev arrives at the steep, 40-foot notch in the summit ridge (right), where he passes Krakauer, who is waiting for a backlog of climbers to make their way up the fixed rope. When all is clear, Krakauer, who has run out of bottled oxygen, rappels quickly down and continues his descent.
4:31 p.m.: Hall and Hansen reach the top of the Step. Out of oxygen, Hall radios Base Camp to ask for help. Fischer and Lobsang Jangbu pass them on their descent. For the next 12 hours, Hall struggles to get Hansen down the fixed rope to the oxygen bottles waiting at the South Summit. Somewhere below the Step, Hansen slips and falls down the Southwest Face to his death.


The Summit Ridge/The South Summit
3:00 p.m.: Harris, Groom, and Krakauer stop at the South Summit 330 vertical feet below the true summit, where fresh oxygen bottles are waiting. As they drop below the crest, it begins to snow. Meanwhile, Fischer and Lobsang Jangbu slowly make their way down the summit ridge. At the South Summit, Fischer starts to have trouble standing. Lobsang Jangbu short-ropes him to keep him upright and moving.
4:43 a.m.: A badly frostbitten and hypothermic Hall finally makes it to the South Summit. Too weak to move in the hurricane-strength wind and snow, he hunkers down and waits for a rescue team.


The Balcony
5:00 p.m.: It's snowing and blowing hard when Groom and Namba come across Weathers, who is nearly blind and has been waiting on the Balcony for Hall since 6:30 a.m. The three descend together.
5:20 p.m.: Beidleman and five of Fischer's clients reach the Balcony, but fatigue and delirium are setting in. They follow Groom, Weathers, and Namba through the fading daylight and rising storm.
9:00 p.m.: Fischer collapses 300 vertical feet below the Balcony, where his body is found the next day.


The South Col
5:40 p.m.: Two hundred yards above Camp Four, Krakauer sees Harris stumbling toward the tents. Krakauer reaches his own tent 20 minutes later.
8:00p.m.: Beidleman, Groom, and their clients are disoriented by what has become a full-blown hurricane and cannot find Camp Four. They spend the next two hours wandering the South Col in search of their tents.
10:00 p.m.: Lost, out of oxygen, and barely able to move, the group huddles 30 feet from the Kangshung Face and, as it will turn out, only 350 yards from camp.
12:00 a.m.: Navigating by the stars now visible through a clearing sky, Beidleman and three others go for help, leaving Madsen, Fox, Pittman, Namba, and Weathers behind.
12:44 a.m.: Beidleman and the others reach Camp Four and send Boukreev to retrieve the rest. By 5:00 a.m., all are safe except Namba and Weathers, who appear to be dead.


Camp Four
Saturday, May 11, 7:30 a.m.: Harris isn't in camp. The prints of his crampons come within 50 feet of the tents before veering toward the Lhotse Face--a 4,000 foot drop--which he apparently walked of in his hypoxic state the night before.
8:30 a.m.: Three teams of Sherpas head up the mountain on a rescue mission. They reach Fischer at 10:00 a.m.: but are unable to rouse him and cannot carry him down in the storm. Throughout the day, climbers are in radio contact with Hall, severely frostbitten, unable to move. High winds prevent the Sherpas from reaching him.
4:30 p.m.: Weathers regains consciousness and, still unable to see more than four feet, staggers back to camp.
6:20 p.m.: Hall is patched through to his wife, Jan Arnold, in New Zealand, for what will prove to be the last heard from him.

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