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Books Chat

Beck Weathers

Beck Weathers discusses his ordeal climbing Mt. Everest in 1996

Tuesday, May 9, 2000.
Web posted at: 2:00 p.m. EDT

(CNN) — Plagued by depression, a turbulent home life, and seeking adventure, Dr. Seaborn Beck set off with nine mountain climbers to tackle mighty Everest. What followed was a nightmare. Weathers found himself stranded, lying exposed on the mountain in subzero temperatures for 18 hours. In a deep hypothermic coma, he was left for dead.

The determination of his wife Peach to see him safely home was his salvation. He miraculously recovered only to find the ordeal wasn’t over. He faced numerous surgeries, the loss of his hands, and a future that was anything but certain. His new book, "Left for Dead,’’ recounts the horror of the time on Everest, and the struggle that followed.

Chat Moderator: Welcome, Dr. Beck Weathers. Thank you for joining us this morning.

Beck Weathers: It's delightful for me to be here with y'all today. Of course, it's nice to be anywhere today! Looking forward to an interesting exchange.

Chat Moderator: Your ordeal and recovery were extraordinarily difficult. Why did you write this book?

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Beck Weathers: For a long time, I did not have any particular interest in writing a book. I thought that the story of what happened on the mountain had been explored, thoroughly.

The part of the story that appealed to me was the human story of "why did you go there in the first place," and then, "when you returned, and your life is taken down to essentially zero, how do you put your life and your relationships back together."

Question from Am: I've read Jon Krakauer's account of the climb. I'm happy to see Dr. Weathers here today. I'd like to know how he's doing emotionally and mentally in his day-to-day life. Has he been able to return to work as he had hoped?

Beck Weathers: Fortunately, I am completely healthy. I am somewhat digitally impaired, which is not a good thing in an information age. :) But I am working full-time as an anatomic pathologist.

It turned out that this was a good choice of careers, as I only need my mind and my eyes. I'm happy to report that I am probably happier and more at peace than I have been at any point in my life.

Question from Candi: Dr. Weathers, as we speak there are 40 teams attempting to summit Everest, your thoughts? Is this responsible or foolhardy?

Beck Weathers: The mountain is awfully big. It can hold an awful lot of folks. A team may range from one climber to multiple climbers. The mountain tends to sort out the groups as the climb proceeds.

There are only a few places, which are narrow and pose a problem with multiple groups. So, I think that unfortunately the crowded nature of Everest is going to continue.

Chat Moderator: How do you account for the fact that you came out of this deep coma after being left for dead?

Beck Weathers: I really can't explain why I woke up. As far as I know, I am the only individual to have awakened from hypothermic coma in the high mountains. I have considered possibilities, ranging from the most physical to the most spiritual, but I don't think I was dead long enough to know the answer. Maybe, I'll find out next time. :-)

Question from HERCULEANTHOR: Ever see any evidence of yeti?

Beck Weathers: I didn't see any yeti, although a couple of my teammates, after weeks of non-shaving, were beginning to look pretty suspicious!

Question from Fuego: Do you carry on friendships with the other survivors of your expedition?

Beck Weathers: There are individuals who are involved in the climb who never want to hear the name Everest again. There are others who are more open to contact, and I speak occasionally with John Krakauer, my tent mate, Lou, John Paske, and the helicopter pilot, Col. Madan K.C.

Question from Jeff-CNN: In hindsight, would you have still challenged Everest?

Beck Weathers: If I knew everything that was going to happen to me, knew fully the outcome, I still would have gone. I gained so much more than what I lost.

Question from Candi: Wow, what did you gain?

Beck Weathers: If I had gone to the summit and had come back intact, I would now be divorced, and estranged from my children. I would be one of the most successful people you might meet, but in the end, I would be a very lonely individual. So I have found a sense of peace. I no longer try to find and define myself externally. I'm happy in my own backyard.

Question from Jr.: Dr Weathers, where do you come down on the Krakauer/Boukreev controversy?

