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Francys Arsentiev - The Sleeping Beauty of Mount Everest

  Written by : Swotah travel

   Jan 12, 2023


Francys Arsentiev - The Sleeping Beauty of Mount Everest

When you listen to 'The Sleeping Beauty of Mount Everest,' will it ring any information? Of course not, because you might not have been familiar with the story that comes with this term. But believe us, the story of The Sleeping Beauty of Mount Everest melts every heart in the world since it is very tragic and heart-bleeding. You might want to know it, so stay until the end of this article.


Climbing Mount Everest has been everyone's dream, but many of them have yet to learn about the possible dangers this mountain brings. The Death Zone or Rainbow Valley is one of them. Apart from that, every other part is also considered very treacherous due to the harsh climate, heavy rainfalls, and steep landscapes. Moreover, the low oxygen in this region has been the primary reason for death.


There are many climbers who have already conquered the peak without oxygen, but it's not the same for everyone. Those who have successfully done so are more than the professionals who have lived on this mountain for years and decades and are familiar with every detail, including the weather, snowfall, routes, safety measures, time to ascend and descend, and support team.


Reports show that as of November 2022, 310 people died while attempting to climb Mount Everest. This alerts every climber that they need to prepare well and not take this climb for granted, or they will have to pay a heavy price with their life. Preparations with your clothing, supporting guide, gear & equipment, and oxygen supplements are highly recommended for the conquest. Without it, it might be impossible to reach the top of Everest.


Even highly skilled and experienced climbers prepare for years before attempting mount Everest for they know what the consequences will be with proper preliminaries.


The Sleeping Beauty of Mount Everest is none other than the same story. It is the mixture of everything you must not skip, for it may simultaneously be a lesson to many and an inspiration to some.


Let's learn about it in detail.


Who Is the Sleeping Beauty of Everest?

Francys Arsentiev is known as The Sleeping beauty of Everest. She died on Mount Everest on May 24, 1998, when she descended from the top of the tallest mountain after setting the record of the first American female to climb Everest without oxygen.


Francys was an American native, born and raised in Hawaii, Honolulu. She was born on January 18, 1958, as Francys Yabro - the daughter of John Yarbro and his wife, Marina Garrett.

The Sleeping Beauty of Mount Everest photo

Photo: Francys Arsentiev(The Sleeping Beauty of Mount Everest)

As a young child, she pursued her education at TASIS, The American School in Switzerland, and joined Stephens College. Later, she graduated from the University of Louisville and completed her Master's at the International School of Business Management. After her academic years, she started working as an accountant in Telluride, Colorado.


Francys always had a craving for mountaineering. She was six when she knew she had a passion for climbing the high peaks, and it took her on several expeditions from Annapurna Summit to Everest, her last stop. Besides that, she conquered several other mountains like Peak Goodwill (5800 meters), Denali's West Buttress, and Elbrus with her Russian husband, Sergei Arsentiev.


Sergei Arsentiev was Francys' first love when they first met in 1991 in Annapurna. They immediately took their relationship to the next level and exchanged their wedding vows in 1992. The duo had a son named Paul, who now lives in Telluride, Colorado.

Francys Arsentiev with her husband

Sergei, Francys' love, was a true pioneer of mountaineering. He was one of the legendary climbers who climbed all the Russian peaks above 7000 meters and conquered all three tops of Kangchenjunga in a traverse. It is a fact that only a few people have been able to accomplish this climb. One of Sergie's amazing mountaineering activities was climbing Annapurna in 1991 with no oxygen. In addition, he made his way to the top of Annapurna from the north face to the Summit in alpine style.


Introduction to Francys Arsentiev's Mount Everest Journey

Francys Arsentiev's journey to Mount Everest is one of the most compelling and emotional stories in mountaineering history. Her passion for mountaineering was as much as any climber who dreams of conquering Everest, and it brought her to the spot. However, it became one of the saddest stories in the history of Everest expeditions.


Francys' story is never complete without her husband, Sergei Arsentiev, a Russian pro-climber. He was also called 'snow-leopard' by many since he climbed all Soviet peaks over 7000 meters. He was beyond perfection in the field of mountaineering. Francys and Sergei first met during the Annapurna Expedition in 1991, and it was love at first sight. After a year, they tied their nuptial knot in 1992 - Sergei moved to the United States after the cold war between US and Russia ended on December 26, 1991.


Francys was one of the climbers who accompanied her husband Sergei Arsentiev on several expeditions, including Denali's West Buttress and Elbrus. With so much passion and confidence, she was determined to become the first woman to summit Mount Everest without oxygen, but she didn't know what was coming after her; a tragic death.


On May 17, 1998, the duo started their Everest Expedition from the North Col. without oxygen supplements. The next day on May 18, they had already reached an altitude of 7,700 meters. Similarly, on May 19, Francys and Sergei reached 8200 meters and remained at Camp 6. It came out to be bad luck since the duo started their next step from Camp 6 on May 20, which was believed to be harsh with heavy snowfall.


