The speaker’s words silenced the audience as he began, ?On the night of May 10, 1996 a blizzard swept over Mount Everest, striking more than thirty mountain climbers with heavy snow, subzero temperatures, and unbelievably strong winds. In the next twenty-four hours, eight of the climbers, including three professional guides were dead. This night would become the most ill fated attempt ever to summit Mount Everest.?
?Among these climbers was a 49-year old Dallas pathologist and an amateur climber, Dr. Beck Weathers, who was left to die in the icy storm 300 yards from his camp. Miraculously, Dr. Weathers survived and came back from his ordeal to speak of his experiences, and to tell us about some valuable lessons he has learned. Let’s welcome Dr. Beck Weathers.?
I watched and listened as this man swayed his disfigured arms and explained that he had scaled the world’s largest heights and yet, still had not been at peace with himself. He had wanted more ?courageous? success, because he had conquered all but the grand Mount Everest. The drive for more accomplishment and the need to be more ?courageous? had persuaded Beck to follow the 1996 expedition. Beck sobbed as he stated that on May 10, 1996, he had realized, as he was near death, that what he had thought to be courageous was truly a relentless pursuit of success and goals and ambitions. He had risked his life in a cowardly and selfish way for his own fortune. Dr. Weathers had found that his irrational triumph of desire over sensibility was the most
pathetic feat he was to face. Risking your life, such as mountain climbers do, is not an act of courage because it is backed by low self-esteem and is in pursuit for irrational goals and selfish success.
Courage is denoted by Encarta Encyclopedia ’96 dictionary as the quality of the mind that enables one to face danger with confidence and resolution. Danger is defined as exposure to harm and should be faced with self-assurance. Beck Weathers exposed himself to danger because of his lack of self-assurance or inner peace. Beck disclosed to the audience that had he been surer of himself as a person, his ideals of achieving everything might not have been so harsh and ridiculous. Unfortunately it had taken Beck a near death experience to drag out of life what was really important to him.
Dr. Weathers explained that the climbers had set out for fame of scaling the highest peak in the world. The climb had been in pursuit of irrational goals that had lead many to their deaths and Beck to eight major operations and several minor ones to rebuild his left hand and nose, while his right hand was amputated from the severe frostbite. Even Jon Krakauer, a fellow climber of Beck’s on the 1996 expedition, stated in his novel Into Thin Air that there were many, many fine reasons not to go, but attempting to climb Everest is an intrinsically irrational act. Any person who would seriously consider it is almost by definition beyond the sway of reasoned argument.
Beck continued his story and told us that there are blocks of ice the size of multistory buildings that teeter and fall, wiping out everything below them, and the air is so thin that if a person was instantaneously transported there, on Everest, that he or she would immediately die. Climbers eventually reach heights where the lack of air is so great that they cannot eat, drink, or sleep. ?The drive to climb is extremely irrational. It defies logic. ? (Mudge, 2).
Encarta ?96 defines selfishness as thinking only of oneself. Dr. Weathers noted that of all the thirty climbers, many had spouses and children, including himself, in which their headstrong desires had forgotten to consider. The determined, stubborn climbers neglected to think of what possible consequences could have or did come, and how they could have effected or did effect their families. Krakauer states in his novel that Everest seems to have poisoned many lives. Relationships have foundered. The wife of one of the victims has been hospitalized for depression, and many families have been torn apart from the strain of coping with the expedition’s aftereffects.
Instead of being courageous and saving one’s life, the mountaineers had put their own lives in jeopardy for fame and had only cared for themselves. In an interview conducted by Alden Mudge, Jon Krakauer reveals the cowardly selfishness that was among the whole party,
?Climbing is a subculture that prides itself on the purity of its ideals. It has these weird rituals and rules that most people wouldn’t understand. Some of it is kind of sick, because it idealizes boldness and risk-taking to such a degree. But its these ideals about respecting your partner and about ?how you climb being more important than what you climb’ are really good. I betrayed those ideals. For that I really beat myself up.?
There was an air of everyone for himself or herself on Mount Everest. No one had the energy or created the energy to carry another load. That was why Beck Weathers was left in the snowstorm to die and yet, he had understood the selfish reasoning and blamed no one for his ordeals except himself for following his desire instead of logic. On the other hand, Krakauer had his own sense of why things went so horribly wrong.
?Everyone climbed independently, at their own pace, which was good. But when you are roped to someone you develop this weird intimacy; every time you take a step, they have to take a step. You develop a bond that was just lacking on Everest. We weren’t encouraged to look after our fellow clients and certainly not our guides.?(Mudge, 2).
There have been many mountaineers who have jeopardized their life for the sake of others, which proves to be a true act of courage. Beck again sobbed as he had spoke of his guides that had lost their lives to help their clients down the ill-fated summit of Everest. They were truly courageous. Rescue teams scaled the mountain to save the lives of some victims on Everest. They were truly courageous. Beck ended his story by telling of his rescue by a Nepalese army pilot who flew his helicopter at a higher altitude than any helicopter had flown before. That was truly courageous, but as for the mountaineers who were headstrong in the first place; they were not courageous. The true heroes had to save the irrational, selfish mountain climbers who thought they were being courageous.
Beck Weathers concluded his speech with, ? In one of those old movies-maybe it was ?Wizard of Oz’-they talk about these things that you dream about and you pursue and you go out and see if you can find this thing that in some way validates you and makes you whole. And then, when all is said and done, you come back and you discover that it was in your back yard the whole time.? Unfortunately, Weathers was a slow learner, but it is never too late to learn. Risking your life for fame and fortune is just not worth it. There are more important things in life. It is not courageous, and it is definitely not safe to throw your life on the line to climb the greatest peaks of the world. Krakauer gives statistics that for every four people who summit a mountain, one dies; and for every thirty who attempt, one dies. Krakauer found on the Internet, as part of a South African discussion about Everest, on October 14, 1996, the following message:
I have never gone back to my homeland because I feel it is cursed. But my people went the other way. They helped outsiders find their way into the sanctuary and violate every limb of her body by standing on top of her, crowing in victory, and dirtying and polluting her bosom. Some of them had to sacrifice themselves, others escaped through the skin of their teeth, or offered other lives in lieu?
So I believe that even the Sherpas* are to blame for the tragedy of 1996. I have no regrets of not going back, for I know the people of the area are doomed, and so are the rich, arrogant outsiders who feel they can conquer the world?(Krakauer, 286).
Associated Press. ?Pathologist recovers from Everest Ordeal?.
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. 5 November 1997. http://www.lubbockonline.com/news/051297/patholog.html
(22 September 1999)
Encarta 96 Encyclopedia. Dictionary. Everett: Microsoft, 1995.
Krakauer, Jon. Into Thin Air. New York: Villard Books, 1997.
Libsy. ?Surviving and Flourishing?. 18 September 1998.
(22 September 1999)
Mudge, Alden. ?Into Thin Air?. Book Page Nonfiction Review. 18 August 1999.
http://www.bookpage.com/greetingsandreadings/9705bp/nonfiction/intothinair.html (22 September 1999)