Fran Arsentiev *1958 +1998

Oil and tempera on canvas, 2011, 50 * 50 cm

Francys Yarbro Distefano-Arsentiev got famous because she was the first American women to reach the summit of Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen. She died on her way down. Years alter, her body was buried by the man who stayed with here while she was dying.

Fran was born in 1958 in Honolulu Hawaii. At six her father took her to the Colorado Mountains. She was forever hooked. In 1992 she married Sergi (Serguei) Arsentiev, a Russian climber. It is reported that they have a son. Both of them died six years later on Mount Everest.

Fran climbed many of the Russian peaks including the first ascent of Peak Goodwill as well as Denali via the West Buttress. Fran became the first US woman to ski down Elbrus.

Sergi earned the Snow Leopard name for climbing the 5 highest mountains in what was then known as the USSR. Sergi summited all three tops on Kangchenjunga in a traverse, an achievement few men on this planet could accomplish, one that most experienced H.A. climbers would not even consider. Sergi was on the elite Russian climbs to Kangchenjunga, Everest and Annapurna.

On May 17, 1998 Sergi & Fran ascended from ABC to the North Col. On May 18, they ascended to 7,700 meters as 21 other climbers reached the summit of Everest from the North. Sergi & Fran spent two nights on 8200 meters because there ascend trials faild. On May 22 the reached the summit both, with Fran summiting later than her husband.

Fran attempting to become the first American woman to Summit Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen.

There are many different versions of what happened thereafter. It appears that Sergi and Fran spent the night on Everest without a tent. It is believed they descended to their cash at 8,630 meters as planned. After this night Sergi descended whilst other climbers helped Fran from time to time. After the second night she spent without tent, another pair of climbers did not summit in order to share oxygen with her – they needed to abandon her to save their lives.

It looks like Sergei meanwhile was looking for help and shelter before finally returning to Fran. We know Sergi reached Fran once again because his ice axe and rope were found approx. 50 meters from Fran. So with some pleasure it is known that Fran and Sergi got to spend some more time together.

Fran Arsentiev’s portrait is part of the “Top of the world” series.


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17 thoughts on “Fran Arsentiev *1958 +1998”

  1. I want to thank you for sharing this page and portrait. I was traveling through Tibet in may of 1998. and was at base camp on may 22 and 23rd. my group of 5 arrived at base camp early on the morning of the 22 and were told of her summiting but that she was having difficulty breathing. we were in formed that she never made it back to her next camp, that she had collapsed shortly after begining her decent. her husband went on back to get help. as of the afternoon of the 23rd we were told that her husband never returned and that the expidetion assumed the worst. 2 climbers spent the night with her sharing their air tanks. but they were not going to attempt to move her. 2 sherpas made an attempt but she was unable to move herself. in the end they stayed with her until she died. and then returned down.

    my friends and I returned to rungbok monestary and asked the monks to preform a long life prayer. we sat in the monestary well into the evening. it was all we felt we could do.

    her death and her husbands has stuck with me these last 14 years. there is not a day that goes by and I don’t think about listening to the sherpas explain over the radio that she has stopped breathing and that they are now going to leave her body. I just wanted to share this. she did not die alone. and her presence has been felt. and her loss has been an important part of my life.

    1. Dear Josh,

      I was really touched reading your comment! I imagine it is really hard to cope with this sorry. I am glad if my painting may help you a little.

      Best regards, Juergen

  2. This woman lived in my state of Colorado…..I was so distraught to read this story and the drama that surrounded it…wouldn’t it be something, like in Romeo and Juliet, that when Sergei found his love of his life dead that he just did not have the will to live on and left his pick axe and rope to join her……………I don’t know if i could live with myself if i did not try to help in some way after hearing her pleas of please don’t leave me……….so sad.

    Cynthia Andersen

  3. Very touching, and nice painting from the picture.. I would like to more about these people too.. What a life…!

  4. such a sad ending to a beautiful love story…thank you so much for sharing this picture….I will want to know more about both of these people…peace and positive energy to you..Michaela

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