Everest '96 - One woman down

Deshun Deysel with French climber Thierry Renaud. Photo: Patrick Conroy

* In 1996, Patrick Conroy was sent to Nepal to report on South Africa's first Everest expedition. Twenty years later he reflects on this memorable assignment.

Day 23: 20 May 1996

The following morning Base Camp was still buzzing after Nelson Mandela’s call. It was a very proud moment for us all.

Philip was on the radio to the climbers.

“Several of the Brits swore that even if John Major did phone them, they wouldn’t take the call, while one Danish climber had trouble even remembering who his president was.”

But the sad news was that Deshun would be coming down. She had made it through the Ice Fall safely yesterday but the journey from Camp 1 to Camp 2 had taken the wind out of her sails.

Bruce Herrod was frustrated by her slow pace and the two exchanged heated words. Deshun was upset by this incident for a long time afterwards. She and Bruce had become good friends and this was the first time they had spoken to each other in anger.

I felt for her. Unlike Ian, Bruce and Cathy she was not cleared to climb above base camp by the Nepalese authorities until her name was on a climbing permit. This meant the others were already acclimatised to the higher altitudes. Deshun had to cope with the sudden elevation of her body and at the bottom of the Lhotse Face she could not go on any further.

I did not speak to her on the radio but I knew Deshun would be devastated. A strong mind is quickly infuriated with a feeble body.

The international climbers higher up were also having a tough time. The wind was relentless and Mal Duff decided it was enough. He ordered his climbers to come back down the mountain.

The waiting game on Everest was to start all over again. The teams would hunker down in their tents hoping for a weather window.

At base camp Philip and I waited patiently drinking tea and keeping an eye on the weather.

Bruce, Ian, Cathy and the Sherpa ascended to Camp 3 where they would spend the night on the Lhotse Face.

It was hard to believe that it had been just 11 days since Chen Yu-Nan had died there. It seemed like a distant memory clouded by the tragedy unfolding just 24 hours later that killed Rob Hall, Scott Fischer, Yasuko Namba, Doug Hansen, Andy Harris and three Indian climbers on the North Face.

Nine dead in eleven days. One person every 29 hours.

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