Bloodied, battered and bruised, Dr. John All was clinging for his life on a frozen ledge after slipping into the icy deathtrap. Below him was another 300 feet of darkness, while 70 feet above, he could see blue sky. But as he struggled to breathe and knew his broken arm was now useless, how could he possibly climb his way out of there?
You might be forgiven for thinking an accident as bad as this might be the fault of a rookie climber. But this wasn’t the first time that Dr. All had been mountain climbing. In fact, he’s a renowned mountaineer, scientist and author, with plenty of experience in trekking and climbing in remote areas.
Indeed, Dr. All actually works as a geoscientist and professor at Western Kentucky University. Furthermore, he co-founded the American Climber Science Program, an organization dedicated to research, exploration and conservation within mountain settings.
So, it’s fair to say that when it comes to all things mountain, Dr. All is the man. He also shares his knowledge through motivational and keynote speeches. He’s often quoted on climate change for significant publications, while media organization NPR even labeled him a “badass for science” because of his expeditions and research.
Dr. All has pretty much devoted his life to exploration and expeditions. The crux of his work is investigating how resources and changing climate impact on the biosphere and communities within mountainous areas. He is a man very much on a mission.
And on that fateful day in May 2014, Dr. All was on a very big mission indeed. But this was nothing new for the adventurer. In fact, he’d previously reached the summit of literally hundreds of peaks – including the highest in the world, Mount Everest, back in 2010.
On this particular expedition, Dr. All and his team were scaling a mountain close to the mighty Everest. Reaching a height of almost 24,000 feet, Mount Himlung also lies in the Himalayan mountain range of Nepal.
The group was there to investigate pollution levels as well as rates of glacial melting. To do this, they had to take snow and ice samples from the wintry landscape. The team had actually earlier intended to climb Everest’s south summit. However, a disaster forced them to change their plans.
An avalanche struck the group’s originally intended path, tragically resulting in the death of 16 Sherpas. One of them was part of Dr. All’s team. However, the team carried on, unaware of the further dangers that lay ahead.
Indeed, it wasn’t long before another disaster occurred. On May 19, 2004, just seconds after Dr. All had captured this image of the mountain, the ground seemingly opened up and the scientist plunged 70 feet into the crevasse below. He hadn’t spotted it because fresh snowfall had hidden the deadly drop.
Bouncing from side to side as he fell, Dr. All eventually crashed to a halt, balancing precariously on an ice ridge. Despite the fact that he was later found to have broken no less than 15 bones, he’d actually been lucky. That’s because the crevasse was another 300 feet deep, which would have certainly been fatal had he fallen that far. However, Dr. All still faced an epic uphill battle – literally.
After ten minutes spent crumpled on the frozen ledge in immense pain, a bloodied Dr. All hauled himself to his feet. In fact, he later discovered his ribs had been shattered and his right arm had been broken in the fall. But now there was only one way he had to go: up. Dr. All knew he had to crawl his way up the inside of the crevasse to freedom. However, one false slip would result in certain death.
The mountaineer’s survival instinct kicked in as he somehow began to drag himself up the inside of the drop using only his weaker left arm and his icepick. Amazingly, he managed to capture some footage from inside the crevasse to document his epic struggle. And, after six excruciating hours of very careful climbing, Dr. All reached the lip of the crevasse.
Speaking to The Telegraph shortly after the accident, he said, “My body was shattered and I was in agony. My face hit one wall, my back and stomach hit the back wall and I bounced between them. My face was pretty torn up. I landed on a piece of ice at a midpoint. I could have fallen another 100 meters [330 feet] and it’s amazing I didn’t. The entire time climbing out I knew if I slipped I would have been dead.”
However, Dr. All’s ordeal wasn’t over yet. He still had to find the strength for another arduous three-hour climb to get back to his tent. It was only then that he could attempt to alert rescuers of his situation – via Facebook. He posted on his American Climber Science Program Facebook page, saying, “Please call Global Rescue. John broken arm, ribs, internal bleeding. Fell 70 ft crevasse. Climbed out. Himlung camp 2. Please hurry.”
But although his plea for help was seen and the alarm was raised, bad weather made it impossible for rescuers to send out a helicopter to reach him. With potentially life-threatening injuries, Dr. Hall was not out of the woods yet. He’d have to settle down in the freezing tent and hope to be collected the next day.
While waiting there helplessly and battling his pain, Dr. All still managed to post a few further updates on Facebook. One message read, “GR can’t find a helicopter so I’ll try to survive tonight. I crawled back to tent. Unless the bleeding inside gets me, I should live.’” And then, hours later, “Bleeding inside feels better but so cold. Pain meds running low. Longest night ever.”
Shivering and bleeding in the freezing weather, Dr. All made it through the night. And just in time, rescuers located him, landing their helicopter nearby at an altitude of almost 20,000 feet. Being a big guy at 240 pounds and 6 foot 5 inches, Dr. All needed to be taken to the chopper by two rescuers. He was then flown to a Katmandu hospital, where he was rushed to the intensive-care unit.
Luckily, despite his hideous injuries, Dr. All fully recovered from his fall. Speaking to The Telegraph at the time, he explained that it was thinking of his friends and mom that kept him going during his death-defying climb. “Your survival instinct kicks in and that’s why I filmed the video. I couldn’t allow myself any doubt,” he said.
If you think his near-death experience would stop him and his adventures, you’re mistaken. In fact, later that same year, he carried out an expedition in Peru. And in June 2017, he’ll be heading back to the South American country for another expedition. It seems Dr. All is so dedicated to his science that even a near-death experience won’t stop him in his tracks.