Beidleman reaches the summit just after Krakauer leaves, at approximately 1:25 pm. Boukreev and Harris are already there. Klev Schoening reaches the top twenty minutes later. By 2:00 pm, there is still no sign of Fischer or any of his clients, and Beidleman begins to worry about how late it is. Since 2:00 pm is the turn around time, Fischer and Hall and the rest of the clients presumably should have turned back by then. Beidleman doesn't have a radio so he cannot contact Hall or Fischer.

At 2:10 pm, Sandy Pittman appears with Lopsang and a couple other climbers. Hall, Mike and Yasuko Namba, the Japanese woman, summated at approximately the same time. Hall thought Doug Hansen and Fischer were just behind him, but they aren't—Fischer does not reach the top until 3:40 pm and Hansen not until 4:00 pm.

According to information Krakauer received later, it appears that Fischer was actually ill during the summit attempt. During the climb from Camp Three to Camp Four he was reported to be fatigued, largely due to the number of unplanned climbs he had to make to assist various climbers in his group. In 1984 on another mountain climbing trip in Nepal, Fischer contracted an intestinal parasite and never entirely got rid of it. Every now and then, Fischer relapses, and from the time he was at Base Camp during this expedition he was suffering attacks nearly every day. Despite looking haggard, no one thought that Fischer was in serious trouble.

Beidleman is nervous about staying on the summit and is confident that Fischer is okay, so he descends. Sandy Pittman is rapidly deteriorating, becoming nearly comatose on the descent. They give her an injection of dexamethasone, a drug designed to reduce the effects of high altitude, and a new canister of oxygen. About twenty minutes later, able again to control her movements, Pittman begins to descend.

On the way down, the climbers see someone who has veered off the path, descending the side of the mountain that leads down into Tibet. The climber is Martin Adams, who had reached the summit with Beidleman. They direct Adams to the tent and then notice another climber—Beck Weathers. Weathers had kept his promise, waiting for a guide for hours. Mike Groom guides Beck down.

Yasuko Namba's oxygen runs out just above the South Col, and she sits down, refusing to move. Groom drags her with Weathers, down the mountain. Krakauer is only fifteen minutes ahead of them, but in that time the weather has gotten so bad that there is no visibility and the winds have reached hurricane speeds. Beidleman leads them down and around a gentler incline; a route that takes them over on the Tibetan side, and although they know they are at the same altitude as the tents, they cannot see them. The harsh wind pushes them away from the direction of the tents, and they get hopelessly lost. For two hours Beidleman, Mike Groom, two Sherpas and seven clients are wandering around in the storm. They are only 1,000 feet from the camp.