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May 262019
 

The third week of May 2019 may go down as one of the best and worse in Everest history. Over 500 people summited but it was not without cost, 10 people died, many of which were avoidable in my view. More are headed up to summit on Sunday, May 26.

As I will develop in this post there are four reasons for the deaths on the Nepal side this season:

  • Too many people
  • Too few summit windows
  • Too many inexperienced people climbing
  • inadequate climber support

The Joy of the Summit

Not to be lost is the joy and satisfaction felt by hundreds who celebrated a life long goal:

Peter Wilson

We did it! At 4:20am on the 22nd of May, after 55 days and a 10 hour summit push, I was blessed enough to stand in a space that seems to have more to do with the cosmos than it does the earth. The summit of Mt Everest.

There was no watershed moment or fireworks as we passed onto the summit ridge, just bitter cold and sheer exhaustion. Phones and gadgets lasted minutes as we tried to take summit pics. I picked up mild frost bite on my left hand and apparently froze my left cornea slightly, all which will heal perfectly. Perhaps this was just my small price to pay to realize a 15 year dream.

Chad Gaston:

Hello from camp 2, we all made it down safely. We all have our aches and pains. My toes and fingers will be fine in a few months no permanent damage just dead nerves. Will lose most of my toenails, I’m sure, but it could have been much worse. I am still processing the last two days and need some time to clear the facts from hearse, and remember what I saw and felt. So I can tell the real story, of what happened on Everest May 23, 2019.There are so many emotions of joy, relief, sadness, disbelief and so on. It will take some time to sort out my feelings.

And Elia Saikaly

I have a lot to say and share. I cannot believe what I saw up there. Death. Carnage. Chaos. Lineups. Dead bodies on the route and in tents at camp 4. People who I tried to turn back who ended up dying. People being dragged down. Walking over bodies. Everything you read in the sensational headlines all played out on our summit night.

65 Degrees North, an organization for wounded  warriors:

On the 21st May, at around 5.30am, I summited the highest mountain in the World! I have finally received a couple of photos from the Sherpas as my down-suit zip was frozen and I was unable to reach my phone to take any photos!This has been the toughest challenge for me, both physically and mentally, especially after a very emotional split from Rich at 27000 ft, then continuing to climb through the night with Tengee and Namgya Sherpa.

 


As I have been covering all spring season, the jet stream has been parked near or on top of the summit the entire season. Instead of moving off in early May, it was stubborn but the strong Sherpas got the ropes to the summit on the Nepal side on May 14, not the latest but still later than usual.

A few teams jumped into the early narrow weather window and summited but most laid back for what was predicted as a longer, more stable period when the summit winds would be under 30 mph/48kph. But too many waited.

With Nepal issuing a record 381 foreign climbing permits combined with a requirement that each climber must have a Sherpa guide, hundreds were put into a choice of attempting the summit this past week or gambling that a window would emerge later before the season shuts down due to the incoming monsoons.

Many, many choose this past week’s window.

The Jet

The jet stream was predicted to be “wobbly” this past week which simply meant there would be periods of high and low winds. Weather forecasting became an art, not a science.  In last Sunday’s Weekend Update May 19 , Chris Tomer of Tomer Weather Solutions commented on the jet stream predicting,

“The jet will definitely weaken but it will wobble back and forth. The first big wind drop occurred on the 19th with another to follow on the 20th. The sweet spot may very well be 22-24. Then the jet slams the summit.”

He was pretty much spot on.

Everest – 700+ Summits, 11 Deaths

On Monday, May 20, Mingma Sherpa’s Imagine Nepal got the week going with seven members on the summit plus seven Sherpas. They were the only summits on Monday morning.

On Tuesday, May 21, with teams staged at the South Col, Asian Trekking made it but others didn’t like the wobbly winds and stayed put. David Hamilton of Jagged Globe posted:

Summit bid postponed due to high winds. Will stay at C4 and try tomorrow night

It wasn’t a lot better on the Tibet side. Jake Norton commented:

I’ve certainly had better days moving up the North Ridge, but I’ve certainly also had worse. Our team made a big move today from ABC to Camp 2 in a push, trying to make the most of this possible weather window. Lots of vertical, lots of wind, but some sun and calm too. Fingers crossed that the wind dissipates overnight.

