The Worst Disasters on Everest: 4. A Deadly Descent

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

Evereset North Face

The north face of Everest via Shutterstock     Photo: Peter Zaharov

In 1998, at age 41, Hawaiian-born Francys Arsentiev became the first American woman to reach the top of Everest without supplemental oxygen. She had ascended via the Northeast Ridge with her husband, Sergei, but the climb had taken its toll. On the way down, in the dark, the pair became separated. When Francys did not show up at the first camp, Sergei, who believed his wife had been ahead of him, gathered oxygen and medication, and set back up the ridge at first light to find her. The next 48 hours were grim, even by Everest standards. An Uzbek team encountered Arsientiev, frost-bitten and half-conscious, high on the North Face. They spent an hour trying to revive and momave her but eventually left.

A similar incident occurred when Cathy O’Dowd and Ian Woodall encountered Arsientiev as they ascended. Again, attempts to revive her failed, though she was still alive. By the third day, climbers passing by reported that Arsentiev had died. Nearby was a rope and ice ax, belonging to Sergei—but no Sergei. His body was found years later, lower on the North Face, apparently having fallen to his death attempting to save his wife.

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