The Worst Disasters on Everest: 1. 1996

With the 2012 climbing season underway, we look back at some of the most incredible moments to take place on the world's tallest mountain over the last 150 years

Dark Everest

A dark day on Everest via Shutterstock     Photo: Vadim Petrakov

The statistics alone—eight dead in a single storm, including a guide and two expedition leaders; 12 total for the season—distinguish 1996 as Everest’s single worst year. The story has been told and retold by many different participants and from various perspectives, bringing more light to this horrific episode in Everest’s history than almost any other, including the early British expeditions. The conclusions, particularly those by Jon Krakauer, who had been on assignment for Outside at the time, weren’t positive: commercial competition and overcrowding on the upper mountain had been the root of serious problems, and many deaths. And it was a dramatic wake-up call for those who sought to ply their business on Everest.

The upshot is that many expeditions now report numerous improvements in the wake of that dismal season. Communication has become more consistent and reliable, there is generally more cooperation among the outfitters, and infrastructure continues to improve from Base Camp to the summit. This, of course, doesn’t rule out future problems, even another large disaster. But the most serious professionals on Everest these days appear to be working hard to prevent it.

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