He was alive. Or at least it was a dream. A good one to have.
Beck Weathers peeled his face off the frozen ground. He painfully blinked the ice out of his eyes. He couldn’t feel his hands. They were frozen. He couldn’t feel his feet. They were frozen, too. The only warmth he felt was from the urine filling his snowsuit and that was only temporary.
Soon, it would also be frozen.
As he put one foot in front of the other, Beck didn’t know he would lose both hands. He didn’t know he would lose his nose.
“ALL HE KNEW WAS HE HAD COME BACK FROM THE DEAD AND HE NEEDED TO GET BACK TO HIS FAMILY.”
Beck spent most of his adult life battling depression. It was his dirty little secret. When he met his wife, Peaches, he didn’t even share it with her — and she was supposed to be the one he shared everything with. In college, when the darkness would set in, Beck would just keep to himself. Or he would ride his motorcycle way too fast around curves in the dark.
Then he found the gym.
He could exert all his frustrations and doubts into lifting weights. He never considered himself an athlete, but he liked the way weightlifting made him feel.
After college, when he was a doctor, he traded the weights for running. He didn’t need any equipment but a pair of shoes and he could do it anywhere. It soon became an obsession.
When he wasn’t working, he was running. Or he was boating. Or he was reading up on some other “thing” he could do to get his mind away from his depression. Away from killing himself.
Beck went to work every day with a smile on his face. He pretended like everything was OK. But for long periods of time, it was never OK. His depression made everything hurt. And he complained about it to his wife. It seemed that was all he ever used her for. To cushion his complaints.
Beck found any and every reason to not be at home. It wasn’t because he didn’t love his wife, Peaches. He loved her very much. He just wasn’t happy. He didn’t feel alive as a doctor and a husband.
And so he chased that feeling.
One day, he accidentally got introduced to hiking on a trip with friends. He and a few of his friends were supposed to wake up early the next day after setting up camp. The weather became cold and wet. Beck and one other friend woke up to make the hike despite the conditions. It was only a few miles, but Beck found it exhilarating.
Soon, the hikes became longer. And more difficult. Before long they turned into full-blown climbing adventures. Climbing to the peaks of the tallest and most treacherous mountains in the world.
By this time, Peaches had given Beck two children. A boy and a girl. She had hoped that having children would keep him at home. Settle his need for danger or adventure. But it didn’t. It just compounded it.
Beck felt even more pressure to be a father. A job that he was not only inexperienced at but deathly afraid of. More afraid of than climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro — which he did with relative ease.
Whenever Beck reached a peak professionally and couldn’t climb any higher, he would start to gradually sink into his dark abyss.
A place that he thought he was alone in.
A place that he didn’t want anyone, not even his wife, to know existed. And so to avoid it, he would climb.
Beck’s life became a vicious cycle. Work. Workout. Go on a climbing adventure. Work. Work out. Go on a climbing adventure. For years, it continued like that.
To Beck, making sure his family had everything they could want or need was sufficient for him to feel like he was doing his duty as a family man. When Peaches was on family vacations alone with the children, she felt differently. But Beck was oblivious.
Theirs was not a happy home. The children never expected their dad to be around. They knew that Beck loved them. They also knew that climbing came first. Work came first. Everything came first.
Over the years, Peaches figured out Beck’s secret of depression. She figured out his pattern of self-medicating with danger. To her, it was just a matter of time before climbing or one of his other obsessions would get him killed. She thought that’s what he wanted.
And it was. Beck pushed the envelope of safety.
He took risk after risk subconsciously hoping that death was looming up ahead. And many times, it almost got him. And every time, he went back for more.
When Beck decided to climb Mt. Everest, Peaches and the kids were the last to know. Peaches had been unhappy for a while. Beck was never home. She was raising the kids all alone with the help of her brother at times. But she didn’t come from a family who knew the word divorce. And so she stuck around. Until she found out about Everest.
Peaches told Beck that if he left to climb Everest, she would divorce him.
He left for the mountain anyway.
The day he got to Everest, he was with other extreme mountain climbers. Beck considered himself amateur next to the company he would keep for the next few months. Even though he had been working out rigorously for five months prior, he still felt inferior to the others.
Finally, he was on the mountain.
It was May 10, 1996, Beck’s life was about to change. Forever.
The wind started blowing and snow was raging up the mountain causing whiteout conditions and trapping Beck and dozens of other climbers on what was known as the Death Zone of the mountain.
The Death Zone was the part of the mountain right before the summit.
Climbers went from camp base one, to camp base two, to camp base three, to the death zone, to the summit. They had to get down from the summit as fast as they could and beneath the death zone because the human body was not meant to withstand the altitude and it would start dying.
