Everest 2019 will go down as the year Everest finally broke.
It was one of those seasons where a lot of things went wrong, more things went right and many trends took center stage with new and old lessons for members, support, guide companies and governments. The only remaining question is, is anyone listening?
One Person’s Story
There are many stories to tell this year but this one perhaps encapsulates the entire season of risks, support, drive, judgment and motivation. Los Angles resident Mark Parella was climbing with Seven Summit Treks. A he was headed to the summit he developed snow-blindnesss near the South Summit. In an interview with his hometown newspaper, The Landmark, Mark started the piece with:
“There were 14 climbers; eight made it to the summit, but only six made it back down successfully. We got to the top of the south summit and I told my Sherpa, ‘I can’t see.’ Everything was very white and very foggy. I got worried. I thought, if I go for this, I will probably not make it back,” His Sherpa had other thoughts. “I’ll help you, you’ll be fine.”
They summited and got down safely. I asked Mark this week for more details on how much was his vision impaired:
It was odd. The wind and snow picked up at night and not having clear goggles I didn’t think to put any on. Later on the south summit everything got white as if in a very think fog. I could see but everything and everyone looked white and foggy. This was around 4-5am. By maybe 8 coming down it started coming back slowly. I managed to be able to see enough to make it down with out assistance at all and by maybe 9:30-10 I could see much better just long distance was a bit blurred. Later that day around 2-2:30 heading down to camp 2 I was okay but could see long distance. Little things like I had before. The following day at camp 2 it was pretty much gone
And in hindsight, should he have followed his gut and turned back?
To answer your question my answer going on was the best feeling in the world to me. I found a limit of mine and I blew its doors off I feel. is Mountaineering is all about calculated risk and I understand that. I’ve turned around on Shasta, Rainer the 1st time, and Denali twice so far. All were tough decisions but I understood the mountain will always be there. The risk is what gives mountaineering a certain allure to many I believe including me.
Chris Bonington talks about it in his 1979 Annapurna climb and I relate to it. Pasang Dava Sherpa was amazing. This was his 9th summit and I trusted him. Honestly I just needed a little mental push. Leading up to Everest I did my homework and I trained non stop endlessly for 10 months. A lot of the training I would do was not only physical but psychological. I wanted this situation so I could put myself to the true test. It worked for me. I had more than enough energy to hike that mountain all day up and down. It was challenging my mental capacity at altitude and the unknown of that capability that was tested.
In this summary of the Everest 2019 spring season, I took a deep look at events leading to the season that had an impact, how the season unfolded, the deaths on the other 8000ers, who summited (both individuals and teams) and some reasons behind the tragedies.
It’s easy to place blame and deny responsibility, no matter how shallow. I did my best to look at all sides but the facts tell the story. Yes, we have seen many of these factor before, but not in such magnitude, with such callous disregard, such blatant disrespect and with so little urgency to enact change.
The state of Everest has rarely been so poor.
For those not wanting to read this detail report, here is the summary:
Everest 2019 Season Summary
Nepal issued a record number of permits while the Chinese played a PR game with permit limits. The notorious jet stream was “wobbly” in the words of Chris Tomer of Tomer Weather Solutions. It colluded with Cyclone Fani to delay the ropes reaching the summit complicated by some bureaucratic delays on using a helicopter to transport gear to Camp 2 on the Nepal side. But the jet was more serious as it gave false impressions on when it would relent and allow for acceptable summit days. Everyone hoped it would be like last year with 11 straight days enabling a record number of summits.
Meanwhile across four 8000-meter peaks in Nepal and Tibet the canary in the coal mine exposed a wrath of inexperienced climbers with inadequate support. While there were summits, each day brought another death, and another and another. It became clear that too many people were totally unprepared to attempt these serious peaks. However, several extremely qualified climbers also lost their lives, many choosing to forgo supplemental oxygen.
On the Nepal side, the ropes finally made the top due to some incredible efforts by a team of Sherpas. 150 members with their Sherpas quickly followed over the next day or so before the jet returned. When the next window appeared, close to 800 people on Everest made their bids but still the weather forecast felt like a dice throw praying for cat’s eyes. Beginning on May 22, hundreds summited early each morning for several days and once again death was in the air. May 23, Nirmal Purja, got his place in history with a shocking photo of a line of climbers on the Hillary Step. The photo came as the death toll on Everest inched up to 11.
With the season over, the biggest question is what, if anything, will Nepal do about the crowds, the experience of the climbers and the qualifications of the guides.
A New Year
I usually begin my coverage of each Everest season with a quick review of the past few years. I wrote in this year’s “Welcome to Everest 2019” piece:
Climbing Mount Everest continues to be a bright light to a swarm of hungry bugs. Last year was a record year with 802 total summits from all routes and I look for that record to be broken in 2019. There are always characters and unpredicted events to keep us engaged. This year, there will be a new route attempt from the North side. As usual, we can expect to see deaths. I believe 6 to 8 people will die on Everest this spring, mostly on the Nepal side from inexperienced climbers climbing with unqualified guides. This has been the pattern the past few years.
In this context, how 2019 unfolded was predictable. Last year, Everest hosted a record 802 people on her summit from both sides. The death toll was five, about the same each year for the past 10 or so. They died from what people usually die from on 8000-meter mountains: altitude sickness, exhaustion, health issues and the occasional fall. All tragic, but all somewhat expected.
However, I’ve been writing about two major trends that have been rising and reached a crescendo this year: inexperienced climbers and unqualified guides. These two factors along with a “wobbly” jet stream and record 381 foreigner permits issued by Nepal conspired to create a deadly combination of independent factors during the peak of a truncated weather window in late May.
And yes, there are solutions. And no, I’m not optimistic.
My preliminary stats show:
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An Ominous Prelude
Fraud and Cheating
As I reported in August, 2018, a complex scheme was exposed of insurance fraud. AFP reporter Annabel Symington found systematic cooperation amongst local guide companies, helicopter services and even some hospitals in Kathmandu to scam the rescue/insurance companies through fraudulent claims. An investigation by the Nepal government verified the charges. And as usual, loud calls were heard from the Nepal government that there would be accountability and changes, and – sigh – nothing happened and business continued as usual.
The large Sherpa owned guide company Seven Summits Treks was found guilty of forging Everest permits and charged with fraud. The company was fined $44,000 and two low-level employees went to jail as the principles pleaded ignorance. This is not new, in 2016 Makalu Adventures admitted they helped Indians Dinesh and Tarkeshwari Rathod alter their summit photos to show them on Everest’s summit when in fact they never summited. They were banned from climbing in Nepal for 10 years.
China Steps Up and Increases Prices
In February, 2019 China made a few bold announcements designed to assure the world that they were competent custodians of their side of Everest. They also introduced new pricing across all of their 8000ers so now it costs about the same to climb on either side of Everest.
They announced a limit of 300 on foreigners, but this was a bit of a red herring in that the maximum number of foreigner summits in the past 58 years on the Tibet side was 172.
But it was nice to see them paying attention to the trash that had accumulated on their side for decades. Additionally, they said they would spend close to US $600,000 on trash removal, however they added a $1,500 rubbish fee to each climber’s permit fee taking it to $11,000, the same as Nepal.
Included in the “new rules” were controls on who could guide, more “security” deposits to enforce behavior, and new rescue rules. Overall, many of these were good but a few felt onerous and perhaps foretelling of China’s long term intentions for Chomolungma.
Nepal remained quiet, with no new rules marking a sharp contrast to years past where they issued a rash of new rules that the world’s press hailed as revolutionary. However, Nepal would promptly ignore any form of implementation since they had already accomplished their primary mission – generate positive press.
However, for some reason, probably pressure for China, Nepal announced a big clean-up program underwritten by Western sponsors (Coco-Cola, WWF, etc.) to remove trash and dead bodies from their side. This was an excellent and positive move by the Ministry. Three tons (6,613 pounds) of garbage and four bodies were removed. However, I asked a summiteer from the Nepal side today, what was done with the solid human waste at the South Col, “I asked a Sherpa and he said, just go anywhere.” His well respected Western Guide chose not to use “blue bags” the same guide uses on Denali.
