For a climber, there is no greater challenge than making it to the summit of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. But the peerless mountain is also one of the most dangerous to climb.
Over the years, it has claimed the lives of hundreds of adventurers. When one man was thought to be another victim of the deadly mountain, his harrowing story wasn’t quite over just yet…
A Whole New World
Since he was a teenager, Lincoln Hall loved climbing. Recalling when he started rock climbing at the age of 15, he said “I was amazed to find a whole new world that required intense focus, precise judgment, and the willingness to take risks.
Maintaining the Passion
When Lincoln went to study zoology at the Australian National University, he continued his passion for climbing and joined a mountaineering club. Through the club, he travelled around the world to scale peaks in New Zealand, the Andes, and even Antarctica…
Take It To The Limit
After college, Lincoln began to push the limits of what was possible for climbers. In 1984, he was a member of the first ever team from Australia to scale mount Everest. His team scaled the mountain’s north face, forging a brand new path for climbers without oxygen.
But while 2 members of the team reached the top, Lincoln didn’t make it, stopping just a few hundred yards short of the summit. “To survive as a mountaineer,” he said, “the most important skill is knowing when to draw the line, and I could see it then as clearly as if it were painted in the snow.” …
In the years after his first attempt to scale Everest, Lincoln wrote several books chronicling further adventures, including one called White Limbo in which he recounted his experience of coming so close to his goal without reaching it.
While he continued climbing other peaks around the world, Lincoln never gave up on his goal to climb all the way to the top of the tallest mountain in the world. In 2006, 22 years after he’d first attempted the climb, Lincoln was going to try again…
In this new expedition, Lincoln was part of a team that was trying to set another record. One of the members of the team was 15 years old, which would have made him the youngest person ever to climb Everest. While the teenager never made it to the summit, having turned back when his breathing became difficult, Lincoln finally did.
We Did It!
When Lincoln made it to the summit, he spent a solid 20 minutes up there. He’d finally achieved the greatest accomplishment in climbing and he wanted to take it in for a bit. But shortly after he began his descent, something went horribly wrong…
Lincoln began to suffer from a form of altitude sickness called cerebral edema, a swelling of the brain. It causes hallucinations and some other lesser symptoms, and it has the deadly effect of causing crippling lethargy.
Lost His Marbles
Lincoln was completely out of it. He actually turned around and tried to start climbing the summit again. The sherpas who had accompanied him had to fight him, trying to wrestle him down the mountain to safety. After two hours of this senseless and dangerous battle, Lincoln collapsed…
The sherpas were exhausted from the climb, and from wrestling with the addle-brained Lincoln. When he collapsed, Lincoln showed no signs of life at all. The sherpas contacted the expedition leader by radio, who told them to save themselves.
Left For Dead
“Before you go down, please cover him with rocks,” was the instruction given to the sherpas. There were no rocks to be found at that particular spot so the sherpas just left him were he lay. Lincoln’s death was announced and his family was informed. Then, 12 hours later, the unthinkable happened…
A group of ascending climbers came to the spot where the sherpas had left Lincoln, expecting to see his dead body. Instead, they found an astounding sight. “Sitting to our left, about 2 feet from a 10,000 foot drop, was a man,” Said Daniel Mazur, leader of the climbing party. “Not dead, not sleeping, but sitting cross legged, in the process of changing his shirt.”
“He had his down suit unzipped to the waist, his arms out of the sleeves, was wearing no hat, no gloves, no sunglasses, had no oxygen mask, regulator, ice axe, oxygen, no sleeping bag, no mattress, no food nor water bottle,” Mazur added. Lincoln simply said to the party “I imagine you’re surprised to see me here.”…
Mazur went on to further describe his shock, saying “this was a moment of total disbelief to us all. Here was a gentleman, apparently lucid who had spent the night without oxygen at [28,000 feet], without proper equipment and barely clothed. And ALIVE.”
Mazur’s party immediately abandoned their attempt to reach the summit in order to their part in a rescue attempt that observers described as “unprecedented in scale.” While Mazur’s team stayed with the badly frostbitten and still delusional Lincoln, the leader of Lincoln’s team dispatched 12 sherpa guides from the base camp to help bring him down…
Back On His Feet
They managed to bring Lincoln down the mountain and he was even able to walk the last part of the way to Everest’s North Col, a camp partway up the mountain. There, he was treated by a Russian doctor for his cerebral edema, frostbite, and other minor injuries before trying to get back to base camp the next day.
Considering his ordeal, Lincoln was in surprisingly good shape by the time he got off the mountain. Though he’d lost a toe and the tips of eight of his fingers to frostbite, he fully recovered from the cerebral edema…
Lincoln attributed his survival partly to his training in deep-breathing meditation and to his decades of mountaineering experience, which he said had “hard-wired” him to never give up. Even though Mazur and his team had to abandon their attempt to reach the summit, there had no hard feelings toward Lincoln.
The Summit Is Still There
Myles Osborne, one member of Mazur’s team remained close with Lincoln for years after the event, describing him as “a great guy, really laid back, with a penchant for bad jokes.” In talking about abandoning the climb to save Lincoln, Mazur said “the summit is still there and we can go back. Lincoln only has one life.”