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May 262010

With the summits mostly ended, climbers are making their way back down to Base Camp. As they recover from their summit push, there stories are emerging of rescues. Once again, we are seeing tangible proof that the climbing community is a tight one; especially in times of need.

We are also seeing that pure accidents happen in spite of every precaution and mountaineering is dangerous and altitude s everyone the same; regardless of experience.

While impressive and motivating to non-climbers, one of the downsides of having a 13, 16 and 22 year old summits this year is that it could portray Everest as an easy walk-up that requires little to no experience. The press coverage touts Bonita Norris as a “Novice climber becomes youngest British woman to reach Everest summit” and how 13 year-old Jordan Romero summited Everest with little experience. Even his own site said “Jordan not only climbed Mt. Everest, but he climbed with unbelievable strength and skill.”

With all due respect to these talented young climbers, their experience is not representative of many climbers through the years. It is a dangerous message for those who do not know better. If you climb enough, you know that if everything goes perfectly, you were lucky; full stop.

With this, the real stories are starting to surface.

As the Altitude Junkie team were climbing on May 23rd, they were making good progress. Then one of their climbers started to act strange, it was apparent he was in trouble. British climber Mike Herbert had HACE. This is a condition when the brain leaks fluid into skull; putting pressure on the brain itself and eventually will cause death. The only cure is to descend rapidly and immediately.

Phil Crampton and his Sherpa team took charge to do just that. But he had help. Phil’s short but instructive dispatch describes the details: I have highlighted the individuals and teams involved:

Mike, who is a seasoned Himalayan climber and an Everest veteran developed a case of HACE at 8,700 meters and was helped down the mountain by the following people who we are so grateful to for their assistance.

Both of our Sherpas, Sirdar Dorjee Sherpa, Lhapka Tsheri Sherpa and myself assisted Mike from the rock steps just below the South Summit all the way to the South Col. We were assisted by Willie and Damien Benegas along with their team doctor Roman and their Sherpa, Lhapka Nuru, who assisted Mike from the rock steps to the Balcony.

From the Balcony our Sherpas and I were assisted by Lhapka Rita, the Sirdar from Alpine Ascents who ascended from the South Col, Pasang Gumba Sherpa who was descending from the Mountain Trip expedition and Pasang Yula also descending from the Benegas Brothers expedition assisted to the South Col.

Mike showed a huge improvement and traveled on his own power from the South Col to camp three but again found himself needing help from camp three down. Dorjee and Lhapka Tsheri Sherpa along with some mental coaching from Bill Allen of Mountain Trip got Mike back to camp two after an epic two day descent. Our Sherpas Temba Bhote, Cheddar, Pasang Nima, Pasang Wangchu and Pasang Dawa all ascended from camp two to assist.

On the advice of the doctors from the Himalayan Rescue Association we helicoptered Mike out from camp two so he could medical attention immediately. His condition is good at present.

I would also like to thank both Vern Tejas from Alpine Ascents and Dave Hahn from RMI for keeping contact on our radio frequency throughout the descent monitoring the rescue.

Melissa Arnot on the First Ascent blog tells that during her descent she and her partner, Dave Morton, were at camp 2 when told of a climber who had fallen into a crevasse in the Khumbu Icefall. A rescue was being mounted. Instead of spending the traditional night to recover at C2, they hurried down to give what aid they could. The climber was rescued.

We gathered some rescue gear and medical equipment and headed down to the Icefall below Camp I, where we were told we would find a female climber who had been involved in an ice bridge collapse and fell about 30 meters. We arrived around 5 p.m., 12 hours after leaving Camp IV. The other climbers who had come to help were already in the process of stabilizing the women and getting ready to move her uphill, where she would spend the night until a rescue could be completed in the morning.

We are now hearing the real story about that young British climber Bonita Norris’ accident as she descended from her summit. It was deadly serious and could have resulted in death if, once again, the climbing community had not pitched in, Bonita herself describes in detail on her blog that she slipped and hit or twisted her head and neck thus causing her pain when she walked. She was literally drug down to the South Col.

20 minutes later though, my neck and shoulders had siezed up to such a point that i took one last step and a shooting pain went up my spine- it was so painful i yelped and Lakpa stopped. He saw i was crying- but this time with pain. It was then i realised something was wrong- i must have pulled a muscle in my neck, maybe whiplash. I didnt know what it was, but moving was excruciating. We were in trouble.

Finally, about an hour below the balcony, another group of sherpas arrived, from here on i dont remember much- apart from the pain of being dragged across ice and rock as the attempted to get me back to camp 4 as quickly as possible. My neck was blinding with pain, but i remember having covnersations with the sherps and thinking i felt OK bar the neck- i knew if i just let them do the job we would all be home safe.