Nepal Tourism Minister is Killed in Crash
Tragedy occurred on February 27, 2019, when an Air Dynasty helicopter carrying Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari and six other people crashed killing all onboard while flying in a snowstorm. They had broken their own safety rules.
Nepal Closes Most Popular Everest Airline Route
The Nepal aviation authority announced that flights between Kathmandu and Luka would not be allowed for the majority of each day in April and May due to construction on the runway at Tribhuvan Airport (TIA). This was smack in the middle of the pre-monsoon trekking and climbing season. Teams were forced to take more expensive helicopters or make a 4 hour drive to another airport to begin their trek to Everest Base Camp. A few teams did catch good unusual mid-day weather in Lukla and fly in. Oh, Nepal, how we love your logic and timing!
Climbers To Watch
We knew there would be hundreds on both normal routes, but a bevy of climbers were trying something special or make a statement.
- New Routes
- Cory Richards and Topo Mena wanted to put up a new route from ABC on the Tibet side straight up a couloir to the Northeast Ridge. They had trained furiously for a year on this no O’s, no ropes, no support effort.
- Felix Berg and Adam Bielecki wanted to set a new route on Annapurna.
- Horia Colibasanu along with Marius Gane and Peter Hamor wanted to set a new route on Dhaulagiri.
- South Korean Sung Taek Hong was back for his fifth attempt to climb Lhotse’s South Face. Avalanche conditions has stopped him most often in the past.
- Personal Firsts
- Nirmal Purja had a project to summit all 14 of the 8,000-meter peaks in seven months, breaking the previous record of seven years, 11 months and 14 days.
- Kami Rita Sherpa, 49 from Thame, wanted to break his own most Everest summit record of 22.
- Tim Mosedale aimed to summit Nuptse then go directly for Everest and Lhotse then move to the Tibet side and summit Everest again.
- Two widows of fallen Sherpas, Nima Doma Sherpa, 36, and Furdiki Sherpa, 42 wanted to summit to honor their husbands.
- Kenton Cool for a UK record 14th summit.
- Roxanne Vogel targeted summit Everest from the Tibet side in 14 days home to home
- No Os
- David Göttler wanted a no Os summit of Everest.
- Sergi Mingote no Os on Lhotse and Everest
- Juan Pablo Mohr of Chile without oxygen
- Note: I know there were others, so please feel free to add in the comments.
- Country Firsts
- Saray N’kusi Khumalo hoping to become first black woman from Africa to summit.
- Arab women with Madison Mountaineering:
- Nadhirah would become the first Omani women, she wears the Hijab.
- Joyce from Lebanon will be the first Lebanese woman to achieve the 7 summits
- Nelly and Joyce would be come the first women from Lebanon.
- Mona would become the 2nd Saudi Arabian woman to summit Everest.
- Tima Deryan from Dubai with IMG
- Note: there are many more so please feel free to add in the comments.
Stories to Watch
Along with the climbers, I noted the stories I would watch this season. They included:
- Record number of permits
- Crowds and Delays
- Fitful Weather
- Changing Demographics of Everest Climbers from China and India
- New Western Guide Companies
- Nepali Guides Solidify their Hold
- Evacuations and Scams
A Normal Beginning
The Icefall Docs arrived at Everest Base Camp in mid March to begin to “fix” the route to Camp 2 on the Nepal side. This was welcomed by the teams as it would provide an early start for the acclimatization process. More good news came as they reached Camp 2 and reported using fewer ladders than in prior years thus making the climb through the Icefall direct and fast.
The teams made the life-changing trek through the Khumbu and began arriving on time around April 15 to Everest Base Camp on the Nepal side. Those looking to climb from Tibet drove to their base about a week later but soon both base camps were filled with eager and excited foreigners going to stand on top of the world.
The various acclimatization strategies unfolded as normal but with a couple of twists. Himex’s Russell Brice, uncharacteristically quiet recently, had a small team from the UK. They decided to acclimatize on Pumori at 23,494-feet/7,160-meter that lords over EBC. Its rarely climbed due to historically avi danger but along with Dawa Steven Sherpa from Asian Trekking, they summited and celebrated.
Other teams used Lobuche, a 20,075-foot / 6,119-meter “trekking peak”, and a few used Island Peak ( 6,189 m/20,305 ft) but most stayed with the proven formula of making multiple “rotations” up and down Everest eventually getting their ticket to the top punched at Camp 3 around 23,000’/7000m on the Lhotse Face.
Over on the Tibet side, the teams eventually spent a few nights at Advanced Base Camp and others to the North Col at 23,000’/7000m. But the Chinese rope fixing team seemed extremely cautious about fixing the ropes with all the high winds. Concern began to develop that a late rope to the summit would result in a couple of hundred climbers all focusing on the same few days. A similar concern was quietly growing on the Nepal side. Everyone knew the lesson of past seasons when few weather days and a lot of people resulted in long delays and increased deaths.
Cyclone in early May?
The storms in the Bay of Bengal usually mark the end of the Everest climbing season and the beginning of the annual monsoons around June 1. But this year, Cyclone Fani messed up a lot of plans.
Big winds and snow pummeled both sides of Everest the first week of May adding to the delays for rope fixers and acclimatizations. Tents went flying into the atmosphere on the North Col and at Camp 2 on the Nepal side it looked like a giant Yeti had a bad hangover and stomped all the tents.
The system moved quickly across Everest and left surprisingly little damage, however, the delay of a few additional days on top of the delays due to a breezy season weighed heavily on most people’s minds.
Finally on May 14, 2019, the fixed ropes reached the summit of Everest. And something unique happened when teams on three other 8000ers also reached the summit that same day: Makalu, Kangchenjunga and Lhotse.
Climbers celebrated across Nepal and Tibet. It was time to climb!
Deaths Across the 8000ers
While the Everest teams were acclimatizing in cold stiff winds, the other 8000-meter peaks in Nepal and Tibet were unusually busy this spring. Many low-cost guide services were offering expeditions and not requiring any experience. Three of the 8000ers, Annapurna, Makalu, and Kanchenjunga are considered significantly more difficult to summit due to the technical nature of the climb. Many on those peaks lacked the proper experience to be there and the guide services failed to qualify their customers and then to provide adequate support to make up for the lack of skills.
Annapurna, ranked as the most deadly of the 14 8000ers, had a huge team lead by Seven Summit Treks. 32 people summited on April 26 , a record, but one gentleman, Malaysian Wui Kin Chin, became fatigued on his descent just below the summit. Through a series of events, he spent almost three days at 7,500 meters only to finally be rescued, flown to Kathmandu, then Singapore where he died.
Incredibly, his guide service Seven Summit Treks and his evacuation membership service, Global Rescue plus some of Chin’s teammates, including Nirmal Purja who was on the rope team, began to blame one another with no one taking responsibility for what happened, or even the rescue until it was practically too late. I wrote about it in a piece for Outside Online.
Other deadly scenarios were playing out on Cho Oyu, Annapurna, Makalu, Kanchenjunga, and Lhotse. On Makalu and in particular, three Indian climbers with Seven Summit Treks died from altitude related issues suggesting they were going too slow or lack sufficient supplemental oxygen for their experience. The death of three Indian climbers with Nepali guide company Peak Promotion on Kangchenjunga had a similar fingerprint.
The deaths were not limited to inexperienced climbers on low-cost teams but included world-class climbers like Richard Hidalgo on Makalu, Ivan Yuriev Tomov on Lhotse and Rodrigo Vivanco on Kanchenjunga. All were climbing without supplemental oxygen and died on the descent.
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With all these deaths on other 8000-meter peaks before the true push began Everest, I became quite concerned that we were seeing the inexperience/unqualified combination on center stage. Usually these other 8000ers are the domain of serious, experienced climbers, but primarily Seven Summits Treks has opened up all of the 8000ers to climbers with limited experience. They have used this model on Everest and K2. Tashi Sherpa, Chairman of Seven Summit Treks proudly claimed on Facebook that they had 40% of the climbers this year … and they also had 40% of the deaths across the 8000ers: 4 of the 10.
