Helen Wilton, base camp manager for the ill-fated Rob Hall led expedition to Everest in 1996
Helen Wilton

Helen Wilton served as the base camp manager for the expedition to Everest that Rob Hall led in 1996, which would ultimately be unsuccessful. Not so long ago, Emily Watson gave a performance as her in the epic picture Everest, which was released in theaters.

She was aware that it was quite improbable that Helen Wilton’s boss would live when he radioed her from the south top of Mount Everest in the midst of a lethal storm.

During the month of May in the year 1996, Wilton was serving as the base camp manager for Adventure Consultants, which was Rob Hall’s professional led expedition organization.

There was one thing that Wilton could do for her mentor and friend when Hall called her from the top of the Hillary Step, hours after she had just returned from the summit of Everest.

She called Jan Arnold, Hall’s wife, who was in Christchurch expecting the couple’s first child, and informed her that her husband was stranded at an altitude of 85 hundred meters.

Possibly the most moving scene in Everest, which is a movie about the day that was the deadliest on the mountain at the time, is the conversation that Wilton helped to mediate between Arnold and Hall. The moment, in which Keira Knightley, who is crying, becomes progressively worried, is said to be somewhat overblown by Wilton.

Arnold, a physician who had worked at Everest and climbed to the top of the mountain, maintained his composure throughout the ordeal.


“It was a gentle communication rather than a desperate one,” Wilton is quoted as saying.

“Jan says after the last phone call, she actually slept quite peacefully.”

There is a striking similarity between the words stated by Wilton’s on-screen self, who is portrayed by the British actress Emily Watson, and the actual remarks.

In preparation for the part, Watson used Skype to communicate with Wilton and listened to recordings that Wilton had made of her talks with Hall that were broadcast on the radio.

Watson referred to these as “the most incredible resource for an actor” in an interview with Deadline Hollywood.

“It’s like touching the truth.”

During her first expedition to Everest’s base camp at the beginning of 1989, Wilton, who was 32 years old and a mother of four children, met Hall. Wilton had won the trip through a radio competition.


For three more seasons, she continued to work as Hall’s base camp manager because the experience had such a profound influence on her.

In spite of the tragedy, the Christchurch woman, who is now 59 years old, remembers her time spent working with Hall with tremendous warmth and complete clarity.

Since 1996, Arnold has been one of Wilton’s closest friends, and the two of them have made two trips back to base camp together.

“I didn’t ever feel like I never wanted to go there again,” according to Wilton.

“For Rob it was the same – he said he didn’t like talking about ‘the hungry mountain’.”

“It’s not the mountain, it’s the circumstances.”

After the events depicted in Everest, Wilton suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and she has discussed them in public only on a very infrequent basis.

“I’ve never lost sight of the fact that this film came about because I lost half my team,” according to the actress.

“Believe me, I’d rather remain anonymous and have them living their lives with their families.”

During those three days, the mountain was the setting for a number of different stories, and this one is only one of them.

Both Wilton and Arnold were dissatisfied with the film since it did not include any depiction of the efforts that Sherpa Ang Dorje and Lhakpa Tshering made to save Hall.

During his grief over the loss of his boss, Wilton remembers cradling Dorje in his arms.

“They left thermoses of tea in the snow at the highest point they were able to reach,” according to Wilton.

Dorje’s daring served as an inspiration for Wilton to pursue a career in rescue herself. The New Zealand Registered Response team is now comprised of her as a member.

As soon as Wilton arrived back in New Zealand following the tragic event that occurred in 1996, she found employment at the Christchurch City Libraries.

“They told me at the beginning that the library was actually quite a stressful job,” she adds in response.

“I smiled in a friendly way and said, ‘I don’t think so’.”


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