Dark Side of Everest Awaits Climbers, TV Viewers

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The unconscious Weathers was left for dead on the South Col during the brutal storm of the well-publicized Mountain Everest climbing season of 1996.

But somehow, someway, Weathers regained consciousness and motor functions and staggered like a zombie into Camp IV#&151;and the enduring lore of Everest. His miraculous recovery was unprecedented, and his perspective on the human and moral conditions of Everest is unique.

"The decision to triage us to death I understand," he continued. "I don't know that I would agree with it. Certainly not in retrospect, because obviously I made it and you wonder what might have happened to Yasuko [Namba] had she been brought back." The Japanese climber perished. But while help is often impossible, that's not always the case. The list of Everest heroes is a long one. Since the earliest years, climbers have repeatedly risked everything from their summit bids to their lives in order to help others in trouble.

So, too, have many Sherpas who repeatedly risk their lives on the mountain to earn a living rather than for recreation or glory. Their selflessness and concern for others in the face of danger has become the stuff of Everest legend.

Seven-time Everest summiter Pete Athans put his commercial group's summit attempt on hold during the 1996 disaster because of his compelling desire to help. His sense of obligation remained undimmed by altitude. "Yes, you're above 8,000 meters (26,250 feet) but does that absolve you of being human?" he asked. "Does it absolve you of being feeling and helping people? It doesn't."

Yet often, climbers pass the stricken and dying on their way to their own summit attempts, reluctant to jeopardize either summit attempts or their own lives for strangers who may appear beyond help.

"There is a brutal edge of survivability, above let's say 27,000 or 28,000 feet (8,230 to 8,530 meters)," Dickinson said. "It's almost a cold, rational awareness that you yourself are beyond help. And that is the reason why morally correct behavior seems to go out of the window."

But the individuals that Beck Weathers respects the most are able to keep a moral focus under the most trying circumstances.

"I don't think morality changes with altitude," he said. "I don't think your obligations to other people change with altitude. Everybody who's going to be on that mountain at some level has physical courage. Moral courage is much rarer. Real character is rare. But I think that the guys who are the big kids climb with certain sense of an ethic to what they do. That it's more important to live within that ethic than it is to go to the summit."

The Dark Side of Everest Broadcast Times

Australia and New Zealand: Thursday, May 1, 2003—20:30
Asia and Taiwan: Thursday, May 6, 2003—23:00
Canada: Monday, May 26, 2003—01:00
Europe and Africa: Monday, April 28, 2003—21:00
France: Monday, April 28, 2003—22:00
Italy: Sunday, May 25, 2003—02:00
Japan: Thursday, May 1, 2003—20:00

More Mount Everest Stories From National Geographic News:
On TV: Surviving Everest Tells of Triumph, Tragedy
1963 Flashback: First Everest Summit by Americans
Everest Attempt Is Focus of New Reality TV Show
Everest Climber to Emcee Summit Attempt on Live TV
Everest: Now Just Another Tourist Trap?
Everest Clinic Tends Ills on High
Everest Time Line: 80 Years of Triumph and Tragedy
Making Movies on the Roof of the World
Everest Snowboarder Vanishes On Second Try
Altitude a Major Challenge to Climbers
The Sherpas of Mount Everest
Everest Melting? High Signs of Climate Change
Everest Anniversary Expedition Wrap-Up
National Geographic 50th Anniversary Everest Expedition Reaches Summit

Related Stories From National Geographic Magazine:
Everest: 50 Years and Counting
Sights & Sounds: The Sherpas
American Summit

Related Stories From National Geographic Adventure Magazine:
After the Storm: '96 Everest Survivors (Audio)
Romance on Everest: The Highest Taboo
The Everest Mess
Little Sister, Big Mountain: Climbing the Himalaya's Cho Oyu
Life on Assignment: Himalaya's Cho Oyu (Audio)
The Last Cairn: A Climber's Tragic Saga (Excerpt)
The Slipping Point: Disaster on Mount Hood
8,000-Meter Man: Ed Viesturs
Q&A: Eric Simonson, Everest Sleuth
Q&A With the Man Who Found Mallory

On Television:
National Geographic Channel: Surviving Everest

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