Back on Everest, with the ropes to the summit on the Nepal side, the Sherpas began the physical task of stocking Camp 3 and the South Col for the summit pushes. They carried tents, food, stoves, fuel, and oxygen bottles. Later we would learn that Climbing the Seven Summits and other teams had 73 of their oxygen bottles stolen by other teams.
In another evolving trend on the Nepal side, fewer and fewer teams actually slept at Camp 3 at 23,000’/7000m. This used to be required to get your opportunity to go on the summit bid but these days, the general feeling is that a simple day climb to C3 is sufficient.
Over on the Tibet side, there is even less time spent on rotations given the camps are all much higher thus forcing climbers to spend more time at altitude. Normally the highest most reach is the North Col also at 23,000’/7000m for a night or two.
Of course, altitude tents are all the rage for some. Several high end operators swear by this technique of pre-acclimitizing at home before arriving in Asia. They cut the acclimatization rotation down to only one most of the time. The two largest advocates of this method, Alpenglow and Furtenbach, had good success with their members who took this approach so look for it to spread to others. I fear it will be used as a”shortcut to the top” inviting more marginally qualified aspirants looking to minimize time away from making money to attempt almost 9,000-meters.
Once the acclimatization rotations were finished, all eyes turned to the summit of Everest and her huge plume. When would the jet move thus opening a few days with winds under 30mph?
Chris Tomer of Tomer Weather Solutions commented on the jet stream situation:
Jet stayed locked on summit this past week but should weaken significantly May 12-15. That would be first summit window of season. The jet is then forecasted to return on May 16-18. After that it’s a bit unclear but I not sold on a drop on the 19th.
First Member Summits
On the heels of the rope fixer’s Everest summit, one of the strongest Nepali companies, Mingma Sherpa’s Imagine Nepal, took his own rope fixers and members to the roof of Lhotse for the first summits in the Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse horseshoe. They jumped into what was forecasted as a two day window hoping to avoid the crowds that were sure to seize the next one, no matter when or how short. I began to really get concerned on May 14 when I wrote:
Nepal updated their permit list to show 379 member permits were issued. Double that with the Sherpas in support and subtract a handful that are trying right now, around 30, and that leaves 728 humans all planning their summit push between May 20/21 and 29/30. Or 9 days.
IF the jet behaves itself and stays away, 9 days is tight but doable to accommodate that many climbers. If it returns early or leaves late, this year might be tough. There are a lot of conversation going on within the guide community right now.
But from May 15th to 17th , 150 or more people summited Everest, most not experiencing long lines. There were two deaths.
A Narrow Window for Too Many People
Well respected Belgian meteorologist Marc De Keyser told me on May 15 that the next widow was tight and the 23/24 were next up:
I am pretty sure that on the 17th and the 18th wind will be far out of limits, where on the 19th the wind becomes again a bit weaker but still generating an uncomfortable feeling.This feature dominates the weather conditions over the Himalayas for this period, probably till the 23rd or 24th of May.
On May 20th, I wrote:
There is growing concern about so many people in such a short window with such cold temperatures. Now is when climbing with a highly experienced team is critical to both summiting and surviving.
EverestER made several posts decrying the inexperience they were seeing on the Nepal side: Later they would provide more data:
We saw 582 patients, 58% of them Nepali, and the total number of visits made 2019 the 4th busiest since we first set up the clinic in 2003. In keeping with the stats from previous years, nearly half of our patient visits involved a respiratory ailment (diagnoses including high altitude cough, viral infection, pneumonia among others) and the rest rounding out the top 5 included acute mountain sickness, gastroenteritis, sprains/strains/contusions, and gastritis. We saw 10 cases of frostbite and arranged helicopter evacuations for 20 patients (many were flown out directly from high camps.) Our team was involved in life saving care for patients with multi system trauma and acute myocardial infarction and spent many nights awake and attending to sick climbers.
The weather risks well forecasted by some of the best: Chris Tomer of Tomer Weather Solutions told me “The jet will definitely weaken but it will wobble back and forth.” We are seeing this very event now with moments of high winds and low winds. And Operational Meteorologist Michael Fagin at Everest Weather gave me the weather money quote of the week:
“Tiny window, lots of climbers”
But teams feeling this may be the last solid window for May, and the 2019 season, chose to take the risk of being hit by rogue winds on the push. One by one they all moved to Camp 2, then 3 and the South Col for their push starting the night of May 21.
Meanwhile a similar controlled panic was occurring on the Tibet side. The rope fixers finally got to the summit on May 22, quite late. Quite. But in their slipstream were Alpenglow climbers Lynda Bradly and Roxanne Vogel along with Sherpa Pasang and Mingma. According to Alpenglow, “Roxanne was in-country for only 10 short days prior to standing on top, and her summit occurred on her twelfth day since leaving home in the Bay Area of California.” The elite athlete and world-class guide had made history.
Hundreds of Summits, Too Many deaths
As the results began to come in from Wednesday, May 22, it was alarming, especially on the Nepal side. We knew there were many teams targeting that morning and the questions were: could the route accommodate them, would the inexperienced climbers slow the pace and how would the inadequate support manage a crisis?
Over 300 people summited on Wednesday morning but the real story was buried for a couple of days as rescue after rescue took place. Climbers were abandoned, other fought for their lives as their oxygen supplies ran out. Still others left early to avoid the crowds but ran into it on the descent. I’m sure that few people who summited on Wednesday, May 22 would say this was the Everest experience they wanted.
And it continued into Thursday, May 23. Over on the Tibet side where guides usually loudly brag about no crowds, Alexander Abramov of 7 Summits Club posted:
Now the first team is staying for the night at 7700. All members came to the camp for 4.5-5 hours. Everything is OK.. But here is too many people. At least 150 people are going to the summit at the same time…
The Hillary Stau
Nirmal Purja‘s photo showing climbers lined up at the Hillary Step shocked the world. There were maybe 100 people trying to descend while 150 or more were still trying to go up. There was only one safety line for everyone to clip into. As this photo shows from last year, the area is narrow, so even having two ropes might not have accommodated such traffic, inspire of what Nepal’s tourism department is spinning into the media.
Nirmal Purja‘s posted on his Facebook account:
Both climbers coming up and going down wanted to have the priority. Somebody had to step up to solve this issue or otherwise it was gonna go chaotic.
What should have been an 10 to 12 hour roundtrip from the South Col to the summit, turned into a 16, 18 or even 20 hour day. When you are moving, or trying to, above 26,000’/8000m for that long something starts to give. The human body is already degrading in the so-called “death zone” due to the lack of available oxygen. Supplemental Os, makes the body feel warmer but makes only a 3,000’/1,000m difference in the way a person feels. So at 28,000′ the body still feels like its at 25,000′. And if a person has no experience with how their body reacts and performs at these attitude, they simply don’t know what they don’t know.
Many people began to go slower and slower and refused to step off, or be “guided” by their “guide”, the fixed line in a safe spot for a moment to let the faster people go by. In the extreme these photos show, that the timeline grew adding two or three hours to an already long, physical day. Climbers don’t carry enough supplemental oxygen for 20 hours so their Sherpa might have had to turn down their oxygen flow to stretch out the supply. If their client runs out, many Sherpas would give them their own. They carry extra bottles, but not for such long days where delays were not anticipated.
Complicating matters in this scenario is the lack of experience in climbing. There are techniques that are used by experience climbers at extreme altitude to conserve energy with proven techniques on how you move, your footwork, breathing, posture and more. An inexperienced climber who doesn’t know these techniques becomes their own worse enemy. Add in the attitude, judgment become impaired so an inexperienced client has to depend on their support system of Sherpas, teammates and guides to monitor their performance. Their leadership and support had an obligation to turn them around if they were going to slowly or exhibiting signs of altitude sickness.
Clients pay guides to get them back home, not to summit.
With the dead stealing the headlines, not to be lost is the joy and satisfaction felt by hundreds who celebrated a life long goal:
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.
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.
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.
