Jon Krakauer and Andy Harris reached the summit of Mt. Everest at 1:12pm on May 10, 1996. At 29,028 feet elevation, they were literally “on top of the world.” But that’s just half the adventure.
They were about to discover that descending Mt. Everest is just as deadly as climbing it….
In 1996, Outside magazine sent one of their beloved writers, Jon Krakauer, on the expedition of his life: an all-expense paid trip to the top of the highest mountain on Earth. Little did he or anyone else know that the expedition would go down in history as the “Mt. Everest Disaster.”
By the time Krakauer and two other climbers reached the summit of Everest with their guide and friend, Andy Harris, the four men were exhausted. Their conquest had required weeks of preparation and their bodies were desperately weakened due to the physical demands of Everest, their severely rationed diet, and the incredibly thin air at such extreme altitudes. Instead of the grandiose celebration Krakauer had been planning in his mind, the euphoria of the moment was reduced to a few pictures snapped and a few pebbles collected.
Then the weary party turned back.
Not long into their descent, they reached a logjam at Hillary Step while another party passed by headed to the summit. Alarmed by the lengthy delay, Krakauer asked his friend to reduce his oxygen supply to extend it, but in what would prove to be an almost deadly mistake, Harris accidentally opened Krakauer’s supply of oxygen depleting it even faster. Ten minutes later, Harris’ mistake was discovered when Krakauer’s tank ran dry. That alone is a life-and-death situation on Everest…but there was something else to be worried about, namely the blizzard that was blowing in.
Finally, their agonizing descent resumed. Painful step by painful step, they eventually reached the South Summit. With his lungs and brain screaming for oxygen, Krakauer noticed Andy sifting through oxygen bottles. Already deprived of supplemental oxygen for more than an hour at the extreme elevation and temperature, Krakauer yelled for Andy to bring him one. Shouting back through the increasing winds, the guide informed Krakauer that all of the oxygen bottles were empty.
This was terrifying news for the climbers.
But as Krakauer and the others made their way over to the cache of tanks, they discovered several bottles actually contained the precious gas. Surprised, they jubilantly showed Andy their jubilant find…but he wouldn’t believe them. While all the men were suffering from hypoxia – a condition that stems from being without oxygen for an extended period of time that reveals itself in weakness, dizziness, and even strange hallucinations – Andy was in the worst shape, both physically and mentally.
In desperate need of oxygen, Harris had bottles of the life-giving gas in his hands…and he just left them.
It would prove to be a fatal decision. No one – not even Jon Krakauer who recounted the group’s travails in the bestseller Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster – knew exactly what happened to Andy after that. The storm and the lack of oxygen eventually took their toll. Andy’s body was never even found.
We might wince at the tragic decision Harris made, but millions of others make the same flawed decision with regard to Jesus. He is exactly what they need…but they simply walk away.
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer. Villard Books, 1997, Pages 195-196.
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(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)