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'Oh, Jesus—What Are They Doing' on Everest?

Inside the perilous ascents and descents over 2 days in May
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 4, 2019 11:20 AM CST

(Newser) – "Oh, Jesus—what are they doing here?" It's a thought that repeated itself in Reinhard Grubhofer's mind as he summited Everest on May 23 and kept encountering climbers not physically and mentally up for the challenge. He was part of the horde who attempted to make it to the top over a two-day period that resulted in a clogged path to the top and back, one immortalized in a viral photo. In a lengthy piece for GQ, Joshua Hammer shares the stories behind that photo. In Grubhofer's case, he made it to the top. "A less experienced climber might have thought that the hard part was over," writes Hammer. "Grubhofer knew better." He hit a problem about 2.5 hours into his descent. He arrived at step two, a 100-foot drop that one gets down via a series of ladders, to find a queue. Getting to the first ladder isn't for the faint of heart.

A climber must turn to face the mountain and get his foot on the rung without being able to see it; a Chinese woman at the front of the line was apparently too terrified to attempt it. There was no way to pass her, so a line formed in a place so high—the "death zone"—that remaining stationary for too long can lead to death. Grubhofer ended up making it down, barely. Forging your way to the top when you're too weak can be extremely perilous, too, and Hammer delves into the fine line the Sherpas walk in telling the climbers they're working for that they can't summit. A Sherpa confronted Grubhofer's climbing partner, Ernst Landgraf, before the team started for the summit, trying to convince him to stay back. He refused, saying he had to achieve his goal. He did, with fatal consequences, and was one of 11 to die on Everest that month. Read the full story to learn what happened to Landgraf. (Read more Longform stories.)

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