Circling back to the Climbers to watch, these are the rules but note that all who summited deserve praise this season.
- New Routes – None made it primarily due to snow conditions.
- Personal Firsts
- Kuntal Joisher with his summit from Tibet has now summited from both Nepal and South. Kuntal’s a strict vegan who shuns all animal made products. His “down” suit was 100% synthetic.
- Nirmal Purja got Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Makalu, Everest and Lhotse plus unselfishly performed multiple rescues.
- Kami Rita Sherpa, 49 from Thame, summited twice this season taking his record to 24. Well done my friend.
- Tim Mosedale missed Nuptse but got close. No word on the other peaks.
- The Two Widows both summited with Migma Sherpa of Imagine Nepal.
- Kenton Cool got his UK record 14th summit.
- Roxanne Vogel summited Everest in 14 days, home to home from the US.
- Mirza Ali summited today making him the first Pakistani male climber to complete the Seven Summits.
- No Os
- Juan Pablo Mohr, Chile
- probably more that I missed
- Country Firsts
- Saray N’kusi Khumalo became the first black woman from Africa to summit.
- Horacio Galanti: 1st Argentinean to summit Everest from both sides.
- Arab women from Saudi Arabia, Oman and Lebanon and their journey to the summit of Everest.
- With Madison Mountaineering:
- Nadhira Alharthy summited, first Omani woman to achieve the 7 summits She was with Madison Mountaineering
- Nelly Attar summited with Madison Mountaineering
- Joyce Azzam from Lebanon summited with Madison Mountaineering
- Sherief Elabd from Egypt summited with Madison Mountaineering
- Mona Shahab became the 2nd Saudi Arabian woman to summit Everest.
- Tima Deryan summited with IMG.
- Fatima Deryan and Ralph Kisso of Lebanon summited
- With Madison Mountaineering:
Sherpa Family Summit
On a very personal note, I’m so happy and proud of Kami Sherpa, whom I summited Everest and K2 with, that he summited Everest with two of his sons while working for Climbing The Seven Summits team. Mingma Dorjee Sherpa became what he thinks is the first Nepal educated Engineer to summit. He graduated a few years ago with an Electrical Engineering degree. Also Phinjodorjee Sherpa, Kami’s oldest son and brother of Minga summited with them.
Not to be lost in this discussion were the many commercial teams who got their members safely to the summit and back home without deaths.
- Adventure Consultants 19
- Alpine Ascents Int. 23
- Ascent Himalayas: 11
- Asian Trekking 19
- Benegas Brothers 8
- Himex 8
- IMG 36
- Imagine Nepal 14
- Jagged Globe 12
- Kaitu Expedition 28
- Madison Mountaineering 34
- Myrmidon Expeditions 8
- Satori Adventures 11
- Seven Summits Treks 29 Indian Army
- Seven Summits Treks 28 Chinese
- Alpenglow 18
- 7 Summits Treks/Arnold Coster 22
- Climbalaya/Satori Adventures 14
- Furtenbach Adventures 28
- Summit Climb 8
- Summits Club 14
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 17 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.
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Why So Many deaths With Low-Cost Firms?
It seems obvious to me that many, many of these deaths were avoidable simply by turning the member back when it became obvious they were too fatigued, taking too long or running low on oxygen. In my opinion death and injury can be linked with attributes associated with low-cost climbing companies:
- Support not have language and communication skills to turn a client back before trouble makes it irreversible
- client is going too slowly
- oxygen is being used at too high a flow rate to last
- support lacking adequate training to recognize early signs of altitude related illness
In an interview with the Himalayan Times, Malay Mukherjee, an Indian climber was quoted about low-cost guides:
“They offer inadequate food and stay options which can be harmful, and the most dangerous, in a bid to save costs, they pass off cooks as experienced sherpas.”
Dawa Sherpa of Seven Summits Treks and was at the Annapurna Base Camp when Dr. Chin’s situation unfolded. I asked Dawa about turning back clients who got in trouble. I wanted to know how Dr. Chin got in trouble and trailed the rest of a very large team. Dawa told me:
“Can not stop any climber if they are well enough to go!! And did you see the summit photo of Chin? Chin climbed together with other 30 climbers, during the summit push he was as in level of fitness like others climbers….
This happens all of sudden, this is why they buy Insurance/ Rescue arranges yes? We cannot see future to stop anyone, can you give a point why I should stop him when he was climbing with team and his Sherpa reportedly in normal way! And even climber can decide to go with no Sherpa and no oxygen … it’s their selection !! Sir, we can never figure how personal climber is feeling and going through, if all seems ok then we go through normal climbing strategy. !!!”
I posted this during the season and still find it happening so once again, 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.
The Himalayan Times printed several quotes from Sherpas commenting on their customers including this one:
“Traffic jam didn’t kill people on Mt Everest. They died due to their own stupidity and ego. If they are true mountaineers, they should listen to their body and should know when to turn back. Everyone knows climbing Everest is a dangerous game. You could pay with your life,” a renowned mountaineer Ang Tshering Lama, who guided two Sherpa widows to the top of the world this season, said.
Why So Many Indian Climbers Deaths?
Once again I take a quote from the Himalayan Times starting with “Nepal’s tourism department issued Everest permits to a record 78 Indian climbers in 2019, up from 59 in 2018. Indians now make up the largest group of permit holders, overtaking US citizens this year.” and
Earlier this month Dipankar Ghosh, a 52-year-old Indian photographer, scaled the world’s fifth-highest peak, the snow-capped Mount Makalu. He didn’t make it back down alive. After being separated from the rest of his team in bad weather, he collapsed and died along with Narayan Singh, an officer in the Indian army, according to his tour operator. “Dipankar personified mountains,” said his brother, Goutam, sitting by the coffin after it returned to the family’s home in Kolkata, the state capital of India’s West Bengal, on Wednesday. “There was nothing else that he loved more.”
“Some Indian climbers look for low-budget companies and get poor services,” said Ang Tshering Sherpa, the founder of Asian Trekking, one of Nepal’s largest mountaineering companies that has led 54 climbers to the summit of Everest this year without fatalities. Rizza Alee, an 18-year-old from Indian-controlled Kashmir, said he was forced to abandon an attempt to climb Everest last week, after his sherpa, who was working for a Nepalese company, failed to carry enough oxygen for the summit.
“If an inexperienced climber reaches the Everest summit, he is invited to various social functions as an honorary guest,” said Malay Mukherjee, a veteran Indian climber from Kolkata. “That does not mean he is a good or responsible climber, but it sends the wrong message to others.”
The Himalayan Database show that from 2000 to 2018, nine Indians have died on Nepal 8000-meter peaks. In 2019, Of the 21 deaths across the Himalaya, eight were from India, almost double the last 18 year’s toll.
The primary reason included: exhaustion, disappearance and falls. Exhaustion as a reason indicates inexperience in my view. Same for disappearance. Both suggest not turning back when a person should have. Falls, are also a symptom of inexperience and perhaps poor support. The golden rule is to always be clipped into the safety line when its available
I don’t claim to be a cultural expert but I did find interesting this somewhat harsh opinion piece by Amit Chowdhury, who is a veteran of numerous Himalayan mountaineering expeditions and ex-Principal of a Mountaineering and Skiing Institute who was awarded the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award in 2014 for his lifetime contribution to Adventure Sports. It was published on May 24, 2019 in The Times India. Its well with a read but these were the highest for me and potential reason for the increase in deaths of Indian climbers:
Lacking self sufficiency and climbing experience:
If you look at the bio-data of most Everest aspirants, they do a basic mountaineering course, a climb of Stok Kangri (a 6000 m trekking peak in Ladakh) maybe some other easy 6000 metre peak and think they are ready to climb Everest. Of course, it’s possible because a travel agent has organised all your logistics, a sherpa team has fixed all the ropes, your personal Sherpa pitches your tent, makes your food and prepares your water. He even carries your oxygen cylinders, sets the rate of oxygen, tells you when to walk, when to stop, feeds you, changes your diaper, gets you into your sleeping bag, tells you what to wear, checks your harness and the rest of the routine when it comes to climbing.
