At least four more die on Ever­est amid over­crowd­ing con­cerns

The Guardian (USA) - - Front Page - Pe­ter Beau­mont

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 well­known 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 in­com

pe­tent 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?”

The scene at the sum­mit of Mount Ever­est on Tues­day. Pho­to­graph: Nir­mal Purja/AFP/Getty Im­ages

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.