Saving a Stranger Left for Dead

Lincoln Hall was dead, or so close that his fellow climbers, who had tried to revive him for hours, stripped his body of necessary equipment and left him, exposed on a narrow ridge, 28,000 feet up Mt. Everest. The next morning, May 26, Hall’s family was notified that he had died.

At about the same time, Dan Mazur, 45, an American-born Everest guide, was ascending the mountain with a Sherpa guide and two other climbers. Just short of the peak, they encountered Hall, 50, a veteran Australian climber, gloveless, hatless and with his insulated suit zipped open, but sitting up and very much alive. Mazur described the rescue—and, in the process, the sometimes brutal ethics of Everest climbers—to PEOPLE’s Thomas Bell.

The terrain where we found him was kind of steep. There was loose powder snow, about 4 inches, and it was cold, real cold. We were moving real slow, going at “summit pace.” You don’t want to go too fast because you’ll burn yourself out, and you don’t want to stop and rest because you’ll freeze. Just got to keep going real slow. It was getting light, but still quite gloomy.

We came upon him suddenly. He was just sitting there on the brow of a ridge, with a cliff on one side that had a drop of about 8,000 feet. He’s got his arms out of his down suit, wearing just a thin fleece top. He’s got no hat, no gloves and no goggles. There’s no oxygen. He’s got no equipment and he was just sitting there gaping. He was ‘dead,’ so the people he was with apparently took all his stuff. He’d had three Sherpas, and I heard they were like poking fingers in his eyes and he wasn’t moving. They figured he was dead. Maybe he was almost dead. A couple of people later told me they did everything they could.

Anyway, he said, “You must be surprised to see me here.”

I said, “Yeah, buddy, I’m really surprised to see you.”

I wish we hadn’t found him up there. I really do. It really f—–up our whole thing. My job is putting people on the summit of Everest. Not rescuing some guy from Sydney, or whatever he is. But we didn’t have a second’s hesitation about stopping. How could you just walk past someone like that? He’s sitting up, holding his hands up, talking to us. If you walk past someone like that, you’re going to hell, dude, you’re going to hell!

Right away I tried to get him to zip up his coat and put on his gloves and his hat. That’s the first step. He kept taking them off. His fingers looked like candles. Frozen down to halfway. All waxy, yellow. It’s like minus 20 or minus 30. But there was no wind. I’m like, “Hold out your hand, dude. Is this your glove? Let’s get that glove on, man. Okay, where’s your hat? Let’s put your hat on. Zip up your coat.” He was like a 3-year-old.

He wasn’t tied on to anything. It’s amazing he didn’t roll off the cliff during the night. Our Sherpa Jangbu drove in a snow stake and we clipped his harness to that. Apparently because of the oxygen deprivation, he seemed to think he was on a boat. He kept saying things like, “Strange boat ride we are on here, huh?” and “Wow, you guys are on this boat ride too?”

We gave him some Snickers bars, some water, some oxygen from a spare tank we had, and he started getting better, noticeably. More mobile. Started to be like, “Oh, where’re my glasses?” and he started looking around and going, “Wow, oh jeez!”

We radioed our camp and had our guy go over to his base camp. He had a logo on his jacket, so we knew where he came from. It took an effort to convince them that he was still alive. They put on a Sherpa who spoke English, and the Sherpa is like, “He’s still alive?!” And we’re like, “Yeah! He’s still alive. He’s moving around; he’s talking; he doesn’t look too bad. He looks like he’s okay.”

In four hours two Sherpas arrived with his stuff. Three more were close behind, so we handed him off and headed down. The next day we went to see him in his tent. He was doing a lot better. Although he had a high fever and was pretty bandaged up, pretty weak, he was obviously recovering well. He was a nice guy. He said, “Thank you.”

We never made it to the top. The four hours we had lost made it risky to go on. Storms come in the afternoon, and we had used a good deal of oxygen just sitting there. But I’m humbled, very humbled, by the whole thing. I feel respect for the mountain and for the situation. Sometimes you feel about an inch big. Just tiny. Like you are just a little pea.

Aside from the possibility of losing some fingers to frostbite, Hall was expected to make a full recovery.

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