But what happens when the going gets tough for the Sherpa, when there’s a sudden change of weather, or he gets separated from you? What happens when your Sherpa falls into a crevasse, slips, looses his crampon or any of the other unforeseen things that happen on mountains. You are finished because you have no experience, haven’t bothered to learn to look after your self, certainly not others.
There are 500 plus documented climbing objectives in the Indian Himalaya. If mountaineering is about challenging yourself, enjoying the pristine views in the crisp mountain air and practicing the skills of art that excite you, then most of these people who go to die on Everest would be climbing these challenging and exciting objectives. But that’s not ‘cool’ enough. It’s cool to stand at a Party with a glass in your hand and talk about how you faced the challenge of Everest.
It’s great to be garlanded in your local area by your local Member of Parliament, among a group of equally ignorant folks and show picture of you proudly standing on top of Everest and with the National Flag and perhaps land a Government job or get promoted from constable to a Sub-Inspector. If you are lucky and get some backing from a politician you could even land yourself an award or a plot of land. It’s not cool, however, if you say you climbed a previously unclimbed route on 6,485 metre high Brammah II, or if you say you made the second ascent on the 6142 metre Shiva for which the famous mountaineer Mick Fowler was presented the Golden Ice Axe (Piolet d’our) Who cares? Never heard of that.
Lack of Funds to afford proper team:
How do people raise funds? They knock the doors of government buildings, get crowd-funded or get sponsored by a rich businessman. Many people take loans, sell their property or make a Provident Fund withdrawal or even borrow from friends and relatives. Pune based Giripremi has developed fund-raising to an art where they collect cash door to door. No one questions their capability, fitness or preparation. In any case, they get carried away by the glamour of Everest or the story of an underprivileged person taking up a formidable challenge. That makes a great story. Little do the people who fund these ventures know that they are actually helping a suicide bid. It’s grossly irresponsible for people to provide huge sums to unprepared people risking their lives. I once asked someone who had just climbed Everest what volume and weight of the oxygen cylinder she used was. Her rather honest answer was that she didn’t know because her Sherpa managed all that. She also rather innocently asked me whether the picture on my wall was of Everest; it wasn’t, it was an extremely well recognizable image of Nanda Devi.
The people responsible for this irresponsible funding need to think and learn about the sport. For the people sitting in the crowded halls where these ‘mountaineers’ are being felicitated need to understand what they are encouraging. The families and well-wishers encouraging ill-prepared mountaineers need to question their capabilities. Politicians and government officials funding these ventures need to understand and get their credentials verified. Instead, encourage them to climb mountains in India and encourage them to learn the craft and practice independent safe climbing rather than depending on a Sherpa to lead you to the top.
Guy Cotter CEO of the New Zealand based Adventure Consultants weighed in on the previous commentary and added his own experiences:
It is great to see balanced commentary coming from the top of the Indian mountaineering cadre. I watched 17 Indian climbers being heli evacuated from camps 2&3 on Dhaulagiri in 2017. All but one were in were in military and border police teams and we had rescued several from above camp 3, some who had been out 3 nights. Their lack of discipline led to the unfortunate death of one of their Sherpa who was staying behind to try to help them when they should have come down. One who was evacuated died on Kanchenjunga this season. Several suffered severe frostbite that required amputations.
I see this as a cultural issue. I believe all would have summitted safely had they been with a well organised team with good Sherpa support. Instead the groups had little support and poor leadership as though they were trying to maximise expenditure by having so many members. By doing so they set themselves up to fail. I have observed that some Indian climbers climb only for prestige and money and not because they love climbing. I have met some who are there because their family has raised the money to send them there and the climber feels a heavy weight of pressure to reach the summit even when they realise they are in over their head and don’t want to be there.
A summit on Everest sets them up for life as someone who is ‘exceptional’ and therefore worthy of elevated status. (some western climbers are guilty of this also, you can tell who they are, the ones who only climb to get up Everest and once done never climb again) I know Indian climbers who are frustrated by this, to see others gain the limelight when they themselves are truly passionate about the mountains and make flawless ascents of Everest and other mountains themselves. However, the mountains are a place of freedom (or should be) and my philosophy is that whatever your motivation, you have just as much right to be there as anyone else, as long as your actions do not endanger anyone else and you do not leave an unreasonable impact on the environment.
And I asked Indian Kuntal Joisher who summited this year from the Tibet side, adding to his 2016 Nepal side summit for his views on the Indian situation:
#1 – There’s this climber who reaches the summit – almost dragged to the top and is quite tired and while during the descent gets into serious trouble. Lucky for this climber that there are 6 Sherpas who assist with the rescue. The climber is finally somehow rescued all the way to Camp 2 where the climber is badly frost-bitten and then heli-evacuated to Kathmandu. In my opinion, I would not call this a successful expedition at all. The climber simply did not have the experience and fitness to make it to the top, the climber put their own and 6 Sherpa lives at risk, got frostbitten in process and lost a few fingers/toes in process and overall it could have easily turned into a HACE/HAPE like situation and possibly death.
But what happens when this pro-cyclist so-called superfit person comes back to India – they are hailed a Hero. A long whatsapp message was written in their honor and it was made out as if getting rescued and frostbitten was a good thing! I was absolutely flabbergasted on reading the whatsapp message and in my mind I knew exactly what is wrong with the India mountaineering but more specifically the Everest scene.
#2 – There’s this other climber. They try for the summit on 16th May, get into serious trouble around Balcony area during their summit push, and is rescued by three Sherpas. At South col the climber is advised to get down to Base camp safely, go home and come back and try again next year. The climber barely has any mountaineering experience and on top lacks serious fitness.
The climber gets to basecamp, pays money to a new Sherpa and gets ready to climb again. This time they go up during the next window, the climber is totally unfit but pushes through to the summit, gets into trouble and is rescued down to Camp 2 again with serious frostbite and heli-evacuated to Kathmandu. It’s like Dejavu from #1. The worse thing is this climber is now writing articles for big newspapers suggesting that Nepal should not give permits to inexperienced people. It baffles my mind!!!
There were close to 100 Indians on the mountain this year (both South and North). And a significant majority (I’m NOT counting the Defense expeditions – those climbers are superfit and highly skilled and trained) of them simply should not have been there. Most of them had no 7000 or 8000 meter experience, were physically unfit, and were in no position to handle themselves in case of emergencies on the mountain.Heck I know of quite a few that didn’t even know how to wear their Millet boots or put their crampons ON, or for that matter adjust their harnesses or setup a Figure-8 rappel device.
This years Indian batch was truly an epitome of “Only shortcuts to the top”. No one wants to go through the long process of building mountaineering skills in wide variety of scenarios, or going on multiple Himalayan expeditions – say a few 6000 meter mountains, a couple of 7000m mountains, and possibly an 8000-er like Cho Oyu or Manaslu. Most of them have no clue about Oxygen equipment and what all can go wrong and how to deal with it. And most of them are under the impression that if things go wrong then we can always get rescued to Camp 2 and take a helicopter back home – “Atleast we will not die”.
So many of them have just climbed either Kilimanjaro or Stok Kangri and have showed up to climb Everest, the very first serious peak of their life.There’s a prevalent notion in the Indian Everest community that you can be pushed and pulled to the top by the Sherpa guides and that you just need to come with some basic fitness, basic knowledge and you will make it to the top. And this has been happening for few years now and so many of these climbers in past few years have gotten serious frostbite injuries or were evacuated with HACE/HAPE. This year also the number of such climbers is quite high.
I get 100s (if not more) messages throughout the year from people aspiring to climb Everest – and my advice to all of them is 3 fold:
1.) Build superman level physical fitness.
2.) Do a basic and an advanced mountaineering course.
3.) Work on mental and emotional fitness.
2019: The Year Everest Broke
The Everest criticism machine seems focused on the crowds, but I think this is a multi-faceted problem that has been developing for years and has four equal areas for inspection.
