Late last week we featured a shocking image showing crowds of climbers stuck in a queue leading up to the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, after it was reported that multiple climbers’ deaths could be attributed to increased “traffic jams” involving hundreds attempting to ascend the same narrow single-file path above Camp 4 known as “the death zone” that leads straight to the summit.
As of this weekend into Monday more climbers have been confirmed dead even after the backlog of over 300 had been well-documented at the summit last week, including a 62-year-old American lawyer named Christopher John Kulish. One of those climbers, a UK citizen, even predicted his own death on social media, saying in a final message posted online, “delays caused by overcrowding could prove fatal.” Tragically, he died Saturday following international reports of the massive back-up near the top.
Mt. Everest’s summit sits at a dangerous 8,848 meters (29,029 feet) above sea level, where climbers face oxygen deprivation and threat of severe altitude sickness.
Most die due to exhaustion after they “run out of oxygen supplies after spending too long at extremely high altitudes,” according to one climbing expert. International reports have counted a shocking eleven deaths in only ten days on Everest.
The world’s toughest mountaineering challenge can cost anywhere between $30,000 and $50,000 plus, according to most estimates.
On Saturday experienced British mountaineer, 44-year old Robin Haynes Fisher, died of what was reported to be altitude sickness at 8,600 meters during his descent.
Eerily, in a post just before starting on what would be his last Everest trek, he discussed the likelihood of dying if he gets stuck among crowds of climbers:
“I am hopeful to avoid the crowds on summit day and it seems like a number of teams are pushing to summit on the 21st,” he wrote.
“With a single route to the summit, delays caused by overcrowding could prove fatal so I am hopeful my decision to go for the 25th will mean fewer people. Unless of course everyone else plays the same waiting game.”
Climbed up to camp 3, 7500m but the jet stream had returned closing the summit after only 2 days so I descended to basecamp. Around 100 climbers did summit in those 2 days with sadly 2 deaths, an Indian man found dead in his tent at camp 4 and an Irish climber lost, assumed fallen, on his descent. A go fund me page has been set up for a rescue bid for the Irish climber but it is a well meaning but futile gesture. Condolences to both their friends and families. Both deaths happened above 8000m in the so called death zone where the majority of deaths of foreign climbers happen. Around 700 more people will be looking to summit from Tuesday the 21st onwards. My revised plan, subject to weather that at the moment looks promising, is to return up the mountain leaving basecamp Tuesday the 21st 0230 and, all being well and a lot of luck, arriving on the summit the morning of Saturday the 25th. I will be climbing with my Sherpa, Jangbu who is third on the all time list with an incredible 19 summits. The other 4 members of our team decided to remain on the mountain and are looking to summit on the 21st. My cough had started to return at altitude so I couldn’t wait with them at altitude for the window to open without the risk of physically deteriorating too much. Furthermore as I had missed due to sickness the earlier camp 3 rotation best practice was for me to descend to allow my body to recover from the new altitude high so I could come back stronger. This was not an easy decision as the 13 hours climbing from basecamp to camp 2 in a day was the hardest physical and mental challenge I had ever done, now I have it all to do again. Finally I am hopeful to avoid the crowds on summit day and it seems like a number of teams are pushing to summit on the 21st. With a single route to the summit delays caused by overcrowding could prove fatal so I am hopeful my decision to go for the 25th will mean fewer people. Unless of course everyone else plays the same waiting game. #everest #everest2019 #lhotseface
“Around 700 more people will be looking to summit from Tuesday the 21st onwards,” the now deceased British climber wrote.
A high-altitude medical expert named Sundeep Dhillon previously described the danger in climbers spending too long at the summit while forgetting the extreme dangers on the way down. Once at the summit, climbers only have a few minutes without oxygen to bask in the achievement, before threat of exhausting their supplies on the descent journey becomes a pressing issue.
Dr. Dhillon estimated that “you’ve probably got a one in 10 chance of dying on the way down.” Current reports suggest the extra time near and at the top due to overcrowding is proving fatal given more time means dwindling oxygen supplies combined with longer exposure to extreme altitudes.
Another report described the death last week of 27-year old Indian citizen Nihal Bagwan as follows:
“He was stuck in the traffic for more than 12 hours and was exhausted,” tour guide Keshav Paudel of Peak Promotion told Agence France-Presse of Bagwan. Sherpa guides had carried him down to a breathable altitude, but couldn’t save him, Paudel said.
This week a Canadian filmmaker posted the below photo online taken last Thursday, which according to The Daily Mail “showed the long line of people waiting to ascend with a corpse still hanging to the rope – it is not known whose body it is.”
CNN has listed the recent Mt. Everest climbing deaths, most of which have come only within the last week, as follows:
- Nepali climbing guide Dhruba Bista fell ill on the mountain and was transported by helicopter to the base camp, where he died Friday.
- And Irish climber Kevin Hynes, 56, died Friday morning on the Tibetan side of Everest in his tent at 7,000 meters (22,966 feet).
- Two died Wednesday after descending from the summit: Indian climber Anjali Kulkarni, 55, and American climber Donald Lynn Cash, 55.
- Kalpana Das, 49, and Nihal Bagwan, 27, both from India, also died on Everest this week. Both died Thursday on their return from the summit.
- Ravi, a 28-year-old Indian climber who goes by one name, died the previous week on May 17.
- Last week, a search for Irish climber Seamus Lawless, 39, was called off, after the Trinity College Dublin professor fell while descending from the peak, according to the Press Assocation.
And as of Monday an American lawyer died suddenly on his descent after making it to the summit.
Last week, multiple hundreds were simultaneously scrambling to the summit during the same small 2-day window of time, due in large part the narrow window of optimal weather conditions.
The trek is so dangerous, and the threat of severe oxygen deprivation so ever present, that most often climbers who lose their lives at the upper levels of the mountain can’t be safely retrieved, and are simply “buried” by layers of snow and ice.
Lately, social media commentators have expressed shock and outrage that people would be willing to spend upward of $50,000 for an experience which has a high likelihood of ending in death, especially if as so much as a small detail goes wrong.
As a BBC reported noted earlier this year, nearly 300 climbers total have died on the mountain since the 1920s, two-thirds of which are still buried on the side of the mountain.
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