World

At least four more die on Everest amid overcrowding concerns

Four more deaths have been reported on Everest as concerns grow about the risks posed by the severe overcrowding on the world’s highest mountain this year.

Kevin Hynes, 56, from Ireland, died in his tent at 7,000 metres early on Friday, having turned back before reaching the summit. The father of two was part of a group from the UK-based 360 Expeditions.

The climbing company said: “It is with the greatest sadness that we have to confirm that one of our Everest team has passed away. Kevin was one of the strongest and most experienced climbers on our team, and had previously summited Everest South and Lhotse.”

Hynes had been accompanied by an experienced Sherpa, who had himself climbed to the summit of Everest South twice, Everest North and Makalu twice, according to 360 Expeditions.

His death came a week after the Trinity College professor Seamus Lawless, from County Wicklow, fell during the descent after achieving a lifetime ambition of reaching the summit. A recovery operation is under way.

The other three victims, who were on a different expedition to Hynes, were identified by local media as Kalpana Das, 49, and Nihal Ashpak Bagwan, 27, both Indian and Ernst Landgraf, an Austrian.

After the publication of a picture taken by the former British soldier Nirmal “Nims” Purja showing long queues on the summit slopes, it emerged that the US climber Don Cash died on Wednesday after being delayed in a bottleneck of climbers during his descent. Cash, 55, fell ill close to the summit and was being helped down by two Sherpas when he collapsed again while waiting in a queue for two hours to descend the Hillary step, a well-known chokepoint.

Like Cash, the Indian mountaineer Anjali Kulkarni appears to have died during her descent after being caught in the ascending queues.

“Anjali and her husband were forced to wait for hours to reach the summit as there was a long queue on the slopes of Everest,” said Thupden Sherpa, the head of her trekking company. “The Sherpa guides supported her while coming down, but she didn’t make it.”

Overcrowding and safety have been a growing cause for concern in recent years, not least since the emergence of cut-price Nepali trekking companies that offer Everest packages for half the price of trips organised by foreign companies.

The deaths occurred despite Nepal’s tourism authorities instituting, but not implementing, plans to timetable ascents to avoid congestion.

This season’s summit crowds – the worst since 2012 – had been exacerbated by unsettled weather which meant there had been only five possible summit days in May so far, compared with between seven and 12 in recent years. This had caused hundreds of climbers to converge on several notorious sections where they can only pass one at a time.

Alan Arnette, who chronicles each Everest season in his blog, described the conditions as insane. “In 2019, we are hearing horror stories of summit pushes from the South Col to the summit taking 10, 12, even 14 hours. And due to the jams, the return to the Col is taking up to another six hours, making for 20 hour pushes – that’s insane.”

Jase Wilson, a Leeds Beckett University researcher at base camp, confirmed bad weather had meant few ascents before this week’s brief window. “The winds have been relentless so far … This has left around 300 climbers, along with climbing guides making around 600, all heading for the summit during the short lull [this week].”

Issues on the popular South Col route, on the Nepalese side of the mountain, have been growing for years partly due to an unwillingness by Nepal’s tourism ministry to tackle a constellation of concerns, including regulating cut-price trekking companies, permit numbers and vetting potential climbers.

Kenton Cool, who climbed Everest on 16 May for the 14th time while guiding a client, told the Guardian there were two overlapping issues: the growing popularity of Everest, not least among Indian and Chinese climbers; and declining levels of experience among those tackling the mountain – once regarded as the preserve of elite mountaineers.

“I’m not sure what the answer is. But looking at Nims’s picture, no part of that screams fun. I pride myself working one-on-one and being agile, avoiding queues [to] get up and down safely.”

With the increasing number of inexperienced climbers, Cool said he saw some kind of capability assessment as a “step in the right direction”.

Simon Lowe, the managing director of UK-based Jagged Globe, said his firm got a team of 12 to the summit on 23 May after setting off as soon as large numbers appeared at the South Col.

“The queue this year isn’t the problem,” he said. “But it exacerbates an underlying issue, and that is incompetent climbers being led by incompetent teams. If you go up with a bare minimum bottles of supplementary oxygen and stand in a queue for ages that is going to cause problems.”

Without reforms, Lowe, like others, can see guiding on Everest for companies like his becoming questionable. “I think I do see a point where it becomes untenable; where it becomes a bit distasteful. And you would have to ask do we want to be part of it?”

Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button