Then came Wednesday, May 22, the day many had targeted as THE day to summit. It would be the best of windows, and the worst of widows … And it continued into Thursday. Meteoexploration offered this forecast of a two day window and maybe a day and half early next week.

Everest 2019 May Winds

Teams jumped into this window, crowds be damned. IMG reported they got 36 climbers on the summit. Jagged Globe said 12 on top. Climbing the Seven Summits ended up with a whopping 42 on the summit just this past week with more to come.  Seven Summits Treks had summited over 60 in the first window and now another 17 on top. The volume operator was in full swing.

Madison Mountaineering had 34. Kaitu Expedition with 28, Benegas Brothers, 8, AAI around 20, Adventure Consultants 19 safely up and down.  And there were literally hundreds more.

And on the Tibet side, success as well with 7 Summits Club with 7 members, 7 Sherpas. 360 Expeditions: 3 members, 3 Sherpas. Furtenbach Adventures, 30 and more.  Kobler & Partner had 8,  Summit Climb also 8. :4 members / 4 Sherpas and Climbalaya: 7 members, 7 Sherpas

But there was a cost to all this success.

The Everest Deaths

As my regular readers know, I’ve been writing about this year’s situation Ad nauseam and you can take a look at these two posts for the details:

In speaking with guides, Sherpas and climbers from this past week,  I believe this year’s 21 deaths are a result of many factors and crowding was not a factor in 16 of the 21.

Root Causes for Deaths on Everest:

  • Inadequate training
  • Climber inexperience (don’t know what you don’t know)
  • Inadequate support (running out of oxygen, unclipping from fixed rope,  etc.)
  • Ignoring AMS signs and not turning back
  • Hidden health issues (weak  heart, aneurism, etc.)
  • Wrong place, wrong time (avalanches, etc.)
  • Summit Fever driving poor decision making

Adding to Risks:

  • Bad weather (mainly high winds and frostbite)
  • Few summit windows forcing people to go on same day

Impact of Crowds

  • Pace slows down forcing people to use more oxygen and longer time on summit push increasing fatigue

This last point is where the discussion needs to take place. It’s clearly true that crowds slow the pace of a climber and thus increase fatigue and the use of oxygen. Some of these climbers who died spent 10 or 12 hours to get to the summit and 4 to 6 hours to get back down near the South Col. In other words, in some cases a 16, 18 or even 20 hour day.

It’s rare to carry oxygen for that much time thus forcing the Sherpas to turn down the flow or give up their own personal supply – either way, not a good situation.

Simply put, the human body was not designed to withstand such a long period of intense exertion above 8000 meters. Especially if the oxygen supply runs low or out, the climber doesn’t stand a chance.

The harsh reality is they should have had the personal responsibility, and experience, to turn themselves back or their support with them should have turned them back before they hit the point of no return, in my opinion.

So if we look at each of the tragic deaths, I’ve grouped them into categories based on what I know thus far. We may learn more that would change my analysis, but for now:

Altitude Illness (perhaps related to crowds through a long time over 8000m and going too slowly)

  1. Dreamers Destination Treks, EverestIndian Kalpana Das, 49, died after summit on descent near Balcony
  2. Guided by India’s Transcend with logistics from Arun Treks, Everest:Indian Anjali S Kulkarni, 54 ,from Mumbai, India died after summit on descent near C4
  3. Seven Summit Treks, Everest: Indian Ravi Thakar, dead near C4 after summit
  4. Peak Promotion, Everest: Nihal Bagwan: Indian, near the South Col

Altitude Illness  (not related to crowds)

