Recent Everest Summits, Tragedies Mark Return of ‘Normal’ Climbing Season

Photo @coryrichards Climber @adrianballinger returns to the relative safety and comfort of the North Col on Everest’s North side as ChangTse rises into the building convection. Today we climbed to over 25,000 ft (7,600 m), leaving the long snow ridge behind and gaining the shattered stone that characterizes the higher reaches of the North face. It’s insane how quickly things get very real at altitude, especially when foregoing the use of oxygen. I climbed most of the morning in a light shell with no gloves. Hitting our high point, the wind kicked up and what was just a simple morning out turned into a baby tempest. Mellow mornings make it easy to forget how serious things can get in the mountains. A healthy dose of respect needs always be present. Check out EverestNoFilter on snapchat for more images and and a 360 degree look into climbing Everest.

A photo posted by National Geographic Adventure (@natgeoadventure) on


After three consecutive years of major disasters, Everest’s entrenched commercial climbing culture has returned to the world’s tallest mountain. The story of Everest 2016, for better or worse, appears to be that business as usual has returned.

Thus far, there have been nearly 400 recorded summits, most from the South Side. There have also been at least four confirmed deaths, including one on neighboring Lhotse (27,940 feet/8,516 meters). Despite the fact that the total number of aspiring climbers is down by at least 30 percent this year, lines and congestion high on the mountain have been clogging up the flow of climbers nonetheless. Meanwhile, down low, expensive and risky helicopter rescues have hauled upwards of 30 frostbitten or depleted people back to safety.

On May 20, Lakhpa Sherpa, a 42-year-old Nepalese woman who reportedly works at a 7-Eleven in Connecticut, reached the summit of Everest for the seventh time, breaking her own record as the most accomplished female Everest climber ever. Lakhpa reached the summit alongside Maya Sherpa, 36, the only female high-altitude worker on Everest this year.

Mountaineer Melissa Arnot summited Mt. Everest for the sixth time, breaking the world record for the most summits completed by an American woman in history, a record she has held since 2013; Photograph by David Morton
Mountaineer Melissa Arnot summited Mt. Everest for the sixth time, breaking the world record for the most summits completed by an American woman in history, a record she has held since 2013; Photograph by David Morton

Melissa Arnot, a professional climber from the U.S., just completed her sixth summit of Everest to become the first American woman to climb the peak without supplemental oxygen.

Staff Sgt. Charlie Linville, a former Marine who lost part of his leg while serving in Afghanistan, became the first combat-wounded amputee to reach the summit of Everest, also on Friday. Linville, 30, from Boise, Idaho, lost his foot to a below-the-knee amputation after an IED blast struck his detail in 2013. This was his third attempt in as many years on Everest, and he is climbing for the Heroes Project, a veterans nonprofit.

There is a separate group of veterans currently gunning for the summit over the next few days, including Chad Jukes, another combat-wounded amputee. Jukes, from Ridgway, Colorado, lost part of his leg below the knee to an IED blast in Iraq in 2006. Jukes is climbing with the USX Veteran Expedition, raising awareness of PTSD issues afflicting veterans. Since 2001, more than 1,645 U.S. soldiers have lost a limb in combat, and thousands more have suffered the “hidden injury” that is post-traumatic stress disorder.

Also, Irena Kharazova became the first Armenian woman to summit Everest, while Iryna Galay, 28, became the first Ukranian woman to summit the 29,029-foot/8,848-meter mountain located on the Nepal-Tibet border.

Two teenage women became the youngest climbers from their respective countries to climb Everest. Alyssa Azar, 19, of Australia, summited on May 21, and Marin Minamaya, 19, of Japan, stood on the summit on May 23.

Helicopters have hauled at least three dozen people off the South Side of the mountain this year—an unusually high count—for everything from frostbite to altitude sickness to diarrhea. (China doesn’t permit helicopter rescues on the North Side.) High-altitude helicopter rescues are extremely costly and dangerous. Whether all the rescued climbers’ lives were in grave danger, or whether some were simply looking for a quicker way down, remains unclear at this time.

Several Sherpas were tasked with carrying and aiding at least two different ailing climbers down from above 8,000 meters to 6,400 meters. Siv Harstad, a 45-year-old woman from Norway, required aid in descending from the summit due to snow blindness. And Seema Goshwami, of India, found herself unable to move due to frostbitten hands and also required Sherpa assistance in descending, according to Pemba Sherpa of Seven Summit Treks.

“It was a big and risky effort, but we were able to save her,” Pemba Sherpa said in a statement.

There have been at least five confirmed deaths, including one on the Tibetan North Side of the mountain.

Last week, Ang Furba Sherpa died in a fall while working to fix ropes to the summit of Lhotse—an adjacent 8,000-meter mountain—for the benefit of the 78 waiting climbers who have been granted permits to climb the peak this year.

