Beck Weathers is a 70-year-old from Dallas, Texas. You may recognize his name, and that’s because he was part of a group that scaled Mount Everest in 1996. It was one of the most tragic expeditions in mountain climbing history, and what Beck experienced on that peak changed his life forever.
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Beck Weathers was an anatomical pathology expert. He earned a very good living and led a relatively happy life with his wife, Peach, and their children.
You can hear the story in Beck’s own words in this interview:
But since the age of 20, Beck had been plagued by depression. His need to be alone would often lead him to abandon his family for short periods. This behavior was hard on them, especially his wife. For years she tolerated it, hoping that some day her husband would get better and stop turning his back on her.
When Beck announced that he wanted to climb the seven highest peaks in the world, his wife did not try to stand in his way. A few months later, he was on his way to Mount Everest.
In May 1996, at the age of 50, Beck started the ascension of the highest mountain on earth.
Beck and his team of mountaineers made slow progress up the mountain. As they reached higher altitudes, the effect of oxygen deprivation began to take hold and the cold was almost unbearable.
But finally they reached the peak. It had been a tough haul, but they had made it.
Beck felt a sense of joy that he had never before experienced in his life. The sky was clear and he was able to spend some time simply looking out over the world and enjoying the breathtaking view.
But suddenly the sky darkened. It was every mountaineer’s worst nightmare — a storm was moving in fast and they would soon be trapped on the mountain. It was May 10, 1996, a day that would go down in history as the date of one of the worst tragedies in mountaineering history.
As he watched the storm blow in, Beck knew that he was about to face the toughest challenge of his life.
The team of mountaineers began the descent as fast as they could, but the storm blew in so quickly that they were soon stuck and could not go any further. They tucked into a rocky ridge for shelter and tried to wait out the storm. A few members of the team with enough strength continued down to base camp to try to get help. But the others remained on the mountainside overnight, struggling to survive the brutal wind and freezing temperatures.
When other members of the expedition arrived at the site the next day, they examined the scene and were forced to make some very tough decisions. The mountaineers who had managed to survive through the night were now too frozen and weak to walk down on their own and had to be carried.
But there simply weren’t enough fit people left to carry them all down. They had no choice but to help the mountaineers who they believed still had the best chance of survival. Beck described the situation like this: “Even though we were still breathing, we looked almost dead and they thought we wouldn’t survive the trip back down. They decided to let us die. It was kind of a medical thing, like what happens during wars, the classic type of selection under these circumstances.”
Beck fell into a hypothermic coma that lasted 22 hours. When he woke up, he could see the body of Yasuko Namba, another member of his team. Then he saw a vision of his wife and children and it was that vision that gave him the strength to stand up and start the long journey down the mountain.
By this time his hands and nose were black with frostbite. He knew that his chances of survival were slim, but he was determined to at least make it back and say goodbye to his family before he died.
Beck left all of his equipment behind and just started walking. As if by some miracle, he came upon a camp at an altitude of 8,000 meters. The team there couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw him approaching as if out of thin air. He had already been given up for dead twice and had had nothing to eat or drink for three days. Beck fell down at the edge of the campsite and was carried into a tent. When they saw the condition he was in, the other mountaineers were certain that he would not be alive much longer.
But he did survive the night — and many hours after that. Seeing that he was not about to give up on life so easily, the others managed to carry him to a lower altitude where he was picked up by a helicopter. Beck received proper medical treatment and was soon able to sit up and move around.
And despite what he had been through, he was surprisingly optimistic: “I can’t explain it, but it seemed like my body had dealt with the hypothermia and I felt almost rejuvenated after the Dexamethasone injection. I could even stand up and put on my shoes.”
When Beck was finally able to walk again, he remembers coming out of his tent and being met with stares of disbelief. People simply couldn’t believe that someone could survive what he had been through. But Beck was still alive and he couldn’t hold back his joy. He even started to sing and joked: “They told me this expedition could cost me an arm and leg. They couldn’t have been more right!”
Meanwhile, his wife was completely devastated. She had already been informed that her husband had been left on the mountain and thought that she had lost him forever.
Peach had always felt like she was raising their kids alone. Beck was constantly away on some adventure or another, and she wasn’t sure if she could take it anymore. The stress of having to deal with her husband’s constant search for new challenges had slowly eaten away at her love for him. Just before Beck had left for Everest, Peach had made a harsh decision: she wanted a divorce.
But Beck’s experience on Mount Everest had been a revelation for him. He could clearly see that his depression had caused him to turn his back on his family repeatedly and all he wanted now was to be with them and never leave again. “When I left to climb Everest, I felt like I was fulfilling my role as a husband… but I was completely wrong. I never let my family know that I was there for them. What happened up there made me reassess and re-examine my life and how I really wanted to live,” said Beck.
When Peach received the news that her husband had not died after all, she was overcome with emotion. The thought of him dying had forced her to rethink her decision about a divorce and when Beck arrived home, she could sense that there was something different about him. And it wasn’t just the scars and injuries — it was something inside him.
She knew then and there that she was willing to give him a second chance.
But the couple still had a lot to deal with. Beck’s recovery required the amputation of one leg and both his hands.
Thanks to some very advanced surgical techniques, Beck’s left hand was transformed into an appendage that allowed him to hold and grab things.
The frostbite had also taken Beck’s nose, but doctors were able to reconstruct it using skin grafts.
Yet despite all of this, Beck still considers himself to be one of the most fortunate people in the world. He has learned to love life again and that means spending every possible minute with his loving family. The dark cloud that had hung over the marriage is gone and the divorce plans are now just a distant memory.
Beck wrote a book with his wife called “Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest” in which he and his wife tell their sides of the story and give their personal insights into the tragedy.
In 2015, the movie “Everest” based on his book hit theaters. Beck loved the realism of the landscapes but was disappointed about the portrayal of some of the people on his expedition team. Still, despite that, seeing what he experienced on that mountain come to life on the big screen felt like a release from of all this tragedy.
To this day, doctors cannot explain how someone could survive the conditions that Beck was exposed to. But Beck knows that it was the undying love of his family that enabled him to survive on that hostile mountain.
It was an experience that brought him closer to the ones he loved and gave him the strength to approach life from a whole new perspective. Beck may have lost his limbs, but he gained much more. And isn’t that proof enough that love really can move mountains?