About this posting: I’m still struggling with six or seven other books I hope to finish (revisions) and publish before the year ends (see either the www.richholtzin.com website for that background or visit my Amazon Author’s Page at https://www.amazon.com/RK-Alleman/e/B01N6VI6QO?ref_=pe_1724030_132998060). So, from time to time, I get to look back on lots of other projects I classified as rough drafts, and I found one, in particular, that was outstanding today. I wrote this about the time I composed THE COLDEST PRIZE (which is the true story of the Antarctica noble explorers, Scott, Shackleton, and Amundsen), and around that time I also considered writing a story about one of Colorado’s most famous mountaineers, Francys Arsentieve, where I also had lived since 1970 (to around 1990). I read, as though for the first time this morning, an outline of her short life’s story and thought some of you might also be interested in knowing her epic and tragic story. This morning, I am also tempted, once again, to write a screenplay about Francys because I think such a delivery would be better told in this format. I never met her, but I did meet two climbers who did. It was my first introduction to this peerless lady and fearless climber.
Born in Hawaii, and later moved to and lived in Colorado, Francys Arsentiev is a 1990s climber who made a Mt. Everest ascent without oxygen. On the way down, she must have experienced a medical emergency. Ian Woodall “Sleeping Beauty” poignant Youtube account of being the first to discover Francys’ body lying prone on a plateau below the north face. It was another body that the mountain had claimed, and Ian wanted to make sure this figure dressed in maroon and black was indeed dead. But when he noticed from afar there was some movement in that seeming corpse, he got closer and brushed the long, dark hair from the climber’s face, he realized who it was. She was barely, but she was alive. Her pupils were enormous and she spoke the words, “Please, don’t leave me.” Ian made a desperate attempt to lift Francys’ upper body, but at that altitude, around 26,000 feet, and the dangerous thin air, it was as though trying to lift four times as much. He was exhausted within seconds. He had hoped he could get her moving again, and perhaps carrying her for a little way, but it was no use. He knew she was moribund. Her husband, Sergei Arsentiev, a notable Russian climber, was with her, but his body was nowhere to be found. Likely, he pitched over the plateau in an attempt to rescue Francys, and was thousands of feet below where he landed and perished
Francys Yarbro Distefano-Arsentiev was born Francys Yarbro, on January 18, 1958. She was only forty years young and she had a son.
She passed away quietly and alone on May 23. Affected by oxygen deprivation and frostbite, she simply was unable to move on her own. With added interest, a group of Uzbek climbers had discovered Francys earlier, and they, too, could not transport her for fear of depleting their oxygen supply in the so-called ‘zone of death’ some few thousand feet between Base Camp 6 and the summit. These climbers also encountered Sergei Arsentiev, who was on his way back up to bring Francys down from that sector of Mt. Everest. This was also the last time he was seen alive.
Her touching abstract can be viewed at this URL:
Essential background details: In May 1998, Francys and Sergei Arsentiev arrived at base cap on May 17. They ascended from Advance Base Camp to the North Col, and the following day they reached 7700m (25,262 ft), just as 21 other climbers reached the summit of Everest from the North. On May 19, Francys and Sergei climbed to 8200 meters/26,902 feet (Camp 6). Sergei reported by radio that they were in good shape and were going to start their summit attempt on May 20 at 1:00 am. On May 20, after spending the night at Camp 6, they started their summit attempt but turned around at the First Step when their headlamps failed. On May 21, they again stayed at Camp 6, after ascending only 50–100 meters (164 - 196 feet) before turning around. After these two aborted attempts on the summit, they began their final ascent on May 22. Due to the absence of oxygen supplementation at such high altitude, the two moved slowly and submitted dangerously late in the day. As a result, they were forced to spend another night above 8000 meters (2,624 feet). During the course of the evening, the two became separated. Sergei made his way down to camp the following morning, only to find that his wife had not yet arrived. Realizing she had to be somewhere dangerously high upon the mountain, he set off to find her, carrying oxygen and medicine.
On the morning of May 24, Ian Woodall (from the UK), Cathy O’Dowd (from South Africa), and several more Uzbeks encountered Francys Arsentiev while on their way to the summit. She was found where she had been left the evening before. Sergei Arsentiev's ice ax and rope were identified nearby, but he was nowhere to be found. Both Woodall and O'Dowd called off their own summit attempts and tried to help Francys for more than an hour. Because of her poor condition, the perilous location, and freezing weather, they were forced to abandon her and descend to camp. She died as they found her, lying on her side, still clipped onto the guide rope. Her corpse had the nickname "Sleeping Beauty.”
Francys Arsentiev's body was visible to climbers lying prone n the death zone (*) for nine years, from her death, May 24, 1998 to May 23, 2007. On May 23, 2007, Woodall was able to locate, and after a brief ritual, drop Arsentiev's body to a lower location on the face, removing the body from view.
* The air is so thin in the higher reaches of Mt. Everest that even with supplemental oxygen every minute that you spend above 26,000 feet – in what’s known as the Death Zone – you’re basically dying. When I was in Nepal, in 1981, the highest climb I ever made was reaching Base Camp 1 (about 19,000 feet above sea level). I wasn’t a climber per se but only went there to see the stunning view to the summit. Even at Base 1’s altitude, I was gasping for air, and there was something like 10,000 feet of mountain to reach the summit. But, alas, I was no eagle or any other avian or stalwart climber who could manage the feat.