#1: The Guide Company Owners
The true and only gate keepers are the owners of the guide companies. They set the standard by which any applicant is evaluated. If they have no standards, there will no requirements. This year, as we have see in years past, there were too many owners who simply took the money with no questions asked. And when their customer died, they blamed their own customer. How is this correct on any level?
They offer jobs to Sherpas from the Makalu, Rolwaling Valley, Makalu and other areas to support their customers. Not all of these Sherpas have the experience required to “guide” their customers. But the owners offer $1,000, or $2,000 – a princely sum for TWO months work in a country where the average person makes $1,000 a YEAR!
There is no accountability if one of their customer’s die under their care. They often don’t even acknowledge it on their social media where they brag about how many times the owner has summited and next year’s trip with “excellent success.” If you believe their website, perhaps you deserve your fate. Get references from objective people. If the company cannot provide a reference, then don’t go with that company.
And if your sole criteria is price, then have the decency to step off the rope when you begin to falter so you don’t take others down with you.
#2: The Climber
I have harped on this point for years. Climbers must be self sufficient and exercise personal responsibility. They must use good judgment so as not to put themselves in danger or their teammates or support. Full stop.
Now, I fully recognize that everyone has to learn, but not on an 8000-meter mountain! Learn on lower peaks with proper support. Gradually build up to larger, more technical peaks as your experience grows. But today, everyone is in a hurry and wants their “Everest” today, not tomorrow.
On Everest there are no “bargains”. History has shown the low-cost guides – both “Western” and Nepali offer an inferior level of service, increased risk and lower summit rates. If you want to climb Everest, earn the right and not try to low-ball it. And this now applies to all 8000-meter peaks.
#3: The Support
We are reading many quotes from support staff calling their clients “stupid” and ignoring calls for them to turn around. I fully understand how difficult this is, however, I believe it’s part of the job of a guide, in any form, is to protect their customer from themselves. Allegedly, the guide has more experience and knowledge, hence they deserve the title of “guide”. If they are incapable of turning back a client in trouble, they should not be earning a living as a guide.
The Himalayan Times printed several quotes from Sherpas commenting on their customers.
Indian climber Anjali Kulkarni died below the balcony area after she fell ill while heading to the summit, Gyaljen Sherpa, who guided the 54-year-old climber, said. “She couldn’t even reach the area where other climbers were reportedly stuck in a jam,” he said, adding that she had refused to abandon her summit push as she claimed she had invested the past decade’s earnings to make it to the summit this season.
Lakpa Rinji Sherpa who was with Indian climber Nihal Bagwan. Nihal died at Camp IV after sherpas rescued him from the balcony area. “Bagwan fell ill below the south summit, but he turned down my request to descend from there,” said Sherpa, who suffered frostbite injuries to his hands. “Ignorance, not congestion, took his life,” added Sherpa.
Indian climber Kalpana Das was guided by Gelbu Sherpa and Pemba Chhiri Sherpa on Mt Everest this season. “We had time and again requested her to abandon the summit push after she couldn’t move above the balcony area,” Gelbu said. “It took her more than 18 hours to reach the summit from Camp IV.” There was no congestion when she reached above the South Col, he added. Das, who complained of weakness, died near the balcony area on the descent.
Nepal’s government has a serious conflict of interest. They measure their success solely on how much money they brought in from tourism, including mountain climbing and especially Everest. They deny being complicit in any manner with any accidents or deaths and blame their customer. They have mastered the blame and misdirection game as we are already seeing this year about crowds. The Himalayan Times quoted “Gyanendra Shrestha, a liaison officer, who spent nearly a month at the base camp this season, also said that no one died due to traffic jam this season.”
To be clear, the call for Nepal to address this situation is like asking a drunk to give up their car keys at 2:00 am. Then Nepal Ministers are drunk on the money from tourism and will do everything to minimize negative press and spin for the positive. They are irresponsible compared to other countries with mountains that are used for tourism. Their lack of respect for human life, combined with an insatiable greed for the almighty dollar almost match the guides who take anyone’s money, no experience required.
Will Nepal Act?
One thing I’ve learned from going to Nepal 13 times over the past 22 years is that the Nepal government is highly protective of their reputation and will do almost anything to censor, stop or spin negative news. The pattern after a year like 2019 is for a government official to shout from the roof that the situation is unacceptable, people will be held accountable and things will change. Sometime this summer, or perhaps early autumn, they will issue a press release stating all the changes and promising their peaks will be safer so come to Nepal! In fact they have a public relations program already underway “Visit Nepal 2020″
I’ve chronicled this pattern for years and call it the “silly rules season” Click the link to see what I mean.
Seven Summits Treks had a deadly season. They insist it was just a factor of how successful their business is. Tashi Sherpa, Chairman of Seven Summits Treks posted a series of suggested changes to climb Everest from Nepal but since has removed them plus the comments. However this is what he posted directly from Facebook:
Suggestion on Mount Everest Climbing:
1. Those who are willing of sign up Everest Expedition should have an experience of at least 1 8000m peak (in the world) And 1 – 7000m OR 2 – 6000m Peak.
2. All Sherpa Guides (Climbing Sherpa) should have an experience of at least 1 8000m peak (in the world) And 1 – 7000m OR 3 – 6000m Peak.
3. Every Expedition team should have full set of rescue equipment and communication equipment with expert guides.
4. Expedition operator should provide at least 6 bottles of Oxygen Cylinder for members and 3 Oxygen Cylinder for each climbing Sherpa with one extra set of oxygen mask and regulator willing to attempt Everest.
5. Each climbing members and Sherpas should have Search and Rescue Insurance including Helicopter Evacuation.
6. The incharge at the Everest Basecamp of each agency should have an experience of climbing Everest at least 3 times and each expedition organizer company should provide Paramedic medical assistant/ doctor at the basecamp.
7. Each expedition operating company have to deposit $50,000 USD in the account of Department of Tourism for 5 years(renewal), who are willing to apply for the permit and organizing expedition for any 8000m peak, as security deposit. The deposit amount shall not be refunded if any of the company did not follow the guideline, rules and regulation of DOT.
If someone have any special projects example solo climbing, without supplementary oxygen , without Sherpa guide and high altitude service and any world record projects then these climbers should apply special qualifications of climbing history to be qualified .
A reader on Facebook asked about their record this year
Q: Also interested in your thoughts considering Seven Summit Treks had a number of incidents this year. What would you do differently next year?
A: yeah I agree there are some incidents but need to mark the We occupy almost 40% of Expedition over all 8000m peak ! This large number (Including Sherpa) doesn’t’ create only incident but also have saved numbers of lives in the mountain. We will and we always tried best to minimize all sorts of incidents, we are on it !
On the surface, these are all good ideas but it’s unlikely they will ever be adopted by the government. I suggested to Tashi that Seven Summits Treks, with their 40% market share this year and a potential leader within the Nepali guide companies, that they should unilaterally implement his own suggestions for his company. I received no response and his post was removed.
Adrian Ballinger of Alpenglow has long had a high standard for his clients. He switched Tibet several years ago fearing for the safety of his staff primarily due to the Khumbu Icefall instability. He suggested these qualifitins for cites and guides:
1. Client to guide ratio of no more than 4:1.
2. IFMGA Guides: a majority of the guide staff should be fully qualified (IFMGA) or aspirant (with aspirant certification working towards full qualification), and have climbed to 8000 meters previously.
3. Client to Sherpa ratio of no more than 1:1.
4. Experienced Sherpa: a majority of the Sherpa staff should have climbed to 8000 meters previously, attended the Khumbu Climbing School, and speak English (or the primary language of your team).
5. Team size of no more than 12 clients. Small teams are more united and thus more likely to remain self-sufficient, self-contained, strong and safe: they are more agile logistically and can adapt rapidly to changing conditions and dynamics on the mountain.
6. Requires the following of all clients:
a. Must have climbed at least five peaks over 19,000 feet/5,800 meters, on a variety of expeditions to different mountain ranges.
b. At least one of these peaks must have been a major expedition peak (e.g. Denali, Aconcagua, Ama Dablam, Mustagh Ata, Cho Oyu, Makalu).
c. Must have a minimum of 30 days in crampons (on expeditions, in the lower ranges, and ice climbing).
d. Must have a minimum of 3 days of steep ice climbing and 3 days of outdoor rock climbing, including multi-pitch climbing.
e. Must have excellent familiarity with big mountain rope systems including crevasse rescue, roped glacier travel, rappelling, belaying, and fixed rope technique.
