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Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest

Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest

3.8 28
by Beck Weathers

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With a new preface by the author • As featured in the upcoming motion picture Everest, starring Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, and Jake Gyllenhaal
“I can tell you that some force within me rejected death at the last moment and then


With a new preface by the author • As featured in the upcoming motion picture Everest, starring Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, and Jake Gyllenhaal
“I can tell you that some force within me rejected death at the last moment and then guided me, blind and stumbling—quite literally a dead man walking—into camp and the shaky start of my return to life.”
In 1996 Beck Weathers and a climbing team pushed toward the summit of Mount Everest. Then a storm exploded on the mountain, ripping the team to shreds, forcing brave men to scratch and crawl for their lives. Rescuers who reached Weathers saw that he was dying, and left him. Twelve hours later, the inexplicable occurred. Weathers appeared, blinded, gloveless, and caked with ice—walking down the mountain. In this powerful memoir, now featuring a new Preface, Weathers describes not only his escape from hypothermia and the murderous storm that killed eight climbers, but the journey of his life. This is the story of a man’s route to a dangerous sport and a fateful expedition, as well as the road of recovery he has traveled since; of survival in the face of certain death, the reclaiming of a family and a life; and of the most extraordinary adventure of all: finding the courage to say yes when life offers us a second chance.
Praise for Left for Dead
“Riveting . . . [a] remarkable survival story . . . Left for Dead takes a long, critical look at climbing: Weathers is particularly candid about how the demanding sport altered and strained his relationships.”USA Today
“Ultimately, this engrossing tale depicts the difficulty of a man’s struggle to reform his life.”Publishers Weekly

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A survivor of the disastrous Mt. Everest expedition described in Jon Krakauer's bestseller Into Thin Air, Weathers is the climber many readers will remember from searing media photos of a man with heavily bandaged hands and a face so badly frostbitten it scarcely seemed human. In fact, Weathers had been abandoned by his fellow mountaineers as dead and spent some 18 hours on the mountain in subzero temperatures before miraculously regaining his senses and staggering into camp. Back in the U.S., Weathers, who is a physician, lost both hands and underwent extensive facial reconstruction. But there were other wounds to heal: he had neglected his family so much in pursuit of his hobby that his wife had decided to end the marriage once he returned. Co-written with Michaud (The Evil That Men Do; The Only Living Witness), this book deals in part with the climb but mainly with Weathers's life before and after the catastrophe. The man who wrote this book doesn't seem any less self-absorbed than the one who climbed Mt. Everest. In the years before the disaster, Weathers spent every spare moment pursuing his own interests as his wife and children became strangers to him. Now he claims to have rediscovered his family, but, unfortunately, the reader learns very little about them. Ultimately, this engrossing tale depicts the difficulty of a man's struggle to reform his life. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
When a blizzard trapped the author and dozens of other climbers near the summit of Mount Everest in 1996, much of the world closely followed the tragedy, in which nine died. Weathers, a Dallas-area pathologist who paid $65,000 to climb the mountain, was given up for dead only to amaze everyone, himself included, when he survived the seemingly impossible conditions. The author begins this work with the tragedy on Everest, chronicled in Jon Krakauer's best-selling Into Thin Air (LJ 4/1/97) as well as David Breashears's High Exposure (LJ 6/1/99). He then spends the majority of the book examining his reasons for pushing himself to climb tall mountains and explaining how the experience has changed him and his family. A deeply moving account of a person coming to terms with his shortcomings and his response when given a second chance, this book is highly recommended for all collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/00.]--Tim Markus, Evergreen State Coll. Lib., Olympia, WA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
From the Publisher
“Riveting . . . [a] remarkable survival story . . . Left for Dead takes a long, critical look at climbing: Weathers is particularly candid about how the demanding sport altered and strained his relationships.”USA Today
“Ultimately, this engrossing tale depicts the difficulty of a man’s struggle to reform his life.”Publishers Weekly

From the Hardcover edition.

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Random House Publishing Group
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Chapter 3

Our climb began in earnest on May 9. By then we'd successfully negotiated the Khumbu Icefall, surmounted the Western Cwm, and now were halfway up a moderately steep, four-thousand foot wall of blue ice called the Lhotse Face, which the prudent climber will traverse very carefully.

This extreme care is a function of the physics involved. With hard ice such as that found on the Lhotse Face, there is no coefficient of friction; you are traction free. Fall into an uncontrolled slide, and your chances of stopping are nil. You're history. A Taiwanese climber named Chen Yu-Nan would discover the truth of this, to his horror, on the morning of May 9.