Beck Weathers: I think Jon Krakauer got it right. Ultimately, Anatole redeemed himself, and that's the way I prefer to remember him.

Chat Moderator: Tell us about your preparation for this expedition and why you wanted to climb Mt. Everest.

Beck Weathers: I had been climbing for about a decade. I hate to say that I fell into climbing, but it is one of life's accidents that I found this passion. It also served to help control years of deep depression. I learned that by exercising to extreme, I didn't have to think about life, and that climbing provided a goal to justify the constant physical exertion.

Question from Matt507: What did it feel like up there? Was it scary up there?

Beck Weathers: It is not scary, in part because you've already faced many of those fears in earlier years of climbing. In fact, it feels very familiar. Clearly, once we get into the storm, you realize that you are in a survival situation.

But even then, I thought that we would get through it. It is only after I woke up 22 hours into the storm that I, for the first time, thought that I would die and would not be able to have the strength to return to safety.

Question from Candi: In the past, you have talked about your need for "adventure." How do you satisfy that need now?

Beck Weathers: I clearly am limited in the physical things that I'm able to pursue. That only means that you have to explore different activities and open a different set of doors. I have found enormous satisfaction in relaying this story to others.

One of my college professors told me that nobody is so bad that they can't serve as a good example of a bad example. :) Hopefully, by relaying what happened to me, others will not have to have quite the same wake-up call. It is said that a wise man learns from the mistakes of others, and not from his own. So, I am hopefully making many wise men. :-)

Chat Moderator: Did you make it to the summit before the storm?

Beck Weathers: No, I lost my vision at about 27,500 feet. I could not see well enough to continue to climb. Losing your vision in a place like Everest is a seriously life-limiting wound. I remained on the balcony of the summit ridge that day, until the other climbers began to descend back to me.

Question from Fuego: Is there any talk of an expedition to retrieve the bodies of those who weren't fortunate to survive?

Beck Weathers: Rarely are bodies retrieved, simply because it is unreasonable to risk the life of a living individual to recover the dead. The year following our climb, the husband of Yasuko did have her body brought down, where she was then cremated. The others remain eternally where they died.

Question from Haley: Did you have to have reconstructive surgery on your nose after the severe frostbite?

Beck Weathers: Yes, my nose actually has become a celebrity nose! I function as its life-support system. The rebuilding of my face took months, but the surgeon who put me back together had the advantage that I wasn't that good-looking to begin with. :)

Question from Bethguest: Do you have to overcome any bitterness at being left behind?

Beck Weathers: I made the conscious decision that I could not allow myself the luxury of blaming others. I thought that if I did so, those negative feelings would consume me, and that the quickest road to recovery lay in accepting fully the responsibility for my own actions.

Question from SnowInColo: What spiritual gains have you made since the climb?

Beck Weathers: That is not a short answer. I do try in the last part of the book to address that question. I can only say that I am more open now to the spiritual aspects of life than I have been in many years. It is definitely a work in progress.

Question from PDawg: From your experience, what are the most worthwhile climbs in the continental U.S.? Have you climbed in the Northeast at all?

Beck Weathers: I've climbed on two occasions New England Ice, and had a great time. Most of my stateside climbing centered in Colorado, and my two favorite climbs were the Petite Grypon and the mountaineering route on the east face of Longs. I climbed that route as my first real climb in summer, and later returned to climb it in February, which was an entirely different experience.

Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts for us on the forth anniversary of this life changing experience?

Beck Weathers: I can only say that each individual who wants to pursue high-risk activities needs to be fully aware of the price that is paid by those who remain at home.

Chat Moderator: Thank you, Beck Weathers, for joining us today.

Beck Weathers: I just want to thank y'all for allowing me the opportunity to talk with y'all today, and I hope that you have enjoyed this as much as I have. Good day!

Dr. Weathers joined the chat via telephone from New York. CNN provided a typist for him. The above is an edited transcript of that chat.

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