Sergei Arsentiev’s Everest Expedition : Triumph Turned Tragedy

Mt. Everest, the peak, rises to 8848 meters above sea level and is one of the highest points on Earth. Oxygen is thin there with drastic weather changes and freezing temperatures. Though attempting the Everest summit is brutally dangerous, thousands of people are drawn to climb.

Sergei Arsentiev and his wife, Francys Arsentiev, attempted Everest in 1998 without supplemental oxygen. The duo had victory over Everest but was unsuccessful in returning home to their 11-years old son. They rested forever on Everest.

Who Is Sergei Arsentiev? Bio

Sergei ArsentievSt. Petersburg native Sergei Arsentiev (Full Name: Serguei Anatolievich Arsentiev) was a professional mountaineer born in 1958. For his mountaineering prowess, the Russian national was named the Snow Leopard. He has scaled the five highest peaks in the former Soviet Union.

Besides, Sergi has reached all three summits on Kangchenjunga in a traverse. In 1991 he ascended Annapurna I in alpine style without the aid of bottled oxygen. Further, after conquering the world’s highest peak, Mt. Everest he was awarded the National Friendship Medal by President Gorbachev. Sergei’s mountaineering achievements were unknown to the western world, but he was a national hero in his homeland. .

Sergei And Francys Arsentiev: “Romeo and Juliet of the Cold War”

Francys Arsentiev Sergei Arsentiev

While on the Annapurna expedition, Sergei met Francys for the first time. Their first encounter blossomed into love. As a date, the couple climbed Elbrus and summited east and west of the peak, where Francys skied down from the Summit.

In 1992, Sergei and Francys got married and moved to America.

Well, Francys Yarbro Distefano Arsentiev is a former accountant, born on 18th January 1958.  A native of Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S., she is the daughter of John Yarbro and Marina Garrett.

Francys initially enrolled at The American Schools in Switzerland. Later, she attended schools in the United States and finished her high school. Subsequently, she earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisville and her Master’s degree from the International School of Business Management in Phoenix.

Before Sergei Arsentiev, Francys was married to John Abel (1977 – 1978). As a matter of fact, Sergei was also previously married, but his first wife was killed in an automobile accident.

Sergei and Francys Arsentiev scaled various peaks together in Russia. Notably, they climbed unsumitted Peak 5800m in Russia, which they named Peak Goodwill.

Frequent interaction with peaks made Francys dream high, and she embarked on being the first U.S. Woman to summit Everest without supplemental oxygen. Also, Sergei pushed her to achieve her goal.

Did Sergei And Francys Arsentiev Reach Everest Summit Without Oxygen?


Sergei and Francys Arsentiev were attempting Everest as a twosome with no Sherpas and no oxygen. They would not be in radio contact with others on the mountain.

In May 1998, the husband and wife duo arrived at Everest Base Camp. On 17th May, they reached North Col and the next day at 7700 m (25,262 ft). On 19th May, they ascended to Camp 6 8,203 meters (27,000′) and radioed, reporting they were all set to start their summit attempt on May 20 at 1:00 am.

They spent the night at Camp 4 (7925 m) and began their ascent early in the morning on 20th May. However, when their headlamps did not work well they were forced to return back from the First Step.

The following day, they ascended only 50–100 meters and again turned around and stayed at Camp 6. More on Everest means fewer lifelines.

On 22nd May, the couple made an early move to the summit. Without supplemental oxygen, Francys was slow but not stoppable. They reached the top very late, around 6;15 pm. Francys became the only 8th woman in the world and 1st in the U.S. to summit via North Side. Further, she became the first U.S. woman to summit Everest without supplemental oxygen.

Due to the late summit, Sergei and Francys were forced to spend their 3rd night above the 8000m. In the evening, they separated. While Sergei safely descended to camp the following morning on 23rd May, Francys was still on the top.

Soon, Sergei ascended the mountain in search of his wife, carrying oxygen and medicine. Then what happened next is still a mystery.

On the morning of 23rd May, the Uzbek team met Francys, who was half-conscious, with oxygen deprivation and frostbitten a few hundred meters down to the summit. They aided her with oxygen and carried her down as far as possible.

At last, the Uzbek went out of oxygen and became too tired to carry her down. Though Francys was still alive, Uzbek climbers were forced to descend for the sake of their own life.

Later Uzbek team met Sergei, who was on his way back up to save his wife. It was the final time, Sergei was seen alive.

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What Happened To Sergei Arsentiev?

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Francys Arsentiev

It is believed Sergei made up with Francys and spent their final moments together.

Sergei Arsentiev’s fate remained unknown for a year. In 1999, Jake Norton, a member of the “Mallory and Irvine” expedition found Sergei’s frozen corpse laying lower on the mountain face. Certainly, he lost his life while attempting to rescue his wife in the death zone.

On the other hand, Fracys Arsentiev’s remains were visible from the climbing route for nine years. Finally, in 2007, mountaineers Ian Woodall and his wife, Cathy O’Dowd, who had encountered Francys on Everest before her death, initiated and led an expedition called “The Tao of Everest” with the purpose of burying the bodies of Arsentiev and also of Green Boots, who had died during the 1996 Mount Everest disaster.

On 23rd May 2007, Arsentiev’s body was recovered, was provided a brief ceremony. Subsequently, Fracys’ body, wrapped in an American flag, was dropped off at a lower location on the face of the mountain, removing it from view.

Sergei Arsentiev will always be a mountain hero in every mountaineering era. He was brave enough to do everything possible to save his life partner. He was aware of the danger in the mountains, but he could not stay down calm, waiting for his wife to return. Ultimately,  he ascended to get his love, Francys, and be together forever.


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