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The eight men and women who died in a blizzard on Mount Everest knew before they started that even if they reached the world's highest peak, it could all end in disaster.

So why did they spend $60,000 or more apiece, travel as far as halfway around the world, spend years in preparation, and leave families behind to challenge one of the most dangerous mountains on Earth?Some people would scoff at climbers who embark on a journey to the top of the world. Psychologists might call them thrill-seekers, but mountaineers attribute their passion to a voyage of self-discovery.

"How do you explain it to someone who doesn't feel it?" sighed Jolene Unsoeld, a former congresswoman who lost both her husband and her daughter to the lure of the highest peaks.

"Life is not meant to be wrapped in a cocoon of total safety," Unsoeld said. "It's only by stretching our limits that we as human beings grow."

Exhausted climbers straggled down Mount Everest on Tuesday after one of the worst tragedies since its conquest in 1953. The blizzard roared in Friday without warning, killing seven men and a woman. Twenty-two people survived.

The climbers died descending the 29,028-foot summit. The dead included some of the world's most skilled climbers as well as amateur adventurers. One victim left behind a wife who is seven months pregnant.

They knew the risks: A fickle storm or an unexpected avalanche could bury them, they could freeze to death or lose limbs to frostbite, or drown on fluid that might fill their lungs from altitude sickness.



Blizzard rescue

Nepalese army helicopters evacuated two people from Mount Everest on Wednesday after one of the deadliest blizzards ever on the peak.

The helicopters carried Charlotte Fox of Aspen, Colo., and Michael Groom of Australia to Katmandu's airport. They left with representatives from their embassies without commenting publicly.

No more evacuations were planned for Wednesday, although climbers still are struggling down the mountain.