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To Rob
image story

May 27, 2004 01: 52 EST
The year was 1996 and we were two wide eyed climbers on our first attempt to climb Mount Everest. It was our first visit to an 8000er, but everyone said it'd be a breeze. "It's practically a yak trail all the way up," reported the world media and our would-be expedition leader.

We ran into trouble right from the start. We had joined a low budget, international expedition and the leader's reputation wasn't all that great around Everest Base Camp. We didn't know it when we signed up, but it quickly became evident as we hit the mountain. There was no food. The leader was spending time in the teahouses below or making rounds of gossip and politics to the other expedition leaders tents.

There was no doctor, no radio comm units, no weather reports - nothing. Our BaseCamp was a dark and gloomy makeshift camp made out of rocks and pieces of black plastic.

Our motley crew of climbers managed best we could, climbing the mountain randomly between high camps, hoping to find food and fuel in the tents when we arrived. Sometimes we did, and sometimes we didn't.

The expedition turned into a lawless land where everyone was for himself. Members secretly tried to negotiate personal favors from the underpaid and unmotivated expedition sherpas, food was stolen or hidden.

At Camp one, there was a fight. We all felt miserable, sitting around our battered tents trying to figure out what to do. That's when a bearded man in a red climbing suit passed by. "Hello" he said and his face had this wide, friendly smile. The man was Rob Hall.

We had noticed him before: His organized trips up the mountain with climbers in a perfect line and himself leading. His festive Base Camp outfit.

He's no good," said our leader. "Makes millions and millions of money." Oh OK, we said. But then we watched as he fixed the ropes for the rest of the climbers and as his doctors took care of everyone around, including us. We paid a visit to his Base Camp. It was bright and cozy, there was music and a the most wonderful smell of mountain cuisine. Now, at Camp 1, we just wanted to get up, chase him down and scream "help."

We complained to our leader. "You worry too much" he said. We asked to check our oxygen gear. "It will be available on the summit push."

Some weeks later, we arrived in Camp 2. It was a weird climb. We were alone on the Western Qwm and the weather just wasn't right. There were clouds, whiteout and the wind picked up. One of us fell in a crevasse as we tried to find our way to Camp. When we arrived, lighting and thunder sounded from above. We had a soup and went to bed.

The next day marked our summit push. But in the morning, our leader told us to stay put. "Something has happened on the mountain, a whole lot of climbers are missing."

Spooked, we retired to our tent, listening to the radio communications outside. Our leader had one of the only two radios in our expedition. The second was with our climbers at the South Col. Our leader was frantic, yelling into the radio: "Go out there and do a head count goddamit!" But they wouldn't.

We came out of the tent; "What's up?"
He was weeping. "People are missing and they won't go out to check the tents."
"Why not?"
"They don't want to jeopardize their summit push."
Then he was off, to organize a rescue.

That's when we heard about Rob. He had stayed with his last climber who had lagged behind. The climber died, and now Rob himself was stuck at the South Summit. He was alive. He radioed down to BC. But nobody went up for him, the weather was too bad. "He has some oxygen bottles up there" someone said "but he is in a crevasse."

Hours went by. Rob's voice came through over the radio, increasingly weaker. The next day, ghosts came down the Lhotse wall. Wrecked climbers, some led by Sherpas. They stumbled, a terrified, confused look on their faces. Other climbers went out to meet them, and they fell into each others arms and cried.

But Rob was gone. Late that evening, the radio incredibly came on again. "This is Rob Hall calling, hello, hello." The whole mountain went quiet. And then, the next morning, another call.
It broke our heart. Die, please die, we secretly thought to ourselves. Nobody was going up for him. Nobody could, they said.

Then everyone left for Base Camp. Only a few of us remained in Camp 2. That's when a broken, pale shadow of a climber emerged in our tent. With great effort, he sat down by the gas fire. It was Anatoli Boukreev. "I couldn't do more," he said in broken English and began to sob. "You did what you could, and you were the only one" we said softly.

The next day, the radio stayed silent.

Rob Hall talked to his wife, Jan, over the radio from his final death camp, and they decided on a name for their unborn child. Sarah Arnold-Hall is eight years old today.

Rob's story became famous in the book Into Thin Air. Anatoli Boukreev perished in an avalanche on Annapurna.

Adventure Consultants are running Rob's mountaineering outfit today, maintaining his high standards. Their Everest 2004 climbers, Luis Benitez, Mike Roberts, Urszula Tokarska of Canada, Samantha O'Carroll of Ireland, Ed Bradley and Anthony Baldry from Australia, John Rost from USA, Ang Dorjee Sherpa, Passang Tenzing Sherpa, Phu Tashi Sherpa, Lhakpa Tharkey Sherpa and Nuru Gyalzen Sherpa are climbing in Rob's steps towards the summit tonight.

Image of Rob Hall, courtesy of Guy Cutter/Adventure Consultants.

Note: Proof has come out over the years that Andy Harris went back up to try and rescue Rob, and was with him during the first night.

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