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The Awakening
Photo: Galina Barskaya
Dr. Seaborn Beck Weathers is a Dallas Pathologist who was 49 when he attempted to bag the summit of Mt. Everest. In the spring of 1996, Beck along with 17 other clients, relinquished upwards of $70,000 to be safely escorted to the top of the world and back, by a professional guide.

The catastrophic loss of life on Everest that season has been chillingly documented in a number of books and articles. Nine climbers out of the 30, who attempted to ascend the peak that May, did not make it back alive.

Miraculously, Beck Weathers did but just barely. Only days before the final push to make the summit, Beck’s eyesight failed due to the low barometric pressure at high altitude. This frightening crisis was an unexpected side effect of an eye surgery the doctor had undergone years before.

Tough and driven, Weathers pushed on but by summit day he had lost all depth perception and could barely see out of either eye. Not far from the peak, Beck realized he could not continue on without endangering his life, as well as the lives of others.

His guide, New Zealander, Rob Hall, instructed Weathers to wait at “The Balcony” below the Southeast Ridge of the mountain for his return from the top. But Rob Hall never came back for his client. He was one of the nine climbers who perished that day, caught near the summit by a blizzard.

Presumed Dead

After hours of waiting, Beck eventually began descending the icy peak tied by a rope to some other climbers. However, just a few hundred feet short of the camp, the howling winds of the storm overtook them and the group was immobilized. The weakest members including the doctor were left in the snow, while the strongest attempted to find the camp in the blinding whiteout. Hours later, those left behind were rescued except for Beck and another climber who by that time were in hypothermic comas and were presumed dead.

Weathers spent 16 hours lying on the ice unconscious. And then the miracle happened. He woke up!  Seeing a crystal clear vision of his wife and children, Beck determined he would live. Inspired by his family, he rose, staggered, stumbled and fell until he made it back to the camp.

A heroic and dangerous helicopter rescue the next day plucked Weathers from the ice and flew him to safety. His hands and face were badly frostbitten; he lost his nose, one hand and several fingers on the other to amputation. But by his own admission, the doctor found far more than he lost!

Before his Everest ascent, Beck had been a selfish and driven man. His wife was ready to divorce him. “The relentless pursuit of success and goals and ambition had dragged out of life what was most precious.” Beck admits. Now his priorities have changed and his family comes first. “I traded my hands and face for my family and I accept that bargain. In the end, all that matters is the people you hold in your heart and those who hold you in theirs.”

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By Kathy A. Lewis. Copyright © 2012 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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