Because the Lhotse Face is a slope, you pitch Camp Three by carving out a little ice platform for your tent, which you crawl into exhausted, desperate for some rest. No matter how tired you are, however, you must remember a couple of fairly simple rules.

One, don't sleepwalk. Two, when you get up in the morning, the very first thing you've got to do, without fail, is put those twelve knives on each climbing boot, your crampons, because they are what stick you down to that hill.

Chen Yu-Nan forgot. He got out of his tent wearing his inner boots, took two steps, and went zhoooooooop! down into a crevasse, leading to his death.

Our plan was simple. We were going to get up with the sun and climb all day to get to High Camp on the South Col late that afternoon. We would then rest for three or four hours, get up again and climb all night and through the next day to hit Everest's summit by noon on May 10, and absolutely no later than two o'clock.

This point had been drilled into us over the preceding week: Absolutely no later than two. If you're not moving fast enough to get to the summit by two, you're not moving fast enough to get back down before darkness traps you on the mountain.

We reached High Camp on schedule late that afternoon. The South Col (from the Latin collum, or "neck") is part of the ridge that forms Everest's southeast shoulder and sits astride the great Himalayan mountain divide between Nepal and Tibet. Four groups-too many people, as it turned out-would be bivouacked there in preparation for the final assault: us, Scott Fischer's expedition, a Taiwanese group and a team of South Africans who would not make the summit attempt that night. Altogether, maybe a dozen tents were set up, surrounded by a litter of spent oxygen canisters, the occasional frozen body and the tattered remnants of previous climbing camps.

If you wander too close to the South Col's north rim, you'll tumble seven thousand uninterrupted feet down Everest's Kangshung Face into the People's Republic of China. Make a similar misstep on the opposite side, and you zip to a crash landing approximately four thousand feet down the Lhotse Face.

The wind was blowing quite hard when we crawled into High Camp. It was cold. And at some visceral level I was secretly grateful because I knew that we couldn't climb in those conditions. I was pretty hammered. I said to myself, If you can just rest tonight, you are bound to feel better tomorrow than you feel right now.

This was rank self-deception. The whole point is to arrive at High Camp with just enough energy to get to the summit and then retreat in one piece. I wasn't going to get any stronger up there. Quite the opposite. They call it the Death Zone, because above 25,000 feet, the mountain slowly kills you, whether or not you ever leave your tent.

So we turned in. Doug Hansen, Lou Kasischke, Andy Harris and I all lay under the tent in our sleeping bags, listening to the wind howl. Then about ten that night, the gale quite suddenly blew itself out. A perfect, albeit frigid calm came over the Death Zone.

"Guys," Rob said, sticking his neck into our tent. "Saddle up! We're going for it!"

I started pulling my gear together, thinking to myself, Well, maybe you've timed this okay. Yeah, you feel pretty crummy. But you feel better than you thought you were going to feel.

But I was very concerned (prophetically so) for two members of our group. In the sleeping bag to my immediate left was Doug Hansen. Doug had been sick and wasn't climbing well. He looked like he'd been worked over with an ice ax. Even more so than the rest of us, he hadn't been feeding and watering and resting the machine that has to carry you up the hill.

Being turned around the year before, so close to the top, had come to possess him, to rule his every waking thought. Doug came back to Everest in 1996 vowing that under no circumstance was he going to be turned around again.

I, too, was fanatical about mountain climbing, but I wasn't crazy in that way. I lived by mountaineering's general rule that going to any summit is optional. Getting back down is mandatory.

Also, I was like the great majority of climbers in that the only competition I felt was with myself. Before arrival in Nepal, I had set as my personal goal to get at least as far as the South Col. I'd accomplished that. If I didn't make it to the top this time, I'd still feel the trip was worthwhile. Before leaving Dallas I'd told my colleagues that I simply wanted to experience Everest and all it had to offer. I'd probably rephrase that sentiment today.

One of the things that you must honestly ask yourself on a mountain-it is a moral obligation to your fellow climbers-is, With this step, how much do I have left? Can I still turn around and get back down to safety?

I didn't think Doug knew that any longer, and I didn't think he cared.

The other person for whom I was concerned was Yasuko. She was an itty-bitty waif of a person, could not have weighed more than ninety pounds dripping wet. But the gear she had to carry weighed exactly the same as mine and everyone else's. I just didn't think that tiny body of hers could cash the checks that Yasuko's mind was writing.

