Sunday, December 24, 2006

Mountain Madness

"[What scares me most is] making a bad decision and dying in the mountains, to be perfectly honest. Not coming home from a trip, leaving my kids without a dad . . . We can control a lot of things [on expeditions] but even so, things happen." -- Scott Fischer.

Mountaineer Scott Fischer was born on this day in 1955 in Muskegon, Michigan.

Fischer became interested in high-altitude climbing as a child in New Jersey after seeing a TV documentary on climbing. After high school, he dedicated himself to climbing, working his way up to become an instructor at the National Outdoor Leadership School in Wyoming. The bold, blonde-ponytailed climber was the first American to climb Lhotse (27,923 feet); had led the 1987 North Face Everest expedition; had reached the summit of K2 (28,253 ft.) via the Abruzzi Ridge without supplemental oxygen; and in 1994 led an environmental expedition in which mountaineers carried down 250 old oxygen bottles and 5,000 pounds of trash left by previous Everest expeditions. Fischer also led a group of executives to the top of Kilimanjaro to raise money for the relief organization CARE in January 1996.

In 1984, he founded Mountain Madness, a Seattle-based guiding service that helped clients who could afford hefty fee (about $65,000 for Everest in 1996) to climb major peaks under Fischer's expert supervision. With a group of Mountain Madness clients (including socialite Sandy Hill Pittman), Fischer made his fifth assault on Everest in May 1996. Assisted by elite Russian climber Anatoli Boukreev, Fischer led 6 of his clients to the top of Everest, summiting himself on May 10. It was his habit to trail after the team and help those of his clients who needed special attention, but on his way up, he admitted to struggling, and was apparently beginning to suffer from the incapacitating effects of altitude sickness, something that can affect even the most experienced climbers without notice.

As Fischer attempted to descend from the summit, a surprise snowstorm with winds of 75 mph hit the mountain, and he collapsed an hour above Camp IV (at 26,000 feet). When Sherpa guides were finally able to get to him, he was in a coma, roped to Makalu Gao, the leader of a Taiwanese expedition who was also severely ill after being stuck in the snowstorm. Unable to bring two people down, the Sherpas brought down Gao, who was regarded to be saveable, and by the time Boukreev managed to get to Fischer on May 11, Fischer had already died.

By the end of the snowstorm, Fischer, Rob Hall (a rival commercial expedition leader from New Zealand) and 3 members of Hall's expedition had perished on the mountain, leading elite mountaineers and others to criticize the commercialization of Everest trips for dilletante climbers as unreasonably risky and even irresponsible.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

thats so sad.....

8:27 PM  

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