According to the reports, Francys and Sergei lost their headlamps after they initiated their climb from Camp 6. They eventually returned to Camp 6 before trying again on May 21; however, they had to return after elevating for around 100 meters. By then, they had been spending more time than expected in Camp 6, which is believed to be more dangerous.


Francys and Sergei made their third attempt from Camp 6 on May 22, 1998. Eventually, they became successful this time, and Francys dreamed of becoming the first female climber to reach the top of Everest without oxygen.


But this was where everything changed - her joy of relishing the record-setting climb did not last long. It was reported that Francys and her husband returned to Camp 6 and were at 8,630 meters. It is baffling since Sergei was met alone by the five members of the Uzbekistan expedition team at around 09.35 at 8,450 meters. When they asked him where his wife was, he was confused and said, 'Where is my wife? Didn't she come down?'


Things turned serious when the team discovered that Francys was only 100 meters below 8600 meters camp, and she was reportedly still standing and leaning on a rock. The team mentioned that she was semi-conscious and had no climbing harness too.


Francys was provided with oxygen as soon as she was found. The Uzbekistan climbers team tied her off to the rope and left her there. It is said that the way she stood up by leaning on the rock was like a 'Sleeping Beauty' which coined the term 'Sleeping Beauty of Everest.'


It's a tragic story since the Uzbekistan team appeared to be helpful and came to be unworthy regarding the safety of Francys. Reports have mentioned that she urged the climbers to help her and repeatedly said, 'Don't Leave Me. Why Are You Doing This To Me? And I Am An American.' But she received no help.


The Uzbekistan team reportedly believed that Francys had no passion for climbing; instead, she was accompanying her husband on the Everest Expedition.

Sergei was seen climbing back with medicine and oxygen for his wife at around 20:40. However, he too never returned back from that ascend - he reportedly died in the same expedition. Later, his body was discovered during the 1999's Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition.


Tragic Events on Descent From Mount Everest Summit

Francys Arsentiev's emotional story doesn't end here. It was reported that she was still alive on the following day, May 24, 1998. Two South African climbers found Francys in the same spot where the Uzbekistan team had left her. 


One of the climbers, Cathy O'Dowd, mentioned her story with The Guardian and said she was left in a dilemma as to whether to put her expedition and sponsors of her climb in vain or save the woman in need. But she mentioned that seeing Francys in that condition killed her willingness to climb Everest.


Cathy mentioned that Francys' spine seemed to be broken. She said:


"The person was lying with their harness clipped to a line of fixed rope, stomach uppermost, head and legs dangling down on either side. I knelt cautiously next to the body and saw it was a woman."


Francys' hands were all swollen, and Cathy's team tried replacing her clothes, but they felt that she was just like a dead weight.


The two Uzbekians who tied her with a rope and left, arrived at the scene. Cathy relentlessly asked them to help, but they mentioned they tried to help Francys the day before and she was too far gone to help.


Cathy and her team remained for over an hour trying to help Francys at around -30 degrees Celsius. Later, they decided to leave Francys behind since it was impossible for them to bring her back to the base camp alone. Cathy said it was a hard decision for her to make as Francys was a female; however, she could not save the first woman from climbing Everest without oxygen. Cathy and the team abandoned their Summit but could not bring her back.


In 1999, Cathy O'Dowd became the first female to conquer Everest from South and North Col.


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Haunting Details of What Happened on the Mountain

If you are here to know every detail about what happened to Francys Arsentiev on Everest, you are about to go through some very touching information. Be ready for it.


As per Cathy O'Dowd, 'Francis was discovered with her harness clipped to a line of a fixed rope, stomach uppermost, and head and legs dangling down.'


The first thing to talk about the haunting facts about Francys is that the Uzbekistan expedition team's reported support could have been more helpful; instead, they continued their journey to the top of the mountain and did not help Francys during the descending route.


The next thing is that the South African Expedition team believed that their project of conquering Everest was more worthwhile than saving a human life. It could be because of the condition Francys had at the time, but from my point of view, help and support for the needless come before my pride and name.


When Cathy's team found Francys, she was still alive and had milk-white skin and several details of frostbite. Lhakpa, one of her teammates, urged the group to carry out their trip to the top of Everest despite reportedly trying to help to save Francys. In the meantime, no support system from the base camp and the harsh winding climate of Everest became the reason for Francys' tragic death.


It is believed that Francys stayed more than 48 hours at an altitude of 8650 meters with no oxygen supplements, which was the main reason for her becoming unconscious.


Uzbekistan Team Save Attempt

The Uzbekistan Team found Francys Arsentiev on May 22, 1998, standing unconscious and leaning on a rock. They believed that she was out of time to help and continued their expedition and conquered the top of Everest. When they returned from the Summit, they hanged Francys' harness to the fixed rope, tied her, and left her in the same spot.


It was an unhelpful idea since Francys was already unconscious due to the extreme climate. She only could ask for help, which she didn't get from any of the team that found her when she was still alive.


What led to the death of Francys Arsentiev or Mt. Everest's sleeping beauty?

