It’s always tough to characterize an Everest season, so I’ll give it a few more days to let everything settle before posting my season summary. But one thing is clear, 2023 is the deadliest season ever, and some routine mountaineering practices are broken.
Nepal issued a record 478 climbing permits to foreigners. Add in one and a half Sherpa support for each foreigner; over 1,200 people pursued the summit this spring. Fears were rampant of a 2019 repeat with long lines and deaths. The lines never developed, thanks in part to colder weather that sent a higher number of climbers home in mid-season, many with a persistent virus.
Thirteen deaths are confirmed, and four remain missing. The seventeen deaths are the highest in Everest history, exceeding the sixteen in 2014, and one of the highest for clients at seven. On Kanchenjunga, a professional guide climbing for himself, i.e., not guiding a client, Luis Stitzinger, has been found dead at 8,400m. His logistics operator, Seven Summits Treks, has asked for substantial money to recover his body for the family.
The season was chaotic, and as more climbers return home, I’m hearing of more and more chaos. However, to be clear, many, many climbers achieved their dreams and came home proud of their accomplishments, as they should
The season saw around 600 total summits by members and Sherpas, with the majority being Sherpas.
Here are some storylines I’ll cover in the season summary:
Multiple local and foreign teams reported summits from the Nepal side: 7 Summit Club, 8K Expeditions, 14 Peaks, Altitude Junkies, Climbalaya, Climbing the Seven Summits, Dreamer’s Destination, Elite, Furtenbach Adventures, Imagine Nepal, IMG, Kaitu, Pioneer Adventures, Summit Climb, and Seven Summit Treks.
An estimated 600 reached the summit, about 50% of the total permits with support. I estimate that more Sherpas, 350, summited than clients, 250.
Sixteen Chinese climbers summited from the Tibet side. They were performing maintenance of the weather station installed last year near the summit.
What stole the headlines were the seemingly daily reports of rescues, frostbite, missing climbing, and deaths. The root cause of the chaos remains elusive. Some blame the record permit numbers, inexperienced clients, and low-cost operators. However, Nepal government officials cite climate change.
Treating frostbite cases has become a critical issue, even for those back in Kathmandu. A young Sherpa summited Everest last week and suffered severe frostbite and is about to lose all his fingers.
Multiple reports of helicopter rescues were a daily occurrence, with pockets of high winds creating significant frostbite to climbers. There were probably 200 flights to Camp 2 over the season, according to sources from base camp.
Kami Rita Sherpa, 53, set a new Everest record at twenty-eight, exceeding Pasang Dawa Sherpa, 48, at twenty-seven. British guide, Kenton Cool,49, set a non-Sherpa summit record at seventeen.
Meanwhile, Norwegian Kristin Harla continued her project to summit all fourteen of the 8000-meter peaks in six months, with summits of seven in Nepal.
It was also an impressive season for climbers with disabilities. I’ll cover them all in the summary.
Catalan mountain runner Kilian Jornet made a valiant attempt on Everest’s West Ridge alone and without supplemental oxygen but turned back after he triggered an avalanche that carried him 150 feet down the mountain.
It was not a good year for climbers attempting to summit without supplemental oxygen. Multiple people tried, and all but one Pakistani, Sajidali Sadpara, turned back.
Tragically, on May 25, Hungarian Szilard Suhajda, climbing alone with no Sherpa support and without supplemental oxygen, went missing and is presumed dead.
Another headline from the season was a series of thefts at the South Col. Multiple companies, including Adventure Consultants, Arnold Coster Expeditions, Climbing the Seven Summits, and Furtenbach Adventures, reported the theft of cooking gear, tents, and oxygen bottles.
After several seasons of cleaning Everest and high-profile Nepali operators raising money to remove the trash, report after report is coming in that the high camps are in horrible condition, especially Camp 4 at the South Col. I wonder where all that money went.
Reports of missing climbers became a regular event. There are still three foreigners and one Sherpa guide missing.
As of this writing, thirteen people lost their lives on Everest, and four remain missing. The death toll is the third highest in Everest history, matching 2015, and one of the highest for clients at seven. If the lost are declared dead, 2023 will become the deadliest at seventeen. The 2015 earthquake took nineteen to twenty-one lives at Everest Base Camp, but some were not climbing; thus, 2023 is the deadliest for Everest climbers.