Eric Arnold, 36, from Rotterdam in the Netherlands, died from high-altitude sickness at Camp 4 after having reached the summit of Everest earlier that day. This was Arnold’s fifth attempt to climb the mountain; in 2012, he was turned back just shy of the summit. He was also a survivor of the earthquake-related avalanche that tore through Base Camp last year and killed 19 people. Climbing Everest, according to Arnold’s friends, had been his big childhood dream.

Marisa Elizabeth Strydom, a business professor from Melbourne, Australia, died from a stroke at Camp 4 after turning around after reaching the south summit at 8 a.m. Although Strydom had climbed a number of high-altitude mountains, including Denali and Aconcagua, she’d never been above 8,000 meters. She was climbing with Rob Gropel, her husband, when she died.

Both Arnold and Strydom’s bodies have been brought down to Camp 2, where they will be airlifted to Kathmandu.

On Sunday, Wangchu Sherpa, a director at Trekking Camp Nepal, reported that two climbers from India, Paresh Nath and Goutam Ghosh, have gone missing above 8,000 meters. Meanwhile, two other members of their team, Sunita Hazra and Subhash Pal, were rescued by Sherpas and brought to lower camps. During the rescue effort, Subhash Pal died just above Camp 3, making for the mountain’s fifth confirmed death. Wangchu Sherpa also said that there is little hope that Nath and Ghosh will be found.

A Return to “Normalcy”

Over the past three years, a variety of dramas, tragedies, and rather unbelievable circumstances have derailed the so-called “normal” climbing season from unfolding on Mount Everest—which takes place each year in May, before the seasonal monsoon jet stream tears across the Himalaya.

In 2013 there was an unfortunate brawl between three European professional climbers and a large group of Sherpa high-altitude workers, who had felt their rope-fixing work had been disrespected by the aforementioned climbers. In 2014, 16 Nepali mountain workers were killed, and nine more were injured, in the Khumbu Icefall, a tragic circumstance that led to calls to improving the working conditions, both in terms of improved safety and higher compensations and life-insurance policies, for mountain workers. And in 2015, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake devastated Nepal, causing over 8,500 deaths across the country and resulting in both the Nepal and Chinese governments closing Everest to climbing. Meanwhile, as medics and rescuers across Nepal found themselves without adequate aerial support needed to save the lives of people buried by the earthquake, about 200 Everest climbers—who were intact but lacked the skills needed to self-rescue from Camp 1—diverted a quarter of all the helicopters available in Nepal to bring themselves to safety.

If anything, the 2016 Everest season more closely resembles the 2012 season, which was the busiest year to date, with around 547 people summiting that year, a 57 percent success rate. It was also a deadly season, with 11 climbers dying under clear, blue skies as they waited for hours to bypass traffic jams high on the mountain.

This is the 20th anniversary of the Into Thin Air disaster, when eight climbers were killed in a storm. Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book painted a picture of a mountain whose mammoth natural challenges were being reduced by commercial interests aiming to make it as easy as possible for anyone with enough cash to reach the top.

Presciently, Krakauer wrote, “As an increasing number of people attempt this treacherous climb—aided by all sorts of technological breakthroughs—a host of new businesses crop up to take advantage of this wealthy client base. But is this a good thing? As we’ll learn, there’s no easy answer to this question.”

It’s a question that clearly remains.

What’s Next

Only a few teams still aspire to reaching the summit via the South Side. The Tibetan Sherpa–led rope-fixing team on the North Side of the mountain only reached the summit last week, which is why few climbers from the north have reached the top. Of the hundred or so expected to reach the summit via the North Side over the next four days are Cory Richards, a National Geographic photographer, and Adrian Ballinger, a professional mountain guide for Alpenglow Expeditions, who are trying to climb Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen and Snapchatting their journey live with #EverestNoFilter. Read about their final push to Everest’s summit.

Comments

  1. Caryn
    http://mercroot.com/
    May 23, 2016, 10:00 pm

    Apparently, Everest isn’t that technical of a mountain. The one factor that makes it difficult, is the elevation.
    That being said, there isn’t really anyway to train for the death zone, and it’s hard to even tell who can handle it well, and who will not.
    Don’t get me wrong, inexperienced climbers shouldn’t be on the mountain. When the body is starved of oxygen, brain function goes down. An experienced climber can function on instinct, while a rookie will need to over think every move.
    Serious climbers consider K2 the ultimate trophy.

  2. 4892
    May 25, 2016, 2:30 am

    Andrew,
    This is a reasonable article, but one point – there is no ‘monsoonal jet stream’. The monsoon and the jet stream are two different things and do not go together. The jet stream is the band of strong wind that usually is above Everest but lowers to hit it, often in fall and winter.