Francys Arsentiev, or the Sleeping Beauty of Mount Everest, died of Hypothermia and Cerebral Edema. Hypothermia is an illness caused due to prolonged exposure to extreme cold. Since Francys and her husband had been at 8600 meters of Everest for around 3 days, the harsh climate got to her, resulting in her death.


She could have survived, but she did not get any support from any teams or individuals, even though many of the climbers were found while she was still alive. Many climbers stayed to help her but eventually, they believed that Francys was just a dead weight with no signs of life. So, they left her behind, and after that, Francis took her last breath.


The South African expedition team said that the risk was too significant until they had established a real chance of saving her.


Francys and Sergei Arsentiev started the expedition without support, sherpas, or oxygen. It's evident that the air is thin at a high altitude and the oxygen level is beyond the basic. And Francys had climbed to the top without oxygen, which was dead serious. Having no oxygen supplies and extreme cold, around -30 Degree celsius, caused cerebral edema, which led to her death.


Her Final Words 

Francys final words came out before her death on May 24, 1998, which appears to be heart-wrenching. The Sleeping Beauty of Mount Everest expected some help from the climbers who found her, and she was half-conscious then.


When the climbers who found her tried to skip her, seeing her condition, she urged them to help and not leave her behind. However, that never happened; eventually, she lost her life in the cosmos of Mount Everest.


When Cathy O'Dowd found her, Francys gazed into her eyes half-consciously and said, 'Don't leave me here.' When Cathy told her she needed to fetch the rest of her team and promised to return when they returned from the expedition, Francys murmured, 'Why are you doing this to me?'


Francis again said, 'I am an American. I am an American.' Cathy knew that the American teams were a day behind them. So it was not possible to bring her back to the American camps. 


Why Did She Get the Name 'Sleeping Beauty of Everest'?

When Francys Arsentiev was reported missing, her husband climbed up with medicines and oxygen to help her. But he died on the verge of saving her. Later, the Uzbekistan team found her unconsciously standing. They said she was leaning on a rock semi-consciously with no climbing harness on her body.


The Uzbekistan climbers cited that she was white and pale, standing unconsciously like a 'Sleeping Beauty.' This was the first time Francys' name was coined as 'The Sleeping Beauty of Everest.' Since then, everyone has known her as the 'Sleeping Beauty of Everest,' whose dead body still lies in the region but unseen from the path.


Is Sleeping Beauty still on Mount Everest?

Francys Arsentiev, the Sleeping Beauty of Mount Everest, is still on Mount Everest. The Tao of Everest Campaign led by Cathy O'Dowd and her husband Ian Woodall in 2007 rescued her dead body and gave the burial. The campaign was launched to find and provide ritual burials to the body of Francys Arsentiv, Green Boots, and David Sharp.

Francys Arsentiev body in everest

Cathy and her husband Ian re-discovered Francys, who was dead on a steep slope. Sleeping Beauty received a proper Death Zone burial, and her body was wrapped with an American flag and a note from her son.


Cathy and Ian brought her body to the lower altitude and out of sight from the main path.


Everest Without Oxygen

More than a thousand mountaineers have reached Mount Everest's Summit despite its lofty height. However, only a few 400 mountaineers have achieved them without supplemental oxygen. The mountain's peak, at a staggering five miles above sea level, has relatively low air pressure and thinner atmospheric conditions. If we talk about the climbers, Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler made history in 1978 by becoming the first to conquer Mount Everest without the aid of supplementary oxygen. The climbers achieved the impossible, earning them recognition and admiration in the mountaineering world. Many experts in the field considered it physically impossible for the human body to accomplish at that time. 


The world witnessed another record in 1980 when Messner achieved the incredible feat of climbing to the Summit of Everest without help from Sherpas or using oxygen. Some other members of the exclusive group of honored mountaineers who have conquered the world's highest peak under these challenging conditions include Nepali climber Angrita Sherpa and Indian climber Aman Kumar Sinha. Likewise, Adrian Ballinger is another name to accomplish the remarkable feat of climbing some of the world's highest peaks without the aid of supplementary oxygen, earning him a place among a select few, less than 200 individuals to have achieved this. 


Climbing Everest without oxygen is an actual test of strength and determination. As more climbers choose to tackle the Summit without oxygen, the peak becomes less soaked with this essential resource. The growing number of successful climbers who have completed this challenging feat inspires others, sparking a surge of interest and creating a domino effect of achievements. But in the meantime, it can be dangerous, so be responsible with your climb.


Overall, what we know from the tragic story of Francys Arsentiev is that you are never a pro-climber in the jaws of the deadliest mountains like Mount Everest. Safety comes as the first priority before any adventure or record-keeping procedure. It has been evident that many eyes have shed tears for Francys Arsentiev's tragic death, but in the meantime, she has left a great message to the world about mountaineering. 'You are never safe in the mountains though you think you are well-prepared and all set.' Francys Arsentiev 'The Sleeping Beauty of Mount Everest' will never be forgotten - she always lives in the history of mountaineering in the world.


At the same time, message the new climbers: Be responsible with your mountaineering career and do not take it for granted. It can cost you your whole life, which you can not retrieve after it's gone. Be focused, grow connections, and groom the support teams. It might be of use to you as well as others.

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