Rob Hall: A Climber’s Last Stand on Mount Everest

Robert Edwin Hall, a notable New Zealand mountaineer, met a tragic fate while leading a Mount Everest expedition in 1996. Alongside a fellow guide and two clients, Rob Hall lost his life during the perilous climb and become one of the most famous dead bodies on Mount Everest.

The gripping tale of this expedition was immortalized in Jon Krakauer’s renowned book, “Into Thin Air,” and later depicted in the 2015 film “Everest.” At the time of his untimely demise, Hall had achieved an impressive feat of conquering Everest’s summit for the fifth time, a record unmatched by any other non-Sherpa mountaineer of that era.

This blog discusses the well known climber of Mount Everest, Rob Hall including who hewas, his climbing history, and his final days on Everest.

Who is Rob Hall?

Rob Hall in the Mountains, Adventure Consultants
PC: Colin Monteath

Robert Edwin Hall, was born on January 14, 1961, in Christchurch, New Zealand and was a prominent figure in the world of mountaineering. Growing up in the scenic surroundings of the South Island, nestled at the base of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, Rob Hall developed a natural affinity for climbing from a young age. Even in his early teens, it was evident that he had found his calling in life. At the age of 16, Hall decided to leave school and embark on a career with Alp Sports, a small outdoor company in New Zealand, where he contributed as a production manager and designer.

As time went on, Hall’s ambitions grew bolder, and he continually sought out new and exhilarating challenges. By the time he reached 21, he had already accomplished remarkable feats in the Himalayas, such as being the second person to ascend the North Ridge of Ama Dablam in 1980 and Numbur himal in 1981.

Closer to home, in New Zealand, Hall achieved the remarkable feat of completing the first winter ascent of the Caroline Face on Aoraki, the highest peak in the country. These early achievements showcased Hall’s remarkable skill and unwavering determination in the world of mountaineering.

Conquering The Seven Summits in 1990

The seven summits, Rob Hall and Gary Ball

In 1988, Rob Hall crossed paths with Gary Ball and marked the beginning of one of the most esteemed climbing partnerships in modern history. The concept of the “Seven Summits” had emerged as a mountaineering challenge in 1985. It entailed scaling the highest peaks on each of the seven continents, posing a challenging test for those brave enough to take it on.

Among the various interpretations of the Seven Summits challenge, the most renowned path is commonly referred to as the “Bass version”. It revolves around conquering the highest peak on each standard continent, measured from sea level. This list comprises of Everest in Asia, Aconcagua in South America, Mt Mckinley (Denali) in North America, Kilimanjaro in Africa, Elbrus in Europe, Kosciuszko in Australia, and Vinson in Antarctica.

While the Seven Summits had been accomplished by previous mountaineers, Rob Hall aspired to elevate the endeavor to unprecedented heights. His ambition extended beyond mere completion; he aimed to achieve this monumental feat within a time frame of seven months, dedicating one month to each peak. Their journey would start with Everest, widely regarded as the most challenging ascent on the list. 

Their successful ascent of Mount Everest in 1990 was a groundbreaking moment, with the pinnacle of their achievement broadcast live from the summit via satellite phone to New Zealand’s prime-time television. Just seven months later, the intrepid duo conquered Mount Vinson in Antarctica, completing the Seven Summits. Their accomplishment set a speed record at the time and etched their names into the chronicles of New Zealand’s climbing folklore. The indelible mark they left on the climbing community solidified their status as legends in the realm of New Zealand mountaineering.

The Legendary Partnership of Rob Hall and Gary Ball

Rob Hall and Gary Ball, Adventure Consultants, 1996 Mount Everest Disaster
PC: South Canterbury Museum

After the accomplishment of conquering the Seven Summits in 1990, Rob Hall found himself showered with praise and sponsorships. However, the life of a sponsored climber and athlete began to wear on him. The pressure to continuously push the boundaries in climbing to maintain his status and influence weighed heavily on Hall.

In addition to his triumphs as a mountaineer, Hall also pursued a career in the outdoor equipment industry. Following a successful stint at Alp Sports, he joined the ranks of Macpac Wilderness Ltd, the foremost outdoor brand in New Zealand. Four years later, fueled by his natural talent for planning, organizing, and executing ideas, Hall took a leap of faith and established his own company under the name ‘Outside.’

However in 1991, Hall partnered with Gary Ball to form ‘Hall and Ball Adventure Consultants.’ Recognizing the value of their skills in the emerging field of high-altitude guiding, the climbers ventured into a new chapter of their careers.

The inaugural guiding expedition for Adventure Consultants took place the following year and achieved a successful ascent of Everest. They continued their ventures with trips to Aconcagua and Mount Vinson, and in 1993, they returned to Everest. This time accompanied by Hall’s wife, Jan Arnold, and other clients, for another triumphant summit attempt.

