You lost your nose, your right hand, and all the fingers of your left hand to frostbite on Mount Everest. What are the limitations for you now as a pathologist?
You adjust to doing things differently. God bless Velcro and elastics. But anything that requires fingers, I can’t do. I have a gal Friday who is a master’s-level physician’s assistant, specifically trained in the area of pathology, and what she offers is almost exactly what I can’t do. I hate to say that we have a hand-and-glove relationship, but that’s essentially how it works.
Do you think you were fully aware of the dangers when you went to climb Everest?
I was pretty much aware of the risk. But I wasn’t as frightened of being killed as I should have been. The odds remain unchanged from year to year, but basically, if you get on top of the mountain, your chances are one in six of being killed. You have less of a chance of being executed for a capital crime, even in Texas, than you do of getting killed on the summit of Everest.
Knowing what you put yourself and your family through, do you think everyone should have the right to climb Everest?
I think there are certainly people who don’t belong up there but not necessarily for the reasons of climbing skills. I would have to say in retrospect that if you have a wife and kids, if you have any real obligations to other people—friends, family, co-workers who depend on you—that should keep you off the mountain. Having said that, if you want to go up there and get yourself killed, be my guest. The mountain will sort itself out with you fairly quickly.
Many books have chronicled the 1996 Everest disaster, including Into Thin Air, but yours, Left for Dead, focused on the aftermath rather than the tragedy. How come?
Once you get your fanny kicked up around your ears, there’s a bigger story: How in the world do