Why So Many Deaths?
Some feel the cause of the deaths lies with inexperienced climbers joining low-cost operators. I’ll explore this theory with both Nepali and Western guides, but there is a clear difference of opinion.
Without an apparent reason for the record deaths, changes will not come quickly, if at all. Historically, changes that could reduce tourism revenue for the Nepal Government or operators have been rejected. I’ll review the changes that could save lives while not hurting revenue in summary.
It’s clear that Nepal authorities and operators are not caring for the mountain or, in some cases, their customers. There are too many preventable deaths, the inexcusable trashing of the mountains, and greedy practices that line pockets at the expense of the environment and customers.
From 1922 to May 20, 2023, 193 members and 125 Sherpas died on Everest on both sides by all routes. The top causes of death for all 323 deaths include avalanches (78), falls (72), Acute Mountain Sickness-AMS (38), exhaustion (28), illness-non-AMS (27), and exposure (26).
The top years for deaths on both sides, by all routes, were 2014 (16), 1996 (15), 2015 (13), 2019 (11), 1982 (11), and 1988 (10). These are the deaths during this 2023 spring season:
1-3. On April 12: Tenjing Sherpa, Lakpa Sherpa, and Badure Sherpa, all working for Nepali operator Imagine Nepal, died when the upper section of the Icefall collapsed
4. May 1: American Jonathan Sugarman, 69, died at Camp 2 climbing with American operator International Mountain Guides (IMG)
5. May 16: Phurba Sherpa passed away near Yellow Band above Camp 3. He was part of the Nepal Army Mountain Clean-up campaign
6. May 17: Moldovan climber Victor Brinza died at the South Col with Nepali operator Himalayan Traverse Adventure
7. May 18: Chinese Xuebin Chen, 52, died near the South Summit with Nepali operator 8K Expeditions
8. May 20: Malaysian Ag Askandar Bin Ampuan Yaacub got above South Summit, then became ill and died. He was climbing with Nepali operator Pioneer Adventures
9. May 21: Australian Jason Bernard Kennison, 40, died near the Balcony. He was with Asian Trekking
10. May 23: Ang Kami Sherpa, cook staff, died at Camp 2. He worked for Peak Promotion
11. May 24: South African Dr. Pieter Swart, 63, reportedly died after turning back at the South Col. Team unknown
12. May 18: There was another death, Indian Suzanne Leopoldina Jesus, 59, who intended to climb Everest but left EBC ill and died in Lukla, so not technically a climbing death.
13. May 25, Hungarian Szilard Suhajda, climbing alone with no Sherpa support and without supplemental oxygen, went missing and is presumed dead
2023 Missing and Presumed Dead
14. May 23: Malaysian Hawari Bin Hashim, 33, remains missing
15. May 23: Indian Singaporean Shrinivas Sainis Dattatray remains missing
16 & 17. May 25: Janakpur-based Ranjit Kumar Shah and his Sherpa guide Lakpa Nuru Sherpa have been out of contact since reaching the South Summit on May 25.
Nepal RECORD Permit Update as of May 14, 2023
Government officials say they will not issue any more Everest climbing permits this season, stopping at a record of 478. The previous Everest record was 408 for the 2021 season of 408. Nepal issued climbing permits for 1,176 climbers from 80 countries for 27 peaks. Looking at Everest only, China has the largest representation with 97 members, followed by the US at 89, India–at 40, Canada-21, and Russia-20. There are 44 countries represented by three or fewer climbers.
These permits have generated $5.8M in royalties for the government. Almost all of this revenue stays in Kathmandu, with some in various personal pockets and none to the Sherpas, porters, or other high-altitude workers. The Nepal Ministry of Tourism posted these foreign permit tallies as of May 14, 2022:
- Everest: 478 on 47 teams
- Lhotse: 156 on 17 teams
- Ama Dablam: 79 on 8 teams
- Nuptse: 63 on 6 teams (only a few will attempt to summit, most will stop at C2)
- Makalu: 63 on 9 teams
- Annapurna I: 54 on 5 teams
- Kanchenjunga: 44 on 5 teams
- Himlung: 41 on 5 teams
- Dhaulagiri: 37 on 4 teams
- Manaslu: 15 on 4 teams
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