Later in the same year, Hall and Ball embarked on a personal expedition to Dhaulagiri, the seventh highest peak in the world. As they reached an altitude of 24,000 ft, preparing for a final push towards the summit, Ball began displaying symptoms of altitude sickness. Despite their efforts, Ball tragically succumbed to his condition within 24 hours. Hall made the heart-wrenching decision to lower Ball’s body into a deep crevasse just above base camp, later admitting to the press, 

“Letting go of that rope was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.”

Determined to carry on despite the immense loss, Hall chose to continue guiding without his partner, shortening the name of their outfit to ‘Adventure Consultants.’

Rob Hall’s 1996 Everest Disaster

Rob Hall 1996 Everest Expedition team
Rob Hall Everest Expedition team (1996)

By 1996, Rob Hall had already led three successful Everest missions, gaining recognition as a prominent figure in high-altitude guiding. Clients paying a substantial sum of $65,000, sought the best chance of reaching the summit, and Hall’s outfit was the preferred choice.

Hall’s guiding approach prioritized safety over summit ambitions. In 1995, he demonstrated his rational decision-making by turning clients back near the summit due to hazardous snow conditions, solidifying his competence in the mountains.

The 1996 expedition comprised eight clients and three guides, though only five would eventually attempt the summit. Among Hall’s clients were three Americans – Jon Krakauer, Doug Hansen, and Beck Weathers. The mission proceeded smoothly for weeks until the last few hours, when a series of misfortunes unfolded, resulting in May 10-11th becoming known as the 1996 Mount Everest disaster – which is one of the deadliest events in Everest’s history.

A Tragic Journey: Struggles and Decisions on Everest’s Ill-Fated Summit

Everest Movie Scene Rob Hall
Jason Clarke as Rob Hall in the movie “Everest”

On May 10, the climbers embarked on their summit push, but their mission took an unfortunate turn. Beck Weathers suffered from impaired visibility due to UV exposure and past corneal surgery, resulting in snow blindness. To ensure Weathers’ safety, Hall made the difficult decision to proceed with the other clients, leaving Weathers to await their return. With the summit within close reach, the expectation was for the group to reconvene and initiate their descent after a few hours.

As Hall’s group pressed onward, they encountered an unexpected hurdle—there were no fixed lines in place. This required Hall to take on the responsibility of installing the lines himself. The necessity of fixing the lines created a bottleneck at the mountain’s summit, further delaying the progress of their summit push.

Despite the mounting challenges, the group persevered in their ascent. However, the additional time spent on the mountain drained their energy, particularly impacting one client, Doug Hansen, who displayed alarming signs of exhaustion as they approached the summit.

One perplexing question that arose in the aftermath of the tragedy was why Hall chose to continue towards the summit. They had missed the critical 2pm deadline, which Hall himself had set as the absolute latest time to begin the descent. Previous experiences had taught Hall and other guides that initiating the descent by this deadline was imperative to ensure a safe return to camp before nightfall.

Trapped on Everest: Rob Hall’s Final Stand

Rob Hall’s Body on Mount Everest
Photo of Rob Hall’s body

Rob Hall’s group successfully reached the summit but faced a daunting challenge as they began their descent. The time had surpassed 3 p.m., and Doug Hansen’s condition deteriorated, displaying severe exhaustion.

In a twist of fate, the mountain unleashed a violent snowstorm. Hansen, already depleted of energy, could no longer continue. As the remaining guides and clients continued their descent, Hall decided to stay with Hansen, refusing to abandon his client. It is believed that Andy Harris, another Adventure Consultants guide, accompanied Hall for a period, although Harris’s body was never recovered.

Tragically, Hansen succumbed to the harsh conditions shortly thereafter, while Hall prepared to bivouac near a col just below Everest’s South Summit. The merciless blizzard struck around 5 pm, accompanied by winds of nearly 150 miles/ hour and near-zero visibility. Despite the treacherous storm, one of Hall’s fellow guides made an effort to rescue him by retracing their steps and bringing additional oxygen and water.

A grueling twelve hours elapsed before the first communication reached base camp, close to 5 a.m. Hall relayed the distressing news that the fellow guide who had reached him was now missing. He possessed a limited supply of oxygen, however his mask’s regulator had succumbed to freezing temperatures, making it incapable of circulating air. By 9 a.m., he managed to fix it, but the harsh reality set in—his frostbitten hands and feet left him incapable of descending the mountain.

He called his wife, via base camp, on a satellite phone and was able to get a message to her. His last words were: 

“Sleep well my sweetheart. Please don’t worry too much.”