7. Has a seasoned Everest guide as team leader: Everest is unique and the team leader should have previously summited Everest, and have extensive experience leading Sherpa, guides, and clients on 8000-meter peaks.
8. Has a seasoned high-altitude doctor on their team, (either on-staff or on-call) or contracts for all members to receive treatment and consultation with the HRA (Himalayan Rescue Association).
9. Contracts with a respected meteorological service for high altitude wind and weather forecasts.
10. Provides radios (walkie-talkies) to all Sherpa and guides.
11. Provides, at the minimum, five 4L bottles (or equivalent) of oxygen per client and guide (and four 4L bottles per Sherpa). Even oxygenless attempts should have this oxygen in reserve for emergencies.
12. Makes a commitment to you, the client, to remove all of the team’s garbage, equipment, and human waste from the mountain at the end of your climb. Only you, the client, can actually ensure this happens. Nepali regulations do not work.
And Guy Cotter of Adventure Consultants also offers his ideas on “how to fix Everest”.
I find it interesting that some of the largest, newest and oldest Western operators remain silent on the issues this year content to run their operation next year silently approving of what is happening. If there are to be changes it will take a unified voices starting with the guides – old and new.
Wrap Up of 2019
I am proud of all those who summited in a difficult year. Well done to each climber, their Sherpa and guides. Many stood on an 8000-meter summit fulfilling dreams and ambitions. Some came home a bit beaten up by the ordeal but they knew that going in. Others, came home a few pounds lighter but feeling immense personal satisfaction. Many of the Sherpa, especially those work for the Western companies came home with a lot of Rupees in their pockets.
And … those who didn’t come home have families grieving, second guessing what happened, uncertain. And they know that their climber had the courage and strength to simply try. Yes, many were not ready and lacked sufficient support, but sometimes human ambition is deaf to advice.
2019 was an atypical year, but not unusual. The jet stream plays games. There is growing evidence that it is being impacted by climate change, especially with the warming oceans. How this impacted Everest 2019, would only be a guess as this jet behavior has been seen several times in the past few decades.
The crowds? Well, Nepal actually only issued 8 more permits than they did last year, but 750+ people squeezing into a few days is simply unacceptable. There are lots of suggestions as to how to “fix” this but many go against the very nature of mountaineering, running your own business and the well-know risk of climbing.
So I distill all of this to this phrase my regular readers have seen many times: inexperienced climbers with unqualified guides. I know, I know … many feel this is insulting and their ego and pride is hurt.
Well, this year shined a flood light on what one or two or twenty or 100 people can do to clog up the system.It also revealed that when those in trouble needed help the most, it simply wasn’t there. And that is irresponsible. If a naive client joins a under trained/qualified team, there needs to be consequences.
Not sure what else there is to say, so I’ll sign off #Everest2019 with this video from Martin with Russell Brice’s Himex team tells it all first hand:
K2 and the Karakorum
Next up is K2 starting in late June with summits expected in late July. We know that Seven Summtis Treks will have a huge team there using their Everest model of low cost and many Sherpas. Madison Mountaineering will also be there again. Garrett has made this one of his standards and Adrian Ballinger will be there on his own for a no O’s summit attempt, something he has dreamed of for a long time.
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.
Previous #Everest2019 posts:
Everest 2019: Team Locations and Headlines
- Everest 2019: Season Over?
- Everest 2019: Summit Wave Recap 7 – Quiet Summits, Another Death
- Everest 2019: Weekend Update May 27 – It’s Not About the Crowds
- Everest 2019: Summit Wave Recap 6 – Update
- Everest 2019: 3 New Deaths, Now 9 on Everest, 19 Overall
- Everest 2019: Summit Wave 5 Recap – 3 Deaths
- Everest 2019: Summit Wave 5 Underway – Update 5
- Everest 2019: American Dead on Everest- Update
- Everest 2019: Summit Wave 4 Recap – First Tibet Summits
- Everest 2019: Summit Wave 4 Underway – Tiny Window – Update 3
- Everest 2019: Summit Wave 3 Recap, Wave 4 Underway 250 Expected
- Everest 2019: Summit Wave 3 Summits and Delays – Update 1
- Everest 2019: Summit Wave 3 – Cold for 14 on Top
- Everest 2019: Weekend Update May 19
- Everest 2019: Next Summit Waves Prepare
- Too Many Deaths – Opinion
- Everest 2019: Quiet after 3 Successful and 10 Dead Thus Far
- Everest 2019: Summit Wave 2 Update and Recap, Kang Deaths – Update
- Everest 2019: Kanchenjunga Indian Climbers In Trouble – Sad Update
- Everest 2019: Summit Wave 1 Recap, Wave 2 Underway
- Everest 2019: Summit Wave 1 – Update
- Everest 2019: Summit Wave 0 – Everest, Lhotse and More!!!
- Everest 2019: Ropes Make Progress, Lhotse Bid Underway NOW
- Everest 2019: Weekend Update May 12
- Everest 2019: Anticipation
- Everest 2019: Here We Go!!!
- Everest 2019: Weekend Summits?
- Everest 2019: Another Himalayan Death
- Everest 2019: Loads to South Col
- Everest 2019: The Jet Takes Over
- Everest 2019: Weekend Update May 5
- Everest 2019: Big Snow, Now Calm
- Everest 2019: Big Winds!!!
- Everest 2019: Annapurna Climber Dies – Blame Game Continues
- Everest 2019: Big Snow, or NO Snow
- Everest 2019: Eye on the Weather
- Everest 2019: Rotation Crux Time
- Everest 2019: Near Death on Annapurna. What Happened?
- Everest 2019: Ropes to North Col!
- Everest 2019: Weekend Update April 28
- Everest 2019: Climbing Conditions Could be Difficult this Year
- Everest 2019: Madison Mountaineering Exclusive Report on Everest Conditions
- Everest 2019: Missing Annapurna Climber Rescued Alive
- Everest 2019:Remembering The Day Nepal Shook
- Everest 2019: Missing Annapurna Climber and Quiet on Everest
- Everest 2019: Camp 2 Mirage
- Everest 2019: Monday Crevasse Fall
- Everest 2019: Weekend Update April 21
- Everest 2019: Sleeping In The Cwm!
- Everest 2019: Climbing!!
- Everest 2019: First Impressions
- Everest 2019: Before the First Steps into the Icefall
- Everest 2019: Training Before Climbing
- Everest 2019: Deadly Crash at Lukla
- Everest 2019: Weekend Update April 14
- Everest 2019: Prayers Before Climbing
- Everest 2019: Avoiding the Icefall
- Everest 2019: First Days in Base Camp
- Everest 2019: Everest Base Camp!
- Everest 2019: The Trekker’s Summit
- Everest 2019: Leaving the Grass
- Everest 2019: Weekend Update April 7
- Everest 2019: When is a Rest day, a Rest Day?
- Everest 2019: Morning View and Prayers at the Monastery
- Everest 2019: Trek to Tengboche Monastery
- Everest 2019: Namche and Everest View
- Everest 2019: The Namche Hill
- Everest 2019: The Trek to EBC Begins
- Everest 2019: Weekend Update March 31
- Everest 2019: Kathmandu Gets Busy
- Everest 2019: Interview with Garrett Madison – A Leader on Everest
- Everest 2019: Stories to Watch This Season
- Everest 2019: Climbers to Watch
- Everest 2019: New Route Attempt on Everest
- Everest 2019: Welcome to Everest 2019 Coverage
Alan – I have been without connectivity, so am just now reading your wrap-up. It, along with your entire season coverage of the Himalayan peaks this spring has been nothing short of brilliant! Thanks so much for all the time and effort you put into this. Looking forward to your upcoming K2 coverage! Take good care, Doug
Did you hear the story of Chris Daly, American citizen who died after a fall while trekking down from base camp? There is a mention to him at Wikipedia, list of fatalities on Mount Everest. My question is shouldn’t this death be included in 2019’s list?