We got out of the tents and put on our oxygen masks-MIG fighter-pilot surplus. Now we looked like a bunch of homeless top guns on Halloween. We also pulled on our enormous down suits, the kind of thing your mom sent you out in to play in the snow. You can't do much more than waddle in them.

Our group started out first. The Mountain Madness climbers and the Taiwanese were about an hour behind us. It was an exquisite evening as we began to move across the flat expanse of the South Col leading to the summit face. The moon peeked at us over the 27,790-foot summit of Makalu in the distance. The wind was absolutely still. The temperature was about ten below zero, which is quite warm for a big mountain.

Besides our headlamps, there was no artificial light anywhere, which allowed the stars above us to shine with incredible brilliance. You even could see them reflected in that cold blue ice beneath your feet. They seemed so close, as if you could just reach up and pluck them from the heavens, one at a time, put them in your pocket and save them for later.

Our pace was that slow, rhythmic, metronome-like gait ingrained in the frame of my being through years of prior climbing. With each step those knives bite into the ice with a distinctive creech-ch-ch. As you move and shift your weight in the cold, the metal in your boots and the bindings on your pack squeak in response.

We moved across the South Col, heading to the summit face. There was nothing to it, really. Just keep plowing straight up. You travel in a private bubble of light from your headlamp, the rest of the world as lost to you as if you were alone on the face of the moon. All you have to do is step and rest, step and rest hour after hour after endless hour-until halfway up the face we shifted over in a traverse to the left.

A traverse is an inherently more dangerous kind of move in mountaineering. It is harder to protect a traverse. You've got to be able to see where you're putting your feet. And that spelled a private disaster for me.

As we started up the summit face, I was fourth in line, following Ang Dorje, our chief climbing Sherpa, Mike Groom and Jon Krakauer. Over the preceding weeks I'd tried to conserve my strength. The philosophy is to start slow and back off, because you know it is not how strong you are on day one that counts. As a result, I had strength in reserve as we moved up.

But I gradually realized, to my deep annoyance, that I couldn't see the face of this mountain at all, and the reason I couldn't also slowly dawned on me. I am nearsighted and struggled for years on various mountains with iced-over lenses, balky contacts and all sorts of gadgets designed to keep my field of vision clear. Nothing worked. So a year and a half before I went to Mount Everest, I had my eyes operated on so that I would be safer in the mountains.

The operation was a radial keratotomy, in which tiny incisions are made in one's corneas to alter the eyes' focal lengths and (presumably) improve vision. However, unbeknownst to me and to virtually every ophthalmologist in the world, at high altitude a cornea thus altered will both flatten and thicken, shortening your focal length and rendering you effectively blind. That is what happened to me about fifteen hundred feet above High Camp in the early morning hours of May 10, 1996.

At first I wasn't really worried. I'd experienced minor problems with vision shifts in the past, most recently at Base Camp and when we went through the Icefall. I'd had more than my usual difficulty seeing at night, as well as in the morning until the sun was out enough to require sunglasses.

But I felt more inconvenienced than handicapped by the problem and did not mention it to anyone. Nor did I panic when the shift recurred in the dark at 27,500 feet. I really couldn't see, but I knew coming to me in the next couple of hours would be a solution to this problem-daylight.

The sun at that altitude is an enormous ball of light so powerful that it can burn the inside of your mouth and the inside of your nose. If you take off those protective glasses, within ten minutes your retinas will be seared to total blindness.

Hence, I expected that, once the sun was fully out, even behind my jet-black lenses my pupils would clamp down to pinpoints and everything would be infinitely focused. I was certain I was right. It had to work.

In the predawn darkness, however, I was too blind to climb. So I stepped out of line and let everyone pass, going from fourth out of thirty-some climbers to absolutely dead last. It wasn't unpleasant, really, watching everybody traipse past me. I basically stood there chatting and acting like a Wal-Mart greeter until the sun began to illuminate the summit face.

As I expected, my vision did begin to clear, and I was able to dig in the front knives on my boots, move across, and head on up to the summit ridge. Then I compounded my problem by reaching to wipe my face with an ice-crusted glove. A crystal painfully lacerated my right cornea, leaving that eye completely blurred. That meant I had no depth perception, and that's not good in that environment. My left eye was a little blurry but basically okay. But I knew that I could not climb above this point, a living-room size promontory called the Balcony, about fifteen hundred feet below the summit, unless my vision improved.