  1. Climbing the Seven Summits, Everest: American, Christopher Jon Kulish, 61, died near South Col after summiting
  2. Kobler & Partner, EverestErnst Landgraf, 65, died on the 2nd Step after summiting
  3. 360 Expeditions, Everest – Tibet: Irish Kevin Hynes, 56, died at North Col after turning  back at 8300m.
  4. Pioneer Adventures, Everest: American Don Cash, 54, dead near Hillary Step
  5. Himalayan Ski Treks, Everest – Nepai Dhruba Bista, died a EBC after evacuation from C3 with AMS
  6. Summit Climb, Everest: Robin Haynes Fisher, 44, died on descent after summiting

Fall (not related to crowds)

  1. Seven Summit Treks, EverestSeamus Sean Lawless, 39, Irish, missing, presumed dead after slipping near the South Col

Other 8000ers Deaths  (not related to crowds)

  1. Seven Summit Treks, Makalu: Dipankar Ghos, 52, India, missing after summit
  2. Seven Summits Treks, Annapurna: Wui Kin Chin, 48, – cause of death unknown. exposed for 3 days at 8400m after summit
  3. Seven Summits Treks, Makalu: Nima Tshering Sherpa, died after summiting at C2
  4. Seven Summits Trek, Makalu: Indian Narayan Singh died of altitude illness at 8200m
  5. Independent, Makalu: Peruvian Richard Hidalgo, 52, died in tent at 6,300m, climbing with no Os.
  6. Biplab Baidya, 48, altitude sickness
  7. Peak Promotion, Kangchenjunga: Indian Kuntal Karar, 46, altitude sickness
  8. Peak Promotion, Kangchenjunga: Chilean Rodrigo Vivanco missing, presumed dead
  9. Makalu Xtreme, Lhotse: Bulgarian Ivan Yuriev Tomov, died after no Os’/support summit
  10. Summit Climb, Cho Oyu: Phujung Bhote Sherpa, fell into a crevasse while fixing rope near Camp 2

Disingenuous

I find it so disingenuous and perhaps deceptive for those guides who have loyal climbers die under their contract to continue to post self-adulation of their company performance and never acknowledge a death under their watch and immediately promote their next climb. If not an act of dis-honor, its at the least poor tase and I expect better from them all. Look in the mirror and not at your bank account ….

If anyone looking to join an Everest 2020 team, just look at these teams and how the never acknowledge a death. The past is the future.

Family

All of the deaths were people who dreamed of summiting Everest and coming back home to celebrate their achievement with family and friends. Few wanted to leverage it into fame and fortune. I offer my sincere condolences to their families as they grieve their loss.


New Route Update – Over

Cory Richards and Topo Mena have pulled the plug on their effort after making one climb to 8300 meters in tough conditions. Cory said:

And just like that, a years worth of work comes to an end. There is a marginal window approaching, but not one that warrants an attempt on our route. So, @estebantopomena and I will join scores of other expeditions and routes that have taken multiple seasons to complete, pack up our shit, and start the process today to return next season to try again. Disappointing? For sure. Realistic? Totally. Good luck to our friends who are trying to squeeze a summit in these last few days. Big thanks to our team @alpenglowexpeditions for the support. Only 12 months to be better, stronger, more refined, and more dialed. Thanks #Everest for keeping it very real this season.

Ambitious Climbers Update

Nirmal Purja is gaining global fame for taking helicopters from mountain to mountain on his project to summit all fourteen 8000ers in 7 months, and break the current record of 7+ years. This far has six 8000ers with Annapurna in late April then Dhaulagiri, Kangchenjunga then Everest and Lhotse now Makalu. He had said he doesn’t have enough money and may cancel the entire program hit that does not appear to be the case any more.

David Göttler looking for a no Os summit of Everest showed outstanding personal responsibility and turned backed at 8650 meter. He told Stefan Nestler: “Turning around was not difficult. Before that, I had thought carefully about what could happen. And when the combination of bad weather, a lot of traffic and me not as fresh as a daisy anymore occured, I knew that the risk would be too high.”


The “Other” 8000ers

This is what is happening on the other 8,000-meter peaks in Nepal and Tibet.