I will miss your posts which I read pre going to bed and helped me fantasize about my dream trip (the Everest base camp trek).
Hope you will be covering K2 this year!
Usually only climbers with an Everest climbing permit are included in the Everest numbers. Yes, working on K2 now.
Alan thank you so much for the incredible insight and exciting coverage as usual. You’ve inspired me to do the EBC trek (I’m not a mountaineer so this will be a major challenge).
I am sure I read in one of your early posts this season about an attempt on Everest in the Autumn window. Is that true and is it still happening?
Yes. Madison Mountaineering on the Nepal side this Autumn. The last Autumn Everest summit was in 2010.
How did it work out for team Cory/Topo?
Great write up! Just a bit of info you seem to be missing. Grand Himalaya treks, owned by Namgya Sherpa had 15 climbers in basecamp. We were three separate teams. In The Company of Guides (my company) had a total of 5.. 2 western guides and 3 climbers. Both guides summited as did 2 of 3 clients. One of the two clients summited Lhotse as well. 65 Degrees (who you quoted) who are British Royal marines were 6 with one American guide. Guide and 5 climbers summited. There was a single Indian woman, who was very strong who summited with Namgya. As well as two Indian: 1 guide and 1 client who climbed Lhotse.
Namgya, the operator and owner of Grand Himalaya is IMO one of the best leaders on the mountain. He has summited 15 times. He also summited 3 times this year. Each of the three groups summited on a different day and Namgya went all three times. First on the 16th, then on the 21st and finally on the 23rd with me and my group. Namgya has guided in Antarctica for 12+ years with myself and many of the worlds top big mountain guides. This experience has given him a different perspective than most Sherpa, and it cultivated a good guide into a great guide. His english is perfect, and he is very organized and safety oriented.
This was my second year guiding Everest. Both years I guided small teams 1-3 people, on highly supported trips. You mentioned this in your write up, but from my perspective small teams are superior in many ways to the larger teams. I personally believe, that as a guide, a personal relationship with your client is indispensable. This relationship can develop on the expedition, but is better to know people before hand…preferably from climbing. Its way easier to turn someone around if they know and respect your decisions. It’s also easier to asses a client you know and have climbed with before. I realize this would be extremely difficult to enforce and convince people of, but previous climbing experience with your Everest guide would solve many of these problems.
I am not one of the big operators on Everest, nor do I intend to make Everest a yearly trip. That said my guiding experience and training will measure up to any guide on the mountain. My perspective, Everest guiding needs to adapt, If guides and guiding companies are held, and hold themselves to a higher standard the clients will follow!
Thank you so much, Alan, for all your hard work over the Everest climbing season; for this very thorough analysis of events; and for doing it in support of Cure Alzheimer’s Fund and other dementia-related charities, as well as for the sheer love of writing about mountaineering.
Congratulations, also, on being the source to whom so many media reports have referred!
Alan : Your keen insight into this climbing season on Everest was excellent. The inexperience of many Everest climbers reminds me of a teenager who just got his driving permit getting the keys to a high performance sports car. Nothing good ever happens in situations like that. You have seen this up close time and time again. They are clearly are those who shouldn’t be up there on Everest with little to no real solid climbing experience. Add the effects on the family’s afterwards when their minimally experienced climber doesn’t make it back home due to something bad happening that they were not prepared for. It becomes a repeating sad scenario every year. Nepal needs to get their act together and stop thinking $$$ . They are the stewards to Everest and the other high peaks within their borders. Right now they clearly aren’t acting responsibly in that duty they have been given .They really need to get their act together before more inexperienced climbers needlessly die .Will it happen soon? Only time will tell. W.C.
Thanks Will. I fully agree.
I’ve been following your blog for the past 3 Seasons and I’m absolutely fascinated by your text and by climbing the Himalayas.
You have decreased the number of deaths caused by the delays in the long lines to four victims.
The question I ask myself is wouldn’t the number of victim be higher than 11 if there were this many inexperienced climbers, as you say?
Yes, difficult year but I fear 11 will be on the low-end if nothing changes.
Thank you Alan for your time spent covering Everest 2019 it was great. I am fascinated by Everest and would like to attempt it one day so I have set my goals they are train for 12 month and attempt summit Island Peak then see how I feel, this is sensible I think ?
Wow! Good for you Tom! Island peak is a 6k meter – no idea how much of a difference there is between a 6k and 8k peak – hope someone who has advice gives it to you – and please listen and don’t buy your way to the top of the world.
Thanks Tom, while this is a tough time, I still feel Everest is a worthy goal for the well prepared. Best of luck!
Once again, wonderful coverage and wrap up! I know that one of the allures of Everest is that it is the tallest peak in the world. But you’ve mentioned that it is not the most difficult. Including Everest if it rates, what would you say are the top 7 most difficult peaks to climb? I think that I may be more impressed by someone summiting another peak – not to take anything away from the success of an Everest bid.
Many, many climbs are much harder than Everest including most of the other 8000ers and a ton of the 6,000 and 7,000 meter peaks around the world. It all depends on the route, including on Everest!
Thanks for your tremendous effort.
It seems that the victim on Annapurna, Dr. Wui Kin Chin, is actually a Malaysian; a lot of other sources indicate that. As a Taiwanese, I was kind of shocked when you first mentioned earlier in one of the coverage articles there was a Taiwanese among the 8000s deaths; then I thought it was probably an error as nobody in Taiwan is talking about this. Seems like a mistake on Dr. Chin’s nationality.
“I find it interesting that some of the largest, newest and oldest Western operators remain silent on the issues this year content to run their operation next year silently approving of what is happening”
Or perhaps they know there’s no point is complaining and miring themselves in needless drama when they know as well as you do that the Nepalese government isn’t going to take action. Best to move on and focus on future climbs. I doubt any of them “silently approve.”
Sometimes being quiet serves no purpose …. even to move on and protect your own business. I suggest they take the long, not the short, view.
For the last two years I’ve spent 8 weeks with you…..mid April through early June. You’ve made the annual Everest season a thrilling experience for many of us. Thank you.
In terms of what happened this year (2019) and what the future looks like (to wit: The Wrap Up), I think you are slightly off base.
My take away re Everest: It Is What It Is. Period. If you don’t like the reality, don’t try it, don’t do it, find something else. Perhaps I’m being too harsh and cynical. Maybe the key take away is: Everest has changed….it’s not like the good old days..
Whatever……the disgusting trash, the dead bodies, the crowd of people packed together at 28,000 feet waiting to go up and down on just one rope, the ever increasing reliance on Sherpa to accomplish the Summit goal, etc, etc, are having a cumulative negative effect….at least on me.
I think all the terrible negative shit has reached a tipping point, and the number of people who want the “Experience” may start to taper off. In addition, the fact that 10,000 people have now submitted may depreciate some of the attraction.
If people seeking the experience tapers off, some of the problems of 2019 may rectify themselves. Let’s hope so.
At any rate, I hope to be with you again in the spring of 2020 Alan.
Thanks again for all you do.
Kent (The Vulgarian).
I agree. If I were not going for any records checking off all the 8000s there is no way Everest would have an appeal to me after this year. Its too commercial, filthy with waste and now bodies and frustrating because of inexperienced climbers. Climbing should be an experience that makes you feel good about yourself for having accomplished something by and for yourself with little assistance. If you need to be coddled and pulled up a mountain putting others at risk that is not climbing. Again greed for money has ruined a good thing.
Not as bad you are put forth. Still a worthy goal in my mind for those wiling to put in the prep work.
Thanks so much for the extensive review of this year’s activity, no other source covers the facts and various perspectives as well as you do. Much appreciated!
Btw, I assume there was no activity on the Kangshung face this year?
Not that I knew of Kevin. It’s really attempted these days.
I’ve been checking back periodically for this! Thank you Alan. I’m going to read it all slowly and carefully. Looks like a major article from you.