The hike up Everest was littered with bodies that had tried to reach the summit and failed. There is no way to get the bodies off the mountain because of the altitude and the danger, and since it’s so cold, they are just preserved on the mountain.
Beck and the other climbers walked by them as if it were an everyday sight. Which, by the time they reached the Death Zone, had become an everyday sight.
Beck was stuck in the Death Zone with his fellow climbers until midnight. Miraculously, the storm passed. And his guide Rob Hall woke him up from his tent and told him it was time to go. They would climb while it was clear and reach the summit by 2pm.
Beck got up and got ready and left with his group.
But it was dark and he had been suffering from night blindness for years.
Add to it the freezing cold temperatures and Beck had to take it slow. As the sun rose, Beck’s vision gradually cleared and he could see. That is until he wiped his eye with his ice-laden glove and lacerated his cornea.
Beck’s common sense kicked in and he decided the climb was over for him. He told his guide Rob to go ahead without him. If he felt like he could catch up he would.
Rob told him he had thirty minutes to figure it out. If he couldn’t start hiking in thirty minutes he needed to stay put so Rob would know where to find him on the way down and they could go back to camp together.
As nightfall came, climber after climber had passed Beck on the way down. Some even offering to help him off the mountain. But he had promised Rob he would stay put and wait for him. And so he waited. And waited. Without shelter. As another storm ravaged the mountain.
Beck was wearing three pairs of gloves which was par for the course.
They had been instructed to remove two pairs of gloves and place their single gloved hand inside their coat to warm it up in the event it was terribly cold. So Beck tried that.
He got two of the three pairs of gloves off his hand, before he could get his hand inside his coat to warm up, a gust of wind came freezing his hand, literally, and blowing both pairs of gloves out of his other hand. His hand immediately started burning.
Beck knew what frostbite felt like. He had felt it before. And this was nothing like it. It didn’t hurt at all. But maybe he was too cold to tell.
He laid down to wait for Rob. But he was never going to show up.
Rob Hall died on the top of that mountain trying to help another climber.
As he waited not knowing Rob’s fate, Beck started to freeze to death. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling. It was warm even. He had a sense of floating and then gently fell asleep.
His face froze to the cold ground below him.
Other climbers came and left him for dead even though he was still technically breathing. His eyes were glazed over. His hands were grey and black with frostbite as was his nose and a couple places on his cheeks.
Nobody tried to save him. On Everest, a man in his condition might as well be dead already.
“AND SO BECK LAY ON THAT MOUNTAIN ONE MORE NIGHT AS HIS WIFE WAS TOLD HER HUSBAND WAS DEAD.”
Even Beck thought of himself as a dead man.
It was the sun that brought him back to life. Woke him up.
In the glow of the sun when Beck opened his eyes, he saw Peaches. He saw his daughter. He saw his son. He saw his purpose.
And he stood up. Or at least he tried to.
Every time he tried to stand, he would fall. Pain would sear through every inch of his body. But he knew he was only an hour hike from the camp. He had to try.
The ground was uneven. Making every step a possibly fatal one.
But he persisted. And he made it to camp, trudging in like the walking dead.
The others looked at him as if they were looking at a ghost.
Beck was taken into a tent and warmed up. No one could believe he was still alive. Even when they called Peaches to tell her, they didn’t expect him to live much longer.
Peaches hoped for the best. And when hope wouldn’t do, she sprung into action. She began calling every politician and government official she could think of. Working together they orchestrated a nearly impossible rescue for her husband, the man she had planned on divorcing.
AN IMPOSSIBLE SURVIVAL ON THE WORLD’S HIGHEST SUMMIT
It took Beck over a year and 11 surgeries to heal from his trip to Everest. He lost one hand at the wrist. Four fingers on his other hand and had to have his thumb recreated with bones and skin from other parts of his body.
His nose was reconstructed in a more unconventional way. It was reconstructed upside down on his forehead. Once it was fully formed it was moved into place, where it looked as natural as it ever would. He endured constant pain and constant antibiotics.
By then, Beck didn’t care about his missing hands. He didn’t care about his new nose. He didn’t care about the pain. All he cared about was learning how to love his wife and kids the way they deserved. It took him almost dying on a mountain to figure out what was important to him.
Over the years, when asked if he would do it again, Beck answers with a resounding, “Yes.”
“I WOULD DO IT AGAIN. THAT DAY ON THE MOUNTAIN I TRADED MY HANDS FOR MY FAMILY AND FOR MY FUTURE. IT IS A BARGAIN I READILY ACCEPT.”
You don’t have to wait until you are peeling your face off the frozen ground and trudging your way in below zero temps to safety to figure out what’s important to you. And you shouldn’t.
You know what you should be doing. And there’s no better time to start than now.
So get started. Take one step today towards what matters.
You might be banged up and feeling half-dead inside. But happiness is worth the fight.