Guide Scott Fischer Dies on Mount Everest
Eight Climbers Killed in the Deadliest Storm in the History of Everest

On Friday, May 10, 1996, a severe and sudden storm trapped several climbers high on Mt. Everest as they were descending from the summit. In what has become the deadliest single tragedy in the mountain's climbing history, a total of eight people perished. One of them is renowned Seattle climbing guide Scott Fischer.

We got to know Scott in January when he led an expedition up Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the CARE organization. Mountain Zone conducted a live Cybercast on the World Wide Web as the team ascended, broadcasting their satellite phone calls once a day from the mountain. As Scott's achievements embody everything that we at the Mountain Zone aspire to, our hearts and prayers go out to his family and all who had the privilege of knowing such a fine person.

Remembering Scott Fischer

There is a select group of people in the world who have gazed at the Earth from its two highest points, Everest and K2. Scott Fischer, a 40-year-old native of Michigan who settled in Seattle, is one of them. Fischer had made a living out of mountaineering and contributed his adventurousness to a variety of charitable causes.

Fischer has no shortage of pioneering claims to fame. Most recently, he became one of the first climbers to be followed live on the Internet. In January of this year, Media Zones carried regular live broadcasts as Fischer led a group of executives up Kilimanjaro to raise money for the relief organization CARE. Fischer can also be considered among the charmed few to have taken part in a wedding at Kilimanjaro's summit.

Fischer was also the first American to climb Lhotse, the world's fourth highest peak in Nepal, and in the third party of Americans to summit K2. With his trekking business, Mountain Madness, Fischer became one of the first mountaineers to offer guided treks to many peaks, including those of the world's biggest mountains.

In truly American style, Fischer may also be the first serious mountain climber who was turned on to the sport by television. Inspired by a program he saw on his local public television station in New Jersey when he was 14. He spent the next two years taking climbing courses and moved west when he graduated high school. He and his wife, Jeannie Price, moved to Seattle in 1982, where they had two children.

To his friends and compatriots, Fischer was more than the sum of his adventures. He was a strong, determined climber who inspired others. "He touched a lot of other people, climbers and non-climbers," says Peter Potterfield, a friend who had climbed in the Cascades with Fischer for many years. "He was definitely charismatic, and he really motivated people. As a guide, he took great pleasure in getting his clients to the top," Potterfield says, adding that Fischer was an inspiration and source of encouragement for Stacy Allison, the first woman to climb Everest. On the climb up Kilimanjaro, "Scott felt that he was 100 percent successful. He got inexperienced climbers to the top without any problems, and Kilimanjaro's a tough mountain," Potterfield remembers. "That gave him as much pleasure as anything else."

Fischer was concerned not only with making the summit, but also with keeping the world's great mountainsides clean. In 1994, he headed-up the Everest Environmental Project, one of the first credible efforts to collect the debris that had been gathering for forty years. His team cleared out 250 oxygen bottles, and 5,000 pounds of garbage from the mountain.

Fischer said he got to visit the most beautiful places in the world, and made an effort to capture them on film for those who didn't make the trek. His goal, once he'd reached the summit of this climbing career, was to devote himself further to tackling adventure photography.

This was Fischer's fifth trek to Everest. Just before he left, he told a reporter for the Seattle Weekly that he was certain he would return. "It doesn't count if you don't make it back down," he said. To the many mountaineers in Seattle and around the world who feel his loss, his fifth climb up Everest counted very much.

Robin Marks, Mountain Zone Staff

The Last Climb

Scott Fischer was experienced in keeping all the variables at bay while leading expeditions to "the top of the world." Guiding a team of Mountain Madness clients, assisted by Neal Beidleman and Anatoli Boukreev, two of the most elite climbers in the world, Fischer timed this ascent with consideration for the weather records on Everest — the week of May 5-12 has historically offered the best conditions for climbing. After weeks at base camp and days of slow climbing with time to acclimate to the extreme altitude (the top of Everest, at 29,028', is in the jet-stream where there is a third of the oxygen available at sea level,) they took advantage of clear weather on Thursday, May 9 to make a summit bid.

Climbing through the night, the first members of the team summited in the early afternoon of Friday, May 10 and watched the weather patterns from above. There appeared to be a storm lower on the mountain, but they didn't know if it was snowing or just cloud cover. Beidleman, a guide on Fischer's team, told Outside Online that they couldn't really tell what the weather was doing but that he was filled with "incredible nervous energy to get the hell down." They took in the view, turned around and began the descent.

It is Fischer's habit to trail after the team and help those that need special attention. As Beidleman passed him on the descent though, Fischer was struggling and told Beidleman that he was having a hard time. They were still near the peak, but knowing Fischer's strength and skill, Beidleman was not concerned.

By late afternoon, winds were at 75mph, snow was coming down so hard they couldn't see more than a couple of steps ahead, and they had to scream to be heard by someone standing at their side. Temperatures had plummeted, they were disoriented and as panic began to set in, Beidleman fought to keep the team calm and together.

Beidleman recounts that they huddled for hours hoping that this was not the "killer storm" and that it would let up enough for them to get their bearings. Around midnight, the weather cleared enough for them to see the Big Dipper and recognize the peaks of Everest and Lhotse.

Shaking from hypothermia, Beidleman and two of the stronger climbers found their way to camp and collapsed. Boukreev, who had been Fischer's climbing partner and the first to return to high camp from the summit (Fischer reportedly agreed that he should go down ahead of the group) went after the huddled climbers. He found them 400 meters from camp and 15 meters from the Kangshung face (a 10,000' drop the east side of Everest.) Making numerous trips, he led and in some cases, dragged team members back to camp. By 4:30am on Saturday, the whole team had made it to camp except Fischer.

Climber Ed Viesturs told Outside Online that Boukreev made several attempts to climb after Fischer, but the weather was too severe, and he had to turn back. According to reports from sirdar Lopsang Sherpa, who had climbed with Fischer, he was having a very difficult time and at one point asked for a helicopter. Fischer knew that helicopter assistance at this altitude was not possible, and it is believed he was becoming ill, possibly suffering from pulmonary or cerebral edema (fluid seeping out of vessels or membranes, such as capillaries in the lungs or brain from severe hypertension that is sometimes a form of altitude sickness.) When Fischer collapsed an hour above camp, Lopsang stayed with him as long as he could, and later said he was prepared to die with his friend. Fischer threatened to jump if Lopsang, who had been climbing without oxygen, did not descend. Hoping to send back help, Lopsang finally agreed and left Fischer on a protected ledge.

Because of its randomness, altitude sickness is frightening to even the most experienced climbers. On May 6th, Fischer had to escort a team member to lower camp because of severe illness and knowing that even the strongest climbers can suddenly be affected, Fischer worried then if this would be his trip for getting it.

When other Sherpas finally reached Fischer, he was in a coma and roped to Makalu Gao, who had been left their by Sherpas trying to help him down. Only capable of taking one climber, the Sherpas chose Gao because he could be revived and would be more likely to live. They bundled-up Fischer and left him with extra oxygen.

Boukreev reached Fischer late on Saturday, but Fischer had died.

The loss of Scott Fischer, the seven others who won't be returning to their families, the story of this climb has moved people like few events of our time.

Anya Zolotusky, Mountain Zone Staff

Scott Fischer's Call from a Climb on Kilimanjaro from January '96
Listen to
RealAudio of Scott Fischer talking about Mt. Kilamanjaro and the teamwork of mountain climbing when he called over cell-phone on January 17, 1996 from the slopes of Kilamanjaro during an ascent for the 50th anniversary of CARE.

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Copyright 1996 The Zone Network, Inc.