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1996 Mt. Everest Disaster

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1028
  • Category: Disasters

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The summit of Mt. Everest is about 29,000 feet above sea level, a level wherein oxygen supply is very thin.  Many climbs have been attempted to reach the top of the world’s tallest mountain.  Many were successful, but many more failed.  Some lost limbs, while others died in the process.  The mountain’s beauty is in direct contrast to its harshness.

Among the recorded accidents in the attempts to conquer the mountain, the 1996 disaster was the worst of its kind.  Eight people died during the climb, approaching from the Southern route, while another four died from the Northern side.

Using the personal account from a journalist who was one of the climbers during that fateful climb, it would become evident that there were three main reasons why the casualty level was high: unforeseen storm, lapse of judgment, and commercialization of the trade.  Krakauer (1996) described how the last two factors largely contributed to the deaths of so many climbers.

Weather Condition

Semple (2006) published an article wherein a reconstruction of the weather condition from 9 May to 11 May 1996 was presented.  In Krakauer’s account, he noted a wispy cloud rising from the south.  But according to him, the clouds appeared “wispy, insubstantial” amid a strong, midday sun.

Citing the American Meteorological Society, Semple relates that what Krakauer saw was the beginning of a “high-impact weather” that formed because of the combination of jet streaks, water vapor convergence, and moisture availability in the mountain area.  There was no way for the climbers to know about air movement and formation in the Himalayas unless they have intentionally studied about it.  It would seem that even the highly experienced guides of both parties were unable to foresee the possibility of encountering a storm in that period.  Based on the guides’ years of experience, that time of year was ideal for climbing.   In this sense, the climbers were simply unfortunate to have chosen that day to climb the summit.  Also, the low pressure caused oxygen levels to drop much lower than normal.  Semple notes that oxygen dropped about fourteen percent, causing most climbers to be gasping for breath in altitudes that normally had higher oxygen level.

Lapses in Judgment

 The turn-around time is the most important aspect of the expedition.  No matter how near you are to the summit, it is of utmost importance that it should be followed.  In Krakauer’s account, he spent less than five minutes on the top of the world and went down right after as his oxygen gauge become too low for comfort.  The agreed time for everyone to turn back was at 1:00 p.m., to ensure that there would still be enough light for them to safely reach camp.  The descent is more dangerous than the trek to the mountaintop.

Unfortunately, there were too many delays.  In fact, as Krakauer was descending, there were still about twenty climbers on their way to the summit.  The delays were caused by lapses in some of the guides.  One of them was short-roping a client, resulting to his neglect of his most important duty — that of installing fixed ropes on the Southeast Ridge.  The other guide on the team refused to do the work by himself.  These were minor lapses that had major consequence.  This caused more than an hour of precious time.  Should the climbers were able to stick to schedule they would have reached their camps before the storm intensified.

Other lapses in judgment include non-wearing of oxygen masks and continuing with the climb well before the appointed time to turn back.  On allowing people not to don oxygen masks, one guide suffered hypoxia, a condition that Semple says limits proper human functioning.  If everyone were obliged to bring oxygen, the guide named Harris would have lived, as well as famous guides and climbers Rob Hall from New Zealand and Scott Fischer of America.

  Krakauer admitted to noticing the peculiarity in Harris’ state of mind.  But he was in not such a good shape himself that it escaped his notice.  Because of this Harris wrongly informed Hall that they were out of oxygen, a fatal error that led to the death of two other people who were last to descend from the Summit.  There were those who made the mistake of spending too much time taking pictures on the Summit instead of heading right back to camp, at a time when the storm was beginning to hit the lower slopes.

            There were also other parties during that time who attempted to summit without proper gears and guides.  There were the Koreans and the African climbers who made the death toll higher.  A former military officer whose climbing experience was very limited led the Africans.  The Koreans were foolhardy in trying to summit on their own while not wearing the right clothing.

Commercialization of Everest Climbing

The Everest climbers in 1996 were mostly paying clients.  They were not exactly the type of people who were passionate about mountains.  People who want to reach the top in a guided team have each to pay up to $65,000.  Those who have this amount are usually individuals who spend their time earning money instead of climbing mountains.  In short, they didn’t have the physique and the training to endure the harshness of the environment and the lack of oxygen.  They probably have no idea about shifting weather conditions, trusting entirely everything to their guides.

Another probable effect of commercialization and the lure of income was the short roping that one guide did for a client who was in media.  The team’s head knew about it but didn’t stop it.  This seemed like an effort for future media exposure, an intention that led to delays and later fatalities.

Works Cited

Krakauer, Jon. “Into Thin Air.” Outside Magazine September 2006.  20 June 2008


Semple, John. “Weather and Death on Mount Everest: An analysis of the Into Thin Air Storm.”

American Meteorological Society, Volume 87 (2006).

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