Yet another harrowing tale told by Mike Kobold where his wife, Anita Kobold almost died. This is a must read along with Bonita’s.

Then, at around 7 PM, disaster struck. Anita fell down flat on the large, sharp rocks outside our mess tent and passed out. Within a few minutes, she turned blue and stopped moving. I thought “what the heck, how can we have done the same thing last year without incident and now we’ve got this mess on our hands?” I called Rob, our team doctor, and asked him to bring an oxygen bottle. “We’re out of oxygen,” Rob yelled, as he began assessing Anita’s condition. “Shit, we don’t have a pulse, she’s not breathing, what happened?” he asked. After checking her eyes, which stared straight up, Rob determined that there was no reaction to strong light.

Rob got on the radio, which was crackling with other activity. “Break break break, this is Camp II, we have an emergency, is unresponsive, no pulse, no respiration, suspected case of stroke.” My heart sank, my palms began to sweat, and my mouth was suddenly very dry, despite the gallon of tea I had drunk in less than an hour. Rob looked up at me and said “we might have lost her.” Shock. I yelled for Namgel and Thundu so that we could carry Anita into the mess tent and place her on something soft, but my voice was gone, the result of the cold, dry air that comes out of the oxygen cylinders. Hence, I ran out to their tents, banged on them with all my might, and when their heads appeared, told our trusted Sherpas in a whisper that Anita was dying.

Sadly, not every climber in troubled is or can be rescued as we have seen this year. There has been three verified deaths.  Sergei Duganov, on the south side this year, actually on Lhotse, another, Laszlo Varkonyi, on the north near the North Col and a third of a north climber, Tom Jørgensen, suffering from HACE who died a few days later in a Tibetan village.

Now there is a report of a 62 years old Japanese climber named Hiroshi who died at camp 3 on the north side after his summit. But there are no further details. Potentially there is another death as well associated with this one.

Climbing is dangerous, you can be injured or killed. It is not to be taken lightly. My advice is always to be as self sufficient as possible, understand and plan for risks, go with people you know, if you can’t afford to do it right this year, wait until you can. Finally trust and accept the fact that in spite of every precaution, the mountain will have the final say.


Well respected high-altitude Physician Dr. Peter Hackett sent me this email about this post on recent accidents. He was at Base Camp this season.

Alan- I know you want to publish accurate information, so here’s a correction. The HRA doctors at base camp did NOT suggest a rescue from Camp 2 for Phil Crampton’s member. In fact, we were very much against it. We felt it unnecessary and it set a very bad precedent. Our take was that he could have made it down through the icefall without much difficulty, and in retrospect that was correct. In addition, helicopter requests from base camp were totally out of control, many were unnecessary.
Peter Hackett and Steve Halvorson, HRA base camp doctors
See http://www.everestER for more details of all these rescues.

Note that the information he is referencing is from the Altitude Junkies’ dispatch I quoted above. Thanks to EverestEr for the clarification and for all their work.

update #2: Climbers who were with Mike Kobold are expressing their perspectives on the evac him from C2. Please read Ben Stuckly’s comments below.

update 3: The second climber who died on the north side was Briton Peter Kinloch climbing with Summit Climb. The 28 year-old Scottish climber was quite popular and active in promoting OCD. He had climbed 4 of the 7 Summits and had summited Everest when he reportedly became blind on the descent. He was with team Leader David O’Brien. Apparently he became totally debilitated and could not be rescued in spite of three Sherpas climbing from a lower camp to give aid and the use of Dex and additional oxygen.

In the end, the Sherpas and team Leader David O’Brien left Kinloch due to harsh weather conditions. I have been told they have extreme frostbite as a result of their efforts. They were on their summit push near the end of this season, May 25th/26th when the weather was perhaps the most difficult of the season on the north side.

There are many disturbing items in this report but one is this limited statement by expedition leader and company owner Dan Mazzur on his Summit Climb site:

It is with our deepest regrets that we report the passing of Peter Kinloch, who was a bright spark in our team, and he is missed very much. Peter summited Everest at 1:18 p.m. on 25 May and passed away at 3:00 a.m. on 26 May. At this very sad moment, we send our sincere condolences, thoughts and prayers, to his family, loved ones, friends, and colleagues.

All the additional details were published on other news sites or in local media. The Times Online has an excellent overview. Various stories on this incident have links no longer valid or edited from original postings thus increasing my curiosity.

It is difficult to rescue one incapacitated person from high on Everest as shown over the previous years with David Sharp and Lincoln Hall. It requires a huge effort thus the benefit of having ample manpower in the case of an emergency.

My sincere condolences to all of Peter’s family, friend’s and teammates.

Climb On!


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