Left for dead near the summit of Mount Everest, Australian adventurer Lincoln Hall survived the night alone, without supplies, in temperatures well below zero. And then he got lucky.
As dawn broke, one of the last teams of climbers to ascend the mountain in 2006 encountered Hall sitting cross-legged near a ledge with a precipitous drop.
His first words were, “I imagine you are surprised to see me here.”
The team abandoned its own summit attempt to rescue Hall, whose wife and two sons had already been told he was dead.
“My Christian and Muslim friends call it a miracle, my climbing friends say I am a lucky bastard, and my Buddhist friends say I must have more to do on this Earth,” Hall said in 2008 in the Daily Telegraph of Australia.
Hall, who was later diagnosed with cancer, died Tuesday in Sydney, according to the Australian Himalayan Foundation, which he helped establish. He was 56.
With the help of three Sherpa guides, Hall had crested Everest and was heading down the mountain when he was struck by a deadly form of altitude sickness that caused extreme fatigue and made him hallucinate.
He struggled against the Sherpas who tried to drag him to safety, and when he collapsed they spent hours trying to revive him. As the day’s light faded, the expedition’s leader radioed from base camp, ordering the guides to abandon Hall and save themselves.
The Sherpas declared him dead then took his pack, sleeping bag, water, oxygen and food.
“What use were they to a dead man?” Hall told Australia’s Newcastle Herald in 2009.
After hallucinating for hours, Hall became acutely aware of where he was and realized he wanted to keep the vow he’d made to his family — that he’d make it home alive.
“It was a case of me rejecting death and insisting on life,” Hall said in the 2008 documentary “Miracle on Everest.”
A Buddhist, Hall attributed his survival to a higher power, deep experience as a mountaineer, training in deep-breathing meditation and the team that found him.
Just short of the peak, American-born Everest guide Dan Mazur, a Sherpa and two climbers came upon Hall.
“He’s got his arms out of his down suit, wearing just a thin fleece top. He’s got no hat, no gloves and no goggles. There’s no oxygen,” Hall said in 2006 in People magazine. “He was just sitting there gaping.”
Without discussion, Mazur’s team gave up their summit bid to save Hall, the stranger they stumbled upon at 28,000 feet. They gave him bottled oxygen, liquids and snacks, and radioed base camp for help. “The summit is still there, and we can go back,” Mazur often said. “Lincoln only has one life.”
If Hall hadn’t lived, he would have been the 12th person to die that year on Everest during one of the deadliest climbing seasons on the mountain. Ten days before Hall’s ordeal, British climber David Sharp died as 40 mountaineers reportedly marched past.
Hall later blamed “immoral, sensational reporting” for portraying the climbing community on Everest as unethical for passing the doomed man. Sharp’s dire condition, the limitations of other climbers and the difficult terrain made his rescue “impossible,” Hall argued in his 2007 book, “Dead Lucky: Life After Death on Mount Everest.”
Hall’s “night out” on Everest, as he called it, had caused him to lose a toe and the tips of eight fingers to frostbite.
He theorized that 30 years of mountaineering had “hard-wired him to never give up,” and he repeatedly said: “I shouldn’t be alive.”
Born in 1955 in Canberra, Australia, Hall discovered rock climbing when he was 15.
“I was amazed to find a whole new world that required intense focus, precise judgment and the willingness to take risks,” Hall wrote on his website.
While studying zoology at Australian National University, he joined the school’s mountaineering club and began conquering peaks large and small.
Publicity surrounding Hall’s first Himalayan climb in 1978 opened up guiding opportunities, and he wrote a number of books about mountain exploration. He attempted Everest in 1984 but stopped near the top when he became overwhelmed by the cold.
In 1986, he met his future wife, Barbara, at a yoga class. Through the Australian Himalayan Foundation, the couple started a program to establish schools in the Himalayas.
He is survived by his wife and sons, Dylan and Dorje.
Hall had a rare cancer called mesothelioma that is often caused by asbestos. He was exposed to the material while working in construction in his 20s.
Narrowly skirting death on Everest hadn’t changed his values, Hall once said: “I just live them more consistently.”