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.
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
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 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), 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). 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) and Climbing High: A Woman’s Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy (2000). 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 (later republished as The Other Side of Everest,) 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).