Seaborn Beck Weathers was a man with a mission. In May of 1996 he was going to climb the biggest, baddest, most perilous mountain on the planet. No, I'm not talking about the Aggro Crag, I'm talking about Mount Fucking Everest. Little did he know that what he was about to face would test his true measure as a human being and push him to the limits of human endurance.
It was the morning of May 10th when Weathers and about two dozen other climbers decided to leave Camp IV and make their final assault towards the highest point on Earth, the summit of Everest, situated just over 29,000 feet above sea level. The team had spent the past three months working their way up the hulking mountain, attempting to acclimate themselves to the extreme cold and dealing with oxygen levels so low that the simple act of walking can easily exhaust a human. But on this day all of their hard work and training was going to pay off, and they would finally reach the summit of the world's most daunting mountain.
But it was not meant to be for Beck Weathers.
As Beck made his final climb towards the summit, he came down with an extreme case of snowblindness. Weathers had undergone corrective eye surgery years before, and on his way through Everest's "Death Zone" - a place where oxygen is so scarce that the human body shuts down vital organ systems such as the digestive tract simply to sustain life - the altitude began affecting his surgically-repaired eyes, blinding him to everything that was more than two or three feet in front of his face. He told his guide, an experienced New Zealand mountaineer named Rob Hall, about his condition. Hall made Weathers promise not to continue up the mountain, and told him to sit down and wait for Hall to return from the summit so they could both return together.
So Beck Weathers sat.
A few short hours after Beck halted his ascent, ominous clouds began to roll across the peak of the mountain. In the blink of an eye, Beck Weathers found himself in the middle of a raging blizzard. Seventy mile an hour winds and torrential waves of snow pelted the side of the mountain, assaulting Weathers with a wind chill that exceeded one hundred degrees below zero. Finally, a group of fellow climbers returning from the summit came upon Weathers and decided to try and help him down the mountain. He was short-roped by Australian guide Mike Groom, as the group desperately attempted to return to Camp IV. They did their best, despite whiteout conditions, but eventually the gale force winds, lack of oxygen and unrelenting storm forced the climbers to stop their search for shelter and huddle together for warmth. When there was finally a lull in the storm, Groom knew he had a small window with which to go for help. He left Weathers and four other climbers, all of whom were nearly unconscious, to return to camp for assistance.
Help returned a few hours later. Three of the climbers were helped up and led back down to base camp, but Beck Weathers and Japanese climber Yasuko Namba had both fallen into hypothermic comas and were unresponsive. The rescuers decided that nothing could be done to save these people (the path was too perilous for other climbers to drag their unconscious bodies) and they were left for dead on the side of the mountain.
All night Beck Weathers lay on his back, slowly freezing to death in the bitter cold. Though he was lying only 300 yards from his camp, at that altitude the distance might as well have been 300 miles. Hypothermia seized his body. Frostbite set in on his nose and both of his hands. Here would be his final resting place, buried under the snow and exposed to extreme cold, ice and wind.
The next morning, two Sherpas returned to Beck and Nambas's position to check up on them. After chipping blocks of ice off of their faces, the Sherpas found both of them to be breathing, but severely frostbitten and "as close to death as a human being can be". The call once again was made to leave them for dead, since there was little that could have been done to save them even if they were able to drag the bodies back to camp (no small feat when you're 29,000 feet into the troposphere). The Sherpas slogged back to camp and reported Weathers and Namba's deaths.
But then something incredible happened. Beck Weathers opened his eyes.
Beck says that he saw his wife and kids standing in front of him, calling out to him like Obi-Wan Kenobi telling a dying Luke Skywalker to go seek out Yoda on the Dagobah system. At that moment, Seaborn Beck Weathers decided that he wanted to live. He slowly dragged himself to his feet and started walking.
He was completely blind in one eye, which had been swollen shut by the cold. and had a visibility range of one to three feet in the other eye. His entire body was numb, and he was stupid from altitude sickness. Despite all his deficiencies, he was able to stumble three hundred yards into the searing cold wind in an incredible feat of endurance. Finally, against all odds and to the shock of everyone who witnessed it, Beck Weathers lurched into Camp IV.
"Initially I thought I was in a dream. Then I saw how badly frozen my right hand was, and that helped bring me around to reality. Finally I woke up enough to recognize that I was in deep shit and the cavalry wasn't coming so I better do something about it myself."
Beck was treated for hypothermia and frostbite, and then helped back down the mountain to Camp III, where Lieutenant Colonel Madan Khatri Chhetri of the Nepalese Army pulled him from the mountain in the second-highest altitude helicopter rescue in human history. He returned home and ended up losing both of his hands to frostbite and having to have his nose reconstructed from skin grafts, but this didn't slow him down. He found a new respect for life, wrote a book, salvaged his marriage (which was on the rocks) and now works as a motivational speaker.
The expedition Weathers was on would go on to be chronicled in the best-selling book "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer. Five people died on the mountain that day in one of the greatest tragedies in the history of Everest. But despite having all the odds against him, spending twenty-two hours in the harshest, most unforgiving climate on the planet, and being left for dead twice, Beck Weathers showed that real badasses don't give up. They get shit done. They survive.
I was lying on my back in the ice. It was colder than anything you can believe. I figured I had three or four hours left to live, so I started walking. All I knew was, as long as my legs would run, and I could stand up, I was going to move toward that camp, and if I fell down, I was going to get up. And if I fell down again, I was going to get up, and I was going to keep moving until I either hit that camp, I couldn't get up at all, or I walked off the face of that mountain.
Into Thin Air
Everest Survivor Tells His Story
Gallery of photos taken during the 1996 Everest Expedition