Unheard Voices of the 1996 Everest Disaster

Almost 20 years after eight mountaineers, including top American Scott Fischer and New Zealander Rob Hall, died in a ferocious storm on Everest in 1996, mountaineers still disagree on many aspects of the tragedy. But all agree that the British-born leader of the First South African Everest Expedition, Ian Woodall, was the villain. Ironically he not only survived, he also summited.

South African Everest Team

From Left to Right, Bruce Herrod, Ian Woodall, Andrew de Klerk, Ed February, Cathy O’Dowd, Nelson Mandela, Andy Hackland and Deshun Deysel.


The human drama of the storm is subject of the new blockbuster movie Everest [ click here to watch official trailer ], due for release mid-September, which is sure to rip the scab off the never healed what happened on Everest in ’96.

Ken Vernon—an Australian journalist assigned to cover the South African expedition by the Sunday Times newspaper that sponsored the expedition—has produced a forensic examination of the ‘dysfunctional expedition with a delusional leader’.

His book, Everest ’96, looks at the wider issues that dogged Everest in 1996 through the prism of one expedition. Here’s a quick look at Everest ’96:

Related Forum Thread:  Everest 96 – SA Expedition

From Wikipedia:

The 1996 Mount Everest disaster refers to the events of 10–11 May 1996, when eight people were caught in a blizzard and died on Mount Everest during summit attempts. Over the entire season, 12 people died trying to reach the summit, making this the deadliest day and the deadliest year on Mount Everest until the 16 fatalities of the 2014 Mount Everest avalanche and the 18[1] deaths resulting from avalanches caused by the April 2015 Nepal earthquake. The 1996 disaster gained wide publicity and raised questions about the commercialization of Everest.

Numerous climbers, including multiple large teams as well as some small partnerships, and even some soloists, were high on Everest during the storm. While climbers died on both the North Face and South Col approaches, the events on the South Face are better known. Journalist Jon Krakauer, on assignment from Outside magazine, was in a party led by guide Rob Hall that lost four climbers on the south side; he afterwards published the bestseller Into Thin Air (1997),[2] which related his experience. Anatoli Boukreev, whose party lost a guide, but no clients, felt impugned by Krakauer’s book and co-authored a rebuttal book called The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest (1997).[3] Beck Weathers, of Hall’s expedition, and Lene Gammelgaard, of Boukreev’s expedition, wrote about their experiences of the disaster in their respective books, Left For Dead: My Journey Home from Everest (2000)[4] and Climbing High: A Woman’s Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy (2000).[5] In 2014, Lou Kasischke, also of Hall’s expedition, published his own account of the tragedy in After the Wind: 1996 Everest Tragedy, One Survivor’s Story (2014).

British filmmaker and writer Matt Dickinson detailed in his book, The Death Zone[6] (later republished as The Other Side of Everest,[7]) a first-hand account of the storm’s impact on climbers on the mountain’s other side, the North Ridge, where three climbers in a group from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police also died. Mike Trueman, who coordinated the rescue from Base Camp, has added to the story with The Storms: Adventure and Tragedy on Everest (May 2015).[8]



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5 Responses to Unheard Voices of the 1996 Everest Disaster

  1. Anonymouse Sep 24, 2015 at 8:24 pm #

    So Ian and Cathy’s summits are confirmed now?

  2. michael Sep 25, 2015 at 10:18 am #

    20 years later and this situation is still a stinking disgrace. Ian Woodall should have faced charges. These are not heroes. what happened in ’96 on Everest was the lowest point for South African climbing.

  3. Rudi Coetzee Sep 25, 2016 at 10:04 am #

    I refer you to Graham Ratcliff’s book, “A Day to Die for”, how can anyone blame the South African team if they and other small teams were bullied by Rob Hall and Scott Fischer with their large teams and high paying customers?

    Both these guys received weather reports (via IMAX and the Danish teams) and tried to bully the other smaller teams (who had no such access to weather reports) into going up on the 11th instead of the 10th, when they, Rob and Scott, knew very well that the storm would be at its worst on the 11th.

    This was not a freak storm, they were to blame for the death of their customers – not the South African team. One get the feeling that egos and commercial competition between Rob and Scott lead them to ignore the forecasts and put their teams at risk causing the deaths of many.

    The independent weather reports clearly indicated that the conditions would deteriorate from the 8th onwards, be at its worst on the 11th and would only subside by the 12th onwards.

  4. Paul Jun 18, 2017 at 9:25 pm #

    It is only South Africans who defend Woodall or O’Dowd and from my reading only a minority of South African climbers agree. It is easy to blame the dead, and a little cheap. Ask de Klerk, February, or Hackland, South Africa’s most experienced climbers why they quit the Woodall team on Everest and lost the chance to be South Africa’s first to climb Everest (with a live radio broadcast from the summit to SA). Then ask Deysel how she felt about Woodall not getting a permit for her to be the first black South African women to summit Everest and then kicked her off the team. You can’t ask Herrod, he died after Woodall left him behind to summit with O’Dowd, and allowed him to carry on ascending when Woodall met him during his (Woodall’s) descent. Almost nobody except Woodall and O’Dowd defend the actions and decisions of the “team.” And of course O’Dowd is Woodall’s wife.

    • Roman Nov 15, 2019 at 3:36 pm #

      >Then ask Deysel how she felt about Woodall not getting a permit for her to be the first black South African women to summit Everest.
      You mean ask Deysel how does it feel to have her life saved? Krakauer, Woodal’s harshest critic, wrote how Deysel told him in the basecamp that she just tried some ice climbing for the 1st time her life(!!), on slopes near the basecamp. And Woodal was supposed to send her all the way to the top?? In his book, Woodal and O’Dowd always looked super-weak and incompetent and Herrod was the only strong climber. But notice times when they all summited.

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