Beck Withers..the man who overcame death on Mount Everest

On May 11, 1996, Beck Withers died on Mount Everest. At least, that’s what everyone thought. But the truth was even more amazing.

Over a harrowing period of eighteen hours, Everest did its best to devour Beck Withers and his fellow climbers. As raging storms took much of his team, including his captain, one by one, Withers began to rave increasingly from exhaustion, exposure, and altitude sickness. At one point, he raised his hands and exclaimed, “I’ve figured it all out,” before falling into a snowy bank. His team thought he had fallen and died.

While rescue missions struggled up Everest to save others, Withers lay in the snow, sinking deeper into a coma. Not one, but two lifeguards caught sight of Weathers and determined he was unsalvageable gold. To be another one of the many victims of Everest.

But after he was left for dead — twice — something incredible happened: Beck Withers woke up. Black frostbite covered his face and body like scales but somehow, he found the strength to get up from the snow bank, and eventually came down the mountain.

Beck Withers decided to climb Mount Everest

In the spring of 1996, Beck Withers, a pathologist from Texas, joined a group of eight aspiring climbers hoping to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Withers had been an avid climber for years and was on a mission to reach the Seven Summits, a mountaineering adventure that involves reaching the highest mountain on every continent. It was then that he climbed a number of peaks. But Mount Everest was the biggest challenge of all. He was ready to devote all his energy to this climb, pushing himself as much as he needed. After all, he had nothing to lose; His marriage deteriorated because Withers spent more time with the mountains than with his family. Although he did not know it yet, his wife decided to divorce him when he returned.

But Withers wasn’t thinking about his family. Eager to climb Everest, he threw caution to the wind.

However, this particular wind hovered at an average temperature of -21 degrees Fahrenheit and blew at speeds of up to 157 miles per hour. However, he arrived ready to go to the base of Mount Everest on May 10, 1996.

Veteran mountaineer Rob Hall presided over Beck’s fateful expedition. Hall was an experienced climber, hailing from New Zealand, who formed an adventure climbing company after climbing each of the Seven Summits. He’s already climbed Everest five times and if he’s not worried about the trek, then no one should be.

Eight climbers set off that morning. The weather was clear and the team was optimistic. It was cold, but at first, the 12-14 hour climb to the summit felt like a breeze. But before long, Beck Weathers and his crew realize just how brutal the mountain can be.

Disaster hits the most dangerous cliffs in the world

Shortly before heading to Nepal, Beck Withers underwent a routine surgery to correct his nearsightedness. Radial keratotomy, the precursor to LASIK, created small incisions in his cornea to alter the shape for better vision. Unfortunately, the altitude further deformed his still-healing cornea, leaving him completely blind once it got dark.

When Hall discovered Withers could no longer see he stopped him from continuing up the mountain and ordered him to stay on the side of the road while he took the others to the top. On their way down, they were going to have it on their way.

Reluctantly, Withers agreed. When his seven teammates climbed to the top, he stayed where he was. Several other groups passed on his way down, offering him a place in their caravans but he refused to wait for Hall as promised.

But Hall will never return.

Upon reaching the top, one of the team members became too weak to continue. Hall refused to give it up and chose to wait, eventually succumbing to the cold and perishing on the slopes. To this day, his body remains frozen beneath South Peak.

It took nearly 10 hours before Beck Withers realized something was wrong but as a loner on the side of the road, he had no choice but to wait for someone to meet him. Shortly after 5 p.m., a climber descended and told Withers that Hall was stuck. Despite knowing he had to accompany the climb, he chose to wait for a member of his team who had been told he was on his way down not far.

Hall’s fellow team leader was Mike Groom, a past Everest guide who knew his way around. Taking Weathers with him, he and his once-weary climbers and his fearless team set out in their tents to settle in for the long, freezing night.

The storm began to descend on the top of the mountain, covering the entire area in snow and reducing visibility to almost zero before they reached their camp. One climber said it was like getting lost in a bottle of milk with white snow falling in an almost opaque sheet in every direction. The party, huddled together, almost came out from the side of the mountain as they searched for their tents.

Snow coma

Withers lost a glove in the process and began to feel the effects of the high altitude and freezing temperatures. As his teammates huddled together to conserve heat, he stood in the wind, arms crossed above him and his right hand frozen beyond recognition. He started screaming that he had figured it all out. Then, suddenly, a gust of wind pushed him backwards into the snow.

During the night, a mentor, Rossi, saved the rest of his team, but upon taking one look at him, he deemed Weathers unsaveable. As is customary for mountain people who die, he was left there and Withers was destined to become one of them.

The next morning, after the storm had passed, a Canadian doctor was sent to retrieve Withers and a Japanese woman from his team. After peeling a sheet of ice from her body, the doctor determined the woman could not be saved. When he saw Withers, he was tempted to say the same thing.

His face was studded with snow, his jacket was open at the waist, and many of his limbs were very cold. Frostbite was not far away. The doctor later described him as “as close to death and still breathing” as any patient he had ever seen. Withers was left for dead for the second time.

How Beck’s weather came back to life

However, Beck Withers wasn’t dead. Even though he was close, his body was getting a little further away from death every minute. By some miracle, Withers awoke from his hypothermic coma around 4 p.m. “There was such a nice, warm, comforting feeling that I had in my bed,” he recalls. It wasn’t really annoying.”

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He soon realized how wrong he was when he started examining his limbs. He said his right arm felt like wood when it hit the ground. As the realization dawned, a surge of adrenaline entered his body.

“This was not a bed. This was not a dream. It was so real and I started thinking: I’m on the mountain but I have no idea where. If I don’t get up, if I don’t get up, if I don’t start thinking about where I am and how to get out of there, this will be over very quickly.”

Somehow, he pulled himself together and descended the mountain, stumbling on his feet that felt like porcelain for which he had almost no feeling. When he entered a lower level camp, the climbers there were dumbfounded. Although his face was black with frostbite and his limbs would likely never be the same again, Beck Weathers walked and talked. As news of his incredible survival story returned to base camp, more shock followed.

Not only was Beck Weathers walking and talking, he seemed to have come back from the dead.

Abandoned by the Canadian doctor, his wife is informed that her husband has perished on his voyage. Now, there he was standing before them broken but very alive. Within hours, base camp technicians alerted Kathmandu and sent him to hospital by helicopter. It was the loudest rescue mission ever.

His right arm, fingers on his left hand, and several pieces of his feet and nose had to be amputated. Miraculously, the doctors managed to make his new nose out of his neck and ear. And most miraculously, they grew it on Withers’ forehead. Once I operated on the blood vessels, they put them back in place.

“They told me this trip would cost me an arm and a leg,” he joked to rescuers as they helped him down. So far, I got a slightly better deal.”

Beck Weathers today, after decades of trying it

Today Beck Withers retired from mountaineering. Although he had never climbed all of the Seven Summits, he still felt like he had reached the summit. His wife, furious at being abandoned, agreed not to divorce him and instead stayed by his side to take care of him.

In the end, his experience and his near death saved his marriage and he wrote about his experience in a book. Although he’s back physically a little less than he started, he claims that spiritually, he’s doing just fine.

  • Reem El Shazly

    Reem El-Shazly is a student at the Faculty of Law, English Department, Ain Shams University. She is interested in women’s rights and the Egyptian and international feminist movement.

    Silver writer has more than 250+ articles