    The Monsoon is the warmer, wet weather that comes up from the Bay of Bengal and is a major climatic feature for the whole Indian subcontinent. It makes Everest cloudy and brings snow up high (>7000m) from June-Sept. Everest is windiest in Nov-March.

    You kept mentioning the ‘monsoon’ in your article on the Nanga Parbat winter ascent. There is no monsoon in Pakistan in February – it is windy, cold and dry then, no rain.

  3. Why Is Mount Everest So Deadly?
    May 31, 2016, 5:43 am

    […] far this year, approximately 400 climbers have made it to the top of Mount Everest. According to National Geographic, they include Melissa Arnot, who summited for her sixth time and is the first American woman to do […]

  4. […] far this year, approximately 400 climbers have made it to the top of Mount Everest. According to National Geographic, they include Melissa Arnot, who summited for her sixth time and is the first American woman to do […]

  5. […] far this year, approximately 400 climbers have made it to the top of Mount Everest. According to National Geographic , they include Melissa Arnot, who summited for her sixth time and is the first American woman to do […]

  6. […] 今年迄今,大约400登山者去到珠穆朗玛峰的顶端。据美国国家地理杂志,它们包括梅丽莎阿诺特,她美国第一个女人没有补充氧气这样做; 参谋军士。查理·林维尔,第一次战斗中受伤截肢登顶; 和Lakhpa夏尔巴人,一名尼泊尔籍女子登顶七次,打破了自己的纪录成为最有成就的女性登山者珠峰。 […]

  7. Mark Aiston
    New York
    June 1, 2016, 3:47 pm

    I continuously read that Everest is not a “technical” mountain, it’s just a high one. But the whole issue with its highest is that seemingly simple slopes and easy scrambles become technical challenges. Having just returned from 21,000′ on an adjacent Himalayan mountain I can attest to the fact that lack of oxygen makes even the simplest of tasks a challenge and a supposedly “easy” climb such as Everest a technical challenge.

  8. Gloria Holbrook
    Ecuador
    June 1, 2016, 6:44 pm

    In your article, no credit is given to Ecuadorean climber Carla Perez who summited Everest on May 23rd, without the use of supplemental oxygen, thus becoming the first woman from Ecuador to achieve this.

  9. Partha Sarathi Layak
    India
    June 1, 2016, 11:21 pm

    Leslie John Binns…. No Thanks is good enough to express what you have done. You haven’t saved an individual: You have saved humanity from degeneration. You have taught us that by conquering mountains we do nothing but conquer ourselves. There are thousands who have reached the summit, but there aren’t a dozen who climbed the Everest of Humanity whose height is many folds of 8848 mts. You did a wonderful CLIMB Leslie. Heartiest Congratulations…. Your sacrifice to reach the summit of Everest from South summit to save a life will go down in history. Please accept our sincere thanks and gratitude to save the life of Sunita Hazra of India . God Bless You and your family.

  10. Billi Bierling
    kathmandu
    June 2, 2016, 3:41 am

    Well said – however, there are two observations. I would not include the year 2013 as a year of a major disaster. It was a brawl between western climbers and sherpa. But to compare it with the disastrous avalanche that killed 16 Sherpa and the tragic earthquake during which almost 9000 people lost their lives all over the country is a bit over the top.

    As far as technical climbing is concerned. As soon as a mountain is fixed it loses its technicality by quite a bit. With the sherpa fixing the ropes on most 8000m peaks now, we now see many punters who make it up difficult mountains like K2, Annapurna 1 or Kanchenjunga. I guess if the Lhotse face and/or the yellow band were not fixed it would be technical!

  11. Partha Sarathi Layak
    India
    June 2, 2016, 6:15 am

    Leslie John Binne, No Thanks is good enough to express what you have done. You haven’t saved an individual: You have saved humanity from degeneration. Thousands have scaled Mt. Everest but there aren’t a dozon who sacrificed his summit bid to save a life from South summit. Leslie, You have taught us that by conquering mountains we do nothing but conquer ourselves. On 21.5.2016, You have summited the Everest of Humanity whose height is many folds that of 8848 mts. Your sacrifice will go down in history. Please accept our sincere thanks and gratitude to save the life of Sunita Hazra from India. God Bless You and your family.

  12. Gloria Holbrook
    Quito, Ecuador
    June 2, 2016, 6:40 am

    In your article, no mention is made of the first Ecuadorean female climber to summit Everest wirhout the use of supplemental oxygen: CARLA PEREZ. She reached the summit May 23, 2016.

  13. Koko
    Indonesia
    June 3, 2016, 7:28 am

    Chomolungma is my big dream. Hope to go there before i God take my breath away from this body.

  14. Alberto
    Mexico city
    June 4, 2016, 10:54 am

    I thought that Everest is 8850 m ,not 8848 .Which is right?