It was 7 a.m. on the morning of May 26, and Osborne and his team had been climbing for over seven hours since the night before. They were in their tenth week on Mount Everest, and it was their third attempt at reaching the summit. With the summit close at hand, the team saw a man shivering uncontrollably from the bitter cold and sitting three feet from a 10,000 foot precipice. The man, delusional from lack of oxygen, was pulling off his protective clothing. He was wearing no oxygen mask, no gloves, and no hat.
“I bet you’re a bit surprised to see me here,” the man said quite lucidly, as the crew approached him, according to Osborne.
“I thought I was hallucinating for a second,” said Osborne in a phone interview, recalling these details from his hotel in Kathmandu, Nepal.
The man was 50-year-old Australian mountaineer Lincoln Hall. He was suffering from High Altitude Cerebral Edema caused by low levels of oxygen. Hall had summited the day before, but had started acting delusional on the descent.
Hall’s Tibetan guides tried for nine hours to bring him down the mountain, but gave up when he became too disoriented and resistant to their efforts. The guides left him at 8700 meters (28,543 feet) at 7:20 p.m. that evening when he became still and “did not submit any attributes of life,” according to a dispatch from a base camp. The Tibetans reported that he was dead, according to the dispatch, and the base camp officials informed his family.
According to Osborne, Hall refused to keep his gloves or hat on and kept inching towards the edge of the cliff. They had to anchor Hall in the snow to keep him steady.
“He later told us that he thought he was on a boat. And he wanted to get off that boat,” Osborne said.
Osborne’s team radioed the base camp and waited with Hall for four hours, warming him up and keeping him awake until guides arrived to take Hall to the camp.
Osborne and his team turned their attention again to the summit, looming 150 meters (492 feet) above them. Osborne and his team decided to give up the climb because inclement weather was expected, and they did not want to be the cause of another rescue that day.
“You wish in a way that you had never seen the guy,” Osborne said. “The amount of money you pay, the amount of effort you put in. You want to summit.”
Media reports lauded Hall’s rescue, contrasting it to the recent death of British climber David Sharp. Just last month, the 34 year-old was left to die on the side of a pass as around 40 climbers trekked by. No one gave up the summit to see that he survived.
Osborne says such an act is “bullshit.” “If the guy’s alive, he’s talking to you, you can help him,” he said.
Osborne, an avid mountain climber, skiier and snowboarder, said that he spent the last two years working four jobs to finance the $25,000 expedition and training for it. Osborne was climbing to raise funds for Naomi House, a children’s hospice in his native England.
“Every penny I raised went to the charity. Not one single cent of the expedition came from donations,” Osborne said.
The expedition was Osborne’s last chance to summit Everest this year—the climbing season closes on May 31, when monsoons begin.
“The most amazing thing about Myles is that at 8,000 meters above sea level he’s still doing good. In Cabot, he’s done good all along,” said Therese S. Leung, Osborne’s close friend and fellow Cabot House tutor.
Osborne said that he may take next year off from Harvard in order to write about his climb—and his decision to turn back. He says the book will be similar to Jon Krakauer’s bestseller “Into Thin Air,” an account of a climber’s experience in the deadliest season for Mount Everest.
The current season marked the second deadliest ever after the one chronicled by Krakauer, with 10 climbers confirmed dead so far.
But to Osborne, the greatest challenge was not the physical danger, but the mental discipline.
“You must train your body to climb for 20 hours with an 80lb pack, but harder is to have the mental strength to turn around half an hour below a summit,” Osborne wrote on his website before the climb.
And Osborne showed the same perspective after experiencing the disappointment. “Mount Everest is just a big hill, there’s nothing more to it than that,” he said.
—Staff writer Katherine M. Gray can be reached at email@example.com.