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Published 2022-01-21
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Sleeping Beauty Of Mt. Everest Was Dying In Front Of Colleagues Eyes. Why Did No One Help?

For decades Mount Everest has been one of the most desired peaks to climb for any enthusiast but at the same time, it has also become the final resting place of about 300 people. For some of the unlucky ones their bodies have been left on the mountain and serve as a reminder that reaching the peak could be dangerous for even the most experienced climbers. One of the bodies that for years was passed by those on the mountain has been the Sleeping Beauty of Mount Everest. But who exactly was the woman and what was so tragic about her passing? What was her greatest achievement that she had never got to celebrate? And what tragedy occurred shortly after her death? Read on to find out the story of Francys Arsentiev.

Who Was Francys?

Francys Arsentiev was born in 1958, in Honolulu, Hawaii, and while growing up she had long admired mountaineering. She had married Sergei Arsentiev who was a native Russian high-altitude climber, who had already several accomplishments behind him, such as reaching the highest peaks in his homeland. With Sergei by her side, the woman climbed several peaks around teh world before in May 1998, turning her long dream into reality when they had decided to climb to the summit of Mount Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen. However, that decision would sadly be one that would lead to her death. But what exactly happened? Read on to find out.

Starting Out Their Journey

In case some might not be aware, ideally, all-mountain climbers keep supplemental oxygen with them when climbing up high altitudes because high oxygen density and strenuous trek can cause problems to climbers, especially the higher they get. However, Francys wanted to make history to become the first U.S woman to reach the summit without the use of supplemental oxygen. On May 19th and May 21st, the couple had first started on their journey but for various reasons had to return to camp, making their final ascent on May 22nd.

Reaching The Summit

Because they had no oxygen with them on such high altitudes, the pair had to move slowly yet they had made their dreams come true, and Francys became the first U.S woman to have reached the summit without supplemental oxygen. But given that they had reached the top dangerously late in the day, they were forced to spend yet another night above 26,000 feet. According to various reports on the story, the married couple got separated in the evening, with Sergei making his way down to camp the following morning, only to find that his wife had not yet arrived, the Russian native realized she must have been somewhere dangerously high up and set off to find her, carrying oxygen and medicine. Though what would happen next? Read on to find out.

What Happened Next Is Uncertain

The events of what happened next in the story are uncertain though one of the most plausible accounts that the press have reported on, suggests that on the morning of May 23rd, Francys Arsentiev was found by a team of Uzbek climbers, who were trying to reach the final hundred yards to reach the summit. As per the reports, at the time the 40-year-old had appeared to be half-conscious, affected by oxygen deprivation and frostbite. Given that the woman was unable to move on her own, the Uzbekistani climbers had given her some of their own oxygen and carried her down as far as they could until they had used up their own oxygen reserves and became too tired to continue the effort. At that time Francys was still alive. As they left the woman behind, the Uzbek climbers had made their way down to camp that evening where according to reports they had encountered Sergei on his way up. That would be the last time he was seen alive.

Finding Francys

On May 24th, another climbing couple heading for the summit, Ian Woodall and Cathy O’Dowd, were shocked as they came across what they had first mistaken for a frozen body, however, after seeing it spasm violently, they realized that the woman was still alive. As they got closer they recognized her as Francys whom they met at base camp prior to her climb and with whom they had tea and discussed her 11-year-old son. Sergei's ice ax and rope were found nearby, but the was nowhere to be found As they would later reveal to the press, thousands of feet in the air, Arsentiev was only able to repeat three phrases, “Don’t leave me,” “Why are you doing this to me,” and “I’m an American.” The couple quickly realized that although she was still conscious, she wasn’t actually speaking at all, only repeating the same things on autopilot “like a stuck record.” But did they get the woman back to base camp? Read on to find out.

Sleeping Beauty of Mount Everest

As Ian and Cathy would later recall, Arsentiev had already succumbed to frostbite, which rather than distorting her face with blotchy redness, had turned her skin hard and white. This effect had given her the smooth features of a wax figure which later would cause O’Dowd to remark that the fallen climber looked like Sleeping Beauty. That nickname would be one that the press would eagerly use for their headlines, which would for years lead Francys to be remembered as the Sleeping Beauty of Mount Everest.

Unable To Help The Woman

Right after finding out that Francys was still alive, Ian and Cathy had called off their own climb to the summit and for over an hour had done their best to try and get Arsentiev back down to the base camp with them. However, conditions had become so dangerous that Woodall and O’Dowd were forced to abandon Francys, fearing for their own lives. While to some that might seem like they abandoned her to a cruel death, their decision was practical as there was no one in those conditions that they could have carried her back down with them if they wanted to avoid becoming two more signposts for future climbers. And so that is how Francys’ remains were left on the mountain where future climbers would encounter her and take photos and her cause of death was found out to be Hypothermia and/or Cerebral Edema. She has suffered a fall that caused her brain injuries. The mysterious disappearance of her husband was solved a year later when his body was found lower on the mountain face, apparently dead from a fall while attempting to rescue his wife

Francys A Symbolic Burial

For over a decade, Paul Distefano the woman’s son, had to endure the added misery of looking at the pictures of his mother which were taken by climbers who happened upon it while trying to reach the summit. Though that changed in 2007, when Ian Woodall, haunted by the same images and memories of the woman he had to abandon years ago, had decided to, along with his team, give Francys a dignified burial. The expedition that he led was known as “The Tao of Everest” and on May 23rd he was able to locate Arsentiev’s body, and after a brief ritual and wrapping her in an American flag, he and his team had dropped her to a lower location on the face of the mountain, removing the body from the view of future climbers.

Mount Everest Bodies

Over the years there has been a lot of discussions as to why the bodies of the fallen climbers aren’t removed from the mountain. The reason for that is a sad yet simple one, not only is retrieval of a body costly, in some cases, the prices reach around $70,000, it is also very dangerous, especially in the so-called “death zone” at around 26,250 feet. In 1984 two Nepalese climbers had died while trying to recover a body from Everest and since then the remains are left behind on the mountain, serving future climbers as a reminder that even the most prepared climbers can be caught off guard by the mountain.

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