Told with the immediacy of a diary, which is where the book began, Patrick takes us on a journey to the highest mountain in the world, where one of the greatest tragedies in climbing history was about to unfold. Filled with photographs and sketches from his notebooks we become part of the 702 team sent to cover the South African Everest Expedition of 1996. It would turn out to be the deadliest climbing seasons in the peak’s history. Twenty years later the controversy around what truly happened on the mountain continues to rage.
Conroy kept a meticulous diary and recorded many hours of radio communications between the climbers. Now, two decades later, his memoirs reveal a remarkable and untold story of what happened on the mountain that fateful year.
Everest Untold includes hidden insights and never before revealed transcripts that shed new light on the 1996 disaster, including the mysterious disappearance of one of the South African team members in the death zone.
Conroy’s hidden story reopens the debate on the risks of high-altitude mountaineering and what it meant to a young democratic South Africa unaware of the dangers that lay ahead.
Excerpts from the book
- There is a sound that will live with me forever. It is the empty and harrowing hiss of a silent radio. It is the sound of a missing climber. For hours that night Deshun, Philip and I sat beside the Base Camp receiver hoping the static of the airwaves would be pierced by Bruce Herrod’s voice. Twenty years later it is still impossible to work out where everyone was at a particular time. Everest had lured the climbers up and set a perfect trap. The descent would take place in whiteout conditions and then deteriorate as night fell. Before morning two would be dead and their whereabouts remain a mystery to this day.
- There would be no sleep for anyone tonight, entire teams were missing on Everest and even at basecamp the snow was falling. The camp’s generator packed up in the cold. Philip was the only one who could fix it and he was with the Americans and Zealanders on the other side of the glacier helping to coordinate a rescue. I grabbed the satellite phone and filed a report through to 702. I looked at the clock in our Comms tent. It was midnight. The missing climbers had been in the death zone for 24 hours.
- Philip Woodall walked back into camp, a sullen look on his face. He had been over to the New Zealand tents. “Rob Hall is not answering his radio.” There wasn’t anything more to say. Our hearts sank. We knew what this meant. If anyone could have survived a second night above 8 700 metres it was the tough New Zealander. Now his radio was silent. His death must have been a slow and agonising one. There is little doubt in my mind that when he spoke to his wife, Jan, about their unborn child he knew he would not live to ever lay eyes on her. His only parental act was to give the unborn baby a name. Hall had failed to get down alive. He had failed to save Doug. Now he was to fail his only child.
- “It is 09:52 and the Nepalese and South African flags are flying on the summit of Everest.” (Radio call attached) Base Camp erupted in shouts of joy and celebration. Deshun, Philip and I leapt around the tent hugging and cheering like lunatics. Ian and Pemba were on top. I allowed myself a minute of hysteria and then called 702 in Johannesburg, South Africa. A disinterested producer answered the call. “Put me on air!” I screamed, “The South Africans are on the summit!”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Patrick Conroy is an accomplished and well-respected journalist. He earned his stripes working for Evening Standard in London, eNCA African and Talk Radio 702. It was during his rookie years at 702 that he got his big break when he was sent to report on the Mount Everest summit of 1996 that ended in disaster. Patrick Conroy has been in the news business since and is now a managing director at Platco Digital.