Freelance journalist Heil, a former climbing instructor and Outside magazine editor, chronicles the deadly 2006 season on Everest, during which 11 climbers perished.
Adding to the growing number of cautionary books about assaying the world’s highest peak, the debut author focuses on two deaths and one miraculous rescue. Less accusatory than others who have recently peered up Everest, most notably Michael Kodas (High Crimes, 2008), Heil emphasizes the dangers that climbers inevitably assume and the near impossibility of effecting a rescue from high on the mountain. He is sympathetic to commercial operators like Russell Brice, who charges $40,000 for a “fully equipped” Everest climb but also, Heil argues, provides a margin of safety that many discount outfitters do not. Brice was vilified in 2006 when he ordered some of his summit team to abandon solo climber David Sharp, who was found near death atop the mountain. Brice’s Sherpas tried in vain to rouse Sharp, but he was unresponsive and severely frostbitten. A rescue was nearly impossible, Brice contended, and would have probably cost the lives of the rescue team. But Sharp’s death became even more controversial when another severely debilitated climber, Lincoln Hall, survived being left overnight in Everest’s Death Zone. Heil agrees with those who felt that Sharp knowingly took severe risks and probably could not have been saved. He is less sanguine about the death that same week of German climber Thomas Weber, quoting several witnesses who claim that Weber’s guide did little to help the stricken climber when he lost his vision atop the mountain and collapsed. The author sprinkles a smattering of Everest history into his clear-eyed if less-than-gripping account, and while providing little that is groundbreaking, he does create a worthy primer on Everest mountaineering and a chilling look at the precarious line between success and tragedy.
A dramatic story, ably and convincingly told.