It was one of the most arresting viral photos of the year: a horde of climbers clogged atop Mount Everest. But it only begins to capture the deadly realities of what transpired that day at 29,000 feet. These are the untold accounts of the people who were there.
It was morning and bright, and Reinhard Grubhofer, depleted and dehydrated, hoisted his body over a crest and rose uneasily. There, from the summit of Mount Everest, he could see everything. How the earth curved gorgeously in all direction; how wisps of clouds sailed beneath his boots. The view—out beyond his worries—was beautiful. But closer at hand, he could see trouble taking shape.
He could feel it, too, shuffling with a dozen other climbers onto a slim patch of ground roughly the size of two Ping-Pong tables. The space was crowded. Shakily, Grubhofer held up a small flag and posed for photos with his climbing partner, a fellow Austrian named Ernst Landgraf, who'd made the slog to the summit uneasily. It had been a brutal day. Their 13-man party had awoken at eleven the previous night and trudged through the darkness up the icy incline of Everest's north side. Along the way, the temperatures dipped to well below zero. At some point, the water bottle that Grubhofer packed had frozen into a solid brick. He was thirsty and exhausted. But he tried not to pay attention to any of that now. After weeks of waiting and years of planning, Grubhofer had made it. It was 9:30 a.m. on May 23, and a less experienced climber might have thought that the hard part was over. Grubhofer knew better.