Lou Kasischke says he regrets climbing Mount Everest…and advises against trying it.
“In 1996 I almost selfishly and recklessly died on Everest,” he says.
You can spend over $100,000 and train for years, or you can heed the Michigan-based businessman’s warning. He suggests would-be adventurers see the 2015 film “Everest,” in which Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Jason Clarke star as three of the summiteers who met varying fates on the same ill-fated climb to the top of the world in 1996. Kasischke served as technical advisor on the film.
“If you want to know what it’s like up there, the movie is a very good representation. I have seen it more than once because the first time I watched the finished product I was just checking for accuracy…but I found it to be very realistic,” said Kasischke.
Almost 20 years after he was on the fateful climb, which became, at the time, the deadliest day ever on Everest, Kasischke released his very personal memoir “After the Wind: the 1996 Everest Tragedy – One Survivor’s Story.” (Good Hart Publishing).
“I expected a two-month climb to be followed by a return to my everyday life, just like every other climb. The photos would eventually collect dust. The memories would gradually fade away. The story of climbing Everest would have an end,” Kasischke writes. “But instead, what happened to me did not fade away and continues to influence my everyday life, even now 17 years later. The story I lived never ended.”
The film, available in IMAX 3-D, depicts two expeditions of climbers and Sherpas, led by men with ambitious, colorful personalities, making their final ascent to the 29,029-foot peak. Transfixed by the majestic setting, and suffering from hypoxia, dehydration, and exhaustion in the thin altitude and harsh, ‘death-zone’ environment, some of climbers made an understandable but fatal decision. When delays hampered their progress, the mountaineers, who’d been climbing in the cold for 13 hours since 3 a.m., were within 400 vertical-feet of the noonday, sunny summit, but they’d reached the agreed upon deadline time to turn back and climb down safely. Given the months of training and six weeks of climbing over rock and ice and acclimatizing just to get to that point – not to mention the immense expense – one can see why they decided to ignore the deadline and go for it.
“I was there and I lived the horror of it – faced with that critical situation at noon. My water bottles were frozen blocks of ice; the temperature was 30-below zero; and I was fighting malnutrition with ice caked on my face.
But none of that mattered – I didn’t care about anything but reaching the summit. Sheer will kept me going. Breathe, gasp, shift my weight…then step. It was getting steeper and I was far above the clouds – almost six miles high on a narrow ridge with snow whipping around me and wind that sounded like low-flying jets.”
But Kasischke, an experienced climber, though he had no one to talk to, says he heard a voice in his heart. “It took incredible strength turn back instead of giving into the temptation to go the rest of the way. Even then I was living a nightmare in the wind, cold, and thin air, with things going terribly wrong and people dying around me.”
A fierce blizzard suddenly struck the mountain, which sealed the fate of those who defied the deadline and climbed on – and turned life, if you can call it that in the blistering, constantly blowing, blinding wind and subzero, frostbitten conditions – into a battle to survive. It turns out, surprisingly, that climbing down is harder that climbing up.
Kasischke survived, but narrowly. He was trapped in a tattered tent; freezing for nearly three days without food or water and temporarily robbed of his sight while 12 of his fellow climbers perished.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself covering up with your coat while you watch the “Everest” movie; and expect, afterward, to want to read Kasischke’s simply told, honest, detailed account of climbing Everest – instead of actually trying to do it.
While on a recent flight above the clouds over the Atlantic on South African Airways, I noticed the business class cabin flight monitor showing we were at 30,000 feet of altitude an outside temperature of 50-below-zero Fahrenheit. I was reading Kasischke’s book at the time, so I held it up, snapped a photo of it next to the readout, and emailed it to him. His email reply read: “Think how lucky and smart you are to be inside an aircraft at that altitude and temperature!”