Annapurna – Over

Felix Berg and Adam Bielecki ended their effort due to snow and weather conditions:

Annapurna Standard – 32 Summits, 1 Death

Dhaulagiri – Weather Hold, Summits
Horia Colibasanu along with Marius Gane and Peter Hamor ended their effort.

Lhotse – South Face Over
Sung Taek Hong team have ended their effort due to snow conditions

Lhotse – Standard route – 40+ Summits and 1 Death

Many summits as Everest climbers tag Lhotse on the way down, and several dozen or more climbing Lhotse from EBC directly.

Makalu – 52+  Summits and several Deaths

Another few this week.

Kanchanjunga – 28+ Summits, 3 Deaths

Cho Oyu – Cancelled and 1 Death


Next Week – Last Summits

Incredibly after a deadly season there are a few teams still looking to summit Everest on Monday or Tuesday in a calm window … they may be the smartest teams of all this 2019 season.

Follow Along

Several times a day, I’ll update the team location table with last known camp and latest headlines. Also I usually do two post a day during the big summit week, one reaping the day and one for the next wave. You can sign up for (and cancel) notifications on the lower right sidebar or check the site frequently.

Climb On!
Alan
Memories are Everything


Why this coverage?

I like to use these weekend updates to remind my readers that I’m just one person who loves climbing. With 37 serious climbing expeditions including four Everest trips under my belt and a summit in 2011, I use my site to share those experiences, demystify Everest each year and bring awareness to Alzheimer’s Disease. My mom, Ida Arnette, died from this disease in 2009 as have four of my aunts. It was a heartbreaking experience that I never want anyone to go through thus my ask for donations to non-profits where 100% goes to them, and nothing ever to me.
donate to Alzheimers

Ida Arnette 1926-2009


Previous #Everest2019 posts:

Everest 2019: Team Locations and Headlines

  11 Responses to “Everest 2019: Weekend Update May 27 – It’s Not About the Crowds”

  1.  

    Hi Alan,

    Interesting updates (sorry, just catching up)
    As a question, although the crowds were not the reason for the deaths, surely they were contributory factors? As you say, taking 18-20 hours to summit is going to take a toll on what’s already a difficult situation your body is trying to cope with.

    As for going without oxygen, whilst I appreciate some do make it, there has to be an element of Darwinism surely and deliberately risking other’s safety.

  2.  

    Hi Alan,
    I’ve been following your Everest coverage for a few years now, and really appreciate the insights and updates. I’m not a mountaineer myself, but I do a lot of reading on the lifestyle/sport.

    One question I have is exactly how do the climbers manage the traffic, particularly on the single file tracts (south summit to Hilary Step?). Are they constantly clipping and unclipping from the fixed ropes to pass / make way for people going in the opposite direction?

  3.  

    Great coverage as usual, Alan. You would think that the Media might at least mention some of the accomplishments achieved during this years Himalayan Spring Season, but of course, the only thing you hear about is all of the deaths. It will never change. Explorers Web is another good source, but their site seems to be suspended. Do you or anybody else know anything about this?

  4.  

    Thanks a lot Alan for the updates.
    It seems you miss an important one though / great achievement in past days.
    French Elisabeth Revol summited Everest on 23rd and doubled with Lothse on 24th , both No Ox !
    And this, a bit more than a year after Nanga Parbat tragedy.
    As her sponsor posted, a woman out of ordinary.

  5.  

    Hi Alan,

    Do you have any information about an Australian who was rescued in a critical condition on Wednesday 22nd May at 7,300 meters

  6.  

    Freudian slip: “too few WIDOWS”?

  7.  

    Thanks Alan for a fantastic update.

  8.  

    Have more people died than reported? When you read individual accounts of the climb they talk of people dying in their team or they saw dead but the description does not seem to match with the confirmed ones.

  9.  

    A big THANK YOU for this perfect, balanced and thoughtful analysis.

    Maybe “just” going to the North Col is a better investment in terms of fun, view, cost efficiency, dangers etc. than trying for the crowded summit. But it seems that few consider that option and if they do it is seen merely as a stepping stone for the “real thing”. After all, in these days of “you can do everything” what´s the use of climbing halfway up a mountain?

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