Rob Hall’s final words

The mountain witnessed several other tragedies that day adding to the overall number of casualties:

  • Yasuko Namba, the oldest woman to have summited Everest at the time, died during the descent in the midst of the blizzard.
  • Three Indian climbers lost their lives on the North Ridge during the same night. Including Green Boots (Tsewang Paljor)
  • Scott Fischer, the lead guide of the Mountain Madness expedition, succumbed during the descent after reaching the summit at 3:45 p.m. It is suspected that altitude sickness, exacerbated by the blizzard’s impact, contributed to his tragic fate.
  • Andy Harris: A guide for Rob Hall. Who died while attempting to help Rob and Doug towards the summit.
  • Doug Hansen: A client of Rob Hall. Known as the mailman.

Rob Hall’s Last Tribute on Mount Everest

In 2004, a team of 31 Nepalese Sherpas embarked on a mission from Kathmandu to retrieve the bodies of several climbers, along with multiple tons of litter. During the ascent, it becomes nearly impossible for climbers to recover the fallen bodies of their comrades. Exhausted and overwhelmed by the death zone above 8,000 meters, they lack the strength to lower the immobile, frozen remains. Consequently, fallen climbers are left in their final resting place, often for eternity. Regrettably, there are around 200 bodies frozen on Everest’s slopes.

While some of these bodies are inaccessible, there are others situated closer to the primary route, making the descent more feasible. 

“Leaving the deceased on the mountain is not acceptable. Moreover, the mountain serves as a vital water source,”

Expressed Namgyal Sherpa, the leader of the cleanup expedition.

The presence of these bodies not only poses a haunting experience for future climbers but also violates Nepalese laws and cultural customs.

Jan Arnold, Hall’s widow, voiced her heartfelt wish for her husband’s body to remain on the mountain—a place he would have chosen as his final resting site. Secluded from the main route, Hall’s body, which was discovered three years after the tragic incident in 1999, rests frozen below the South Summit, forever serving as a tribute to that fateful day.

Rob Hall’s List of Major Climbs (1990-1996)

Here’s a list of mountains summited by Rob Hall during the year 1990 to 1996:

Year of Ascent Major Climbs
1990Seven Summits (The Bass List)
1992K2 attempt (Scott Fischer, Edmund Viesturs and Charley Mace helped Hall to save his partner Gary Ball from edema)
1992Mount Everest
1993Dhaulagiri Summit. Hall reached 7,300 with Gary Ball and Veikka Gustafsson. However, Ball passed away on the mountain due to edema
1993Summited Everest with his wife, Jan Arnold
1994Mount Everest, Lhotse, K2, Cho Oyu, Makalu
1995Cho Oyu 
1996Mount Everest (died while descending from the summit)
Rob Hall’s mountaineering accomplishments

The Internationally Covered Tragedy

Into Thin Air Jon Krakauer

The tragic incident gained significant global attention, largely due to the reporting of Jon Krakauer, an American journalist working for Outside Magazine. Krakauer later penned a bestselling book titled Into Thin Air, which sparked debates within the mountaineering community.

Some climbers argued that Krakauer, lacking personal experience on 8,000m peaks, overstepped his bounds in criticizing the decisions of seasoned experts. Others viewed Krakauer’s analysis as a fair examination that challenged the notion of an unquestionable “expert halo” surrounding leaders in the field.

Into Thin Air is one of my favorite books! You can support our website by buying it from our Amazon Affiliate link here: Into Thin Air!

Other media coverage about Rob Hall’s death on Everest:

  • Into Thin Air: Death on Everest, a TV movie on the 1996 Everest disaster.
  • The series “Seconds From Disaster” published an episode about the 1996 incident and explores Rob Hall’s Ordeal in “Into The Death Zone”.
  • Neil Finn’s Song “The Climber” is inspired by Rob Hall’s Tragic Death.
  • Another documentary directed by David Breashears, who was on Everest in 1996,  “Storm Over Everest” aired on the PBS program Frontline in 2008.
  • Everest (2015) film depicts the events of the 1996 Disaster.
  • Rob Hall’s story comes to life in the opera “Everest” by Joby Talbot which follows the major episodes of the 1996 Everest disaster.
  • Anjan Dutt’s Song “Mr. Hall” pays tribute to Rob Hall’s legacy.

FAQs: Rob Hall’s Death

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding Rob Hall’s death on Mount Everest.

1. What were Rob Hall’s last words?

Stranded on the mountainside following Hansen’s demise, Hall maintained communication with base camp and his wife. His last words, “Please don’t worry too much,” was widely quoted. Tragically, Hall succumbed to exposure on the South Summit on May 11.

2. How old was Rob Hall when he died?

Rob Hall was 35 years old when he died.

3. What was the worst Everest disaster?

May 10, 1996, marked a devastating storm on Mount Everest, claiming the lives of eight climbers in the deadliest single-day tragedy. Renowned author Jon Krakauer, who was among the climbers, penned the compelling and widely acclaimed book “Into Thin Air” in 1997, shedding light on the harrowing event.

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