Still believing it would, I said to Rob, "You guys go ahead and boogie on up the hill. At a point that I can see, I'll just wander up after you."

It was about 7:30 A.M.

"Beck," he answered in that unmistakable Kiwi accent, "I don't like that idea. You've got thirty minutes. If you can see in thirty minutes, climb on. If you cannot see in thirty minutes, I don't want you climbing."

"Okay." I hesitated. "I'll accept that." This was not a willing and happy answer; I had come too far to quit so close to the summit. But I also recognized the common sense in what Hall said.

Then I did something really stupid.

"You know," I continued, "if I can't see in that thirty-minute window you've given me, as soon as I can see I'm just going to head back down to the High Camp."

Hall said no to that notion, too.

"I don't like that idea any better than your last one," he said. "If I come down off the top of this thing and you're not standing here, I'm not going to have any idea whether or not you've gone down safely to High Camp, or if you've just gone for an eight thousand-foot wipper. I want you to promise me-I'm serious about this-I want you to promise me that you're going to stay here until I come back."

I said, "Rob, cross my heart, hope to die, I'm sticking."

It never entered my mind that he'd never come back.

I waited through the morning. It was a beautiful day. A cloudless sky. The wind was still. This enormous cathedral of mountains stretching as far as my good eye could see. The curvature of the earth was visible beneath my feet.

By noon, three climbers from our group descended toward me: Stuart Hutchison, Lou Kasischke and John Taske (Frank Fischbeck already had turned back). They said there was a slowdown at the uppermost part of the mountain at Hillary Step, a natural obstacle on the ridge leading directly to the summit. Because of the bottleneck of climbers, the three of them realized there was no way they could make the summit by two.

So Stuart, Lou and John decided to come down, and as they came by me, standing alone, getting colder and colder on the Balcony, they said, "Well, come on down with us."

"Uh, I've really put myself in a box here," I answered. "I've promised Hall I will stay put. We have no radio, so I have no way to tell him that I'm leaving. It would be as if I never honored that commitment at all. I just don't think I can do that now."

They said good-bye and continued on down. Three wise men. In retrospect I clearly should have joined them. But I didn't then sense I was in any imminent danger. It was a perfect day. Also, even though I knew that I was not going to climb the mountain that day, I still hated to give up. To go down with them would be to absolutely concede I'd failed.

Lou Kasischke, by the way, made it back to camp safely, but would endure his own special horror there. Recall that in High Camp Lou shared a tent with me, Doug Hansen and Andy Harris. During the summit assault, Lou removed his protective glasses for too long, and consequently went snow-blind. As the storm came in that evening, he would lay there alone, unseeing, listening to the wind trying to tear the tent apart, wondering what had happened to his three tent mates.

Meet the Author

Beck Weathers has become a much-sought-after speaker before professional, corporate, and academic audiences. He lives with his family in Dallas, where he also practices medicine.
Stephen G. Michaud is the author or co-author of eighteen books, including Left for Dead, Conversations With a Killer, Dark Dreams, and The Only Living Witness. He is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If I could give less than one star, I would."Left For Dead" is one of the worst books I have ever read. The back of the book tells how it is a story of survival and a reclaiming of a life. The book however does not live up to this promise. Only about 1/4 (at most) is about Beck's part in the Everest tragedy and his recovery from the event. This small portion is basically a rehash of things already described in Krakauer's "Into Thin Air" and Boukreev's "The Climb". There is absolutely nothing new here, as you would think would be since it is written by Beck himself. The remainder of the book contains a seemingly endless debate between Beck and his wife, Peach, about who is the worse spouse. I found it very monotonous and unentertaining to read. Throughout the accusing, criticizing and belitlling I found nothing that resembled the story of survival and the reclaiming of a life that the book said to offer. Stay away from this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'I searched all over the world for that which would fulfill me, and all along it was in my own backyard.' That's how Beck Weathers sums up what his harrowing Everest adventure taught him. If you're looking for suspense, look elsewhere. The facts of the 1996 climbing season on Mount Everest are well known, and Dr. Weathers (a Texas pathologist) tells his own climb's story in his book's first section. This is one man's personal memoir, not a mountaineering book, and I knew that when I bought it. His reasons for wanting to summit Everest were entirely unlike pioneer climber George Mallory's famous, 'Because it is there.' For Dr. Weathers this was one more way to insulate himself from the growing pain of living. What could make such an outwardly successful human being feel that way about his life? Beck Weathers had it all, and not just the material things that a partner in a thriving medical practice can afford for himself and for his family. He also had a loving wife, two healthy and gifted children, a host of friends, and a supportive extended family. Yet this brilliant and charismatic man could not bring himself to believe that these people really did love him, and wanted his company. Nor could he allow himself to enjoy theirs, because in his mind he did not deserve happiness. He deserved, instead, the kind of punishment that extreme sports inflict. The enormous gap between Beck's world as he perceived it through the filter of chronic depression, and Beck's world as it really was, closed when he to all intents and purposes froze to death on Mount Everest. Opening his eyes after hours of lying out in a blizzard, left for dead not once but twice by comrades unable to carry him to safety, was his first miracle. Getting off the mountain alive was his second, after the Base Camp doctors responded to news of his revival by telling those trying to care for him after he stumbled into camp horribly frostbitten: 'He is going to die. Do not bring him down.' The third miracle, though, is the greatest one. Beck Weathers held onto his near-death epiphany. He believed the truths he'd finally glimpsed, and used that knowledge to transform his life. Slow reading at times, as we follow Beck's early life and go with him through young manhood? Maybe. But everything he says in those chapters is necessary to the story, and his flashes of wry and biting humor had this particular reader howling at times. He spares himself nothing, and allows others who know him - wife 'Peach' mostly, but also his children, brothers, and associates - to add their viewpoints even when they honestly disagree with his own. No, this isn't a book about mountaineering. It's about redemption, and how high a price one man paid to find the happiness that should have been his all along. I am very glad I read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As the critic review states 'this book deals in part with the climb but mainly with Weathers's life before and after the catastrophe'. And even though the excerpt implies the book is about the climb, it is not. The majority is about his life which is the most boring, obnoxious, arrogant, bunch of hogwash I have ever read. Unfortunately, I did not read the reviews. I heard an interview of him by Neal Boortz on a local Atlanta radio station. I bought the book thinking the book would focus on the climb. Instead it is about his cat, his son and daughter, just mindless, totally uninteresting drivel. I could not even finish the book. It was bad enough paying for the book but I was really mad at taking the time away from reading good books to read this ripoff.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Left for Dead is an intense book that plunges it's readers into a epic story of survival and of the strength and perservierence of the human spirit. I lost a whole nights sleep because I couldn't put it down, and then lost another thinking about it! If you enjoy reading about Mt. Everest, climbing, survival, or anything at all, you will love this book! A must buy!
Debbie Saelens More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beck Weathers proves there's a mountain we all need to climb in order to transform our self-serving behaviors to serving others. Beck's journey is written to inspire and entertain. You will be fully absorbed and impressed by his articulate style. I was moved to both tears and laughter.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I felt this book not only summed up what Krakauer began but also swam beneath the surface of Beck Weathers and his extraordinary recovery. I also enjoyed Beck¿s struggle to refurbish his marriage. I offer oodles of praise for Beck Weathers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Don't read Left for Dead if you expect to get the skinny on what really happened on that tragic day on Everest, this book only focuses 1/10th of its pages on those events, and then only sketchily. But it's a fascinating psychological study of a man, and what makes people want to climb, the climbing fraternity, and a disintegrating marriage. The author's wife and others have their own voices in the book, and it makes a very effective look at all sides involved. A fascinating read, and it's a shame on the lack of Everest information, because Weathers can really write well, and explains himself wonderfully. He needs to write another book focusing only on that 1996 expedition.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a bit related to Into Thin Air but the story is centered around Beck Weathers and his life before and after Everest. My overall view on the book is that it's not the best I've ever read but it's not the worst. A common theme is this book is the battle between balancing a hobby such as mountain climbing with family. Some things I like about this book is it builds a very strong character of Beck and to add to that there are sections of the book where members of friends and family have written in the book to give their opinions about Beck’s decisions.On the other side some of my dislikes are that the timeline of the book jumps around quite a bit. The beginning starts with his near death experience then jumps to the beginning of his life, then back to Everest then continues from there. This is very confusing to me and throws off the story. Into Thin Air has already been made into a movie and i found that to be enjoyable but if this book was turned into the movie it wouldn't really add to the story and usually when books shift into movies the return isn't that good. If you want to see how an Everest disaster effects somebody's life or the kind of effort that is needed to even get to the point where you can climb Everest I would recommend reading this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best keep you on the edge of your seat and hard to put down
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Amazing courage and willingness to go on and beat the odds that had become paramount in his quest for survival.