Several news organizations reported the deaths of three climbers and a Sherpa on Mt. Everest’s summit this past week along with two missing people. The sudden increase in deaths raises the question: is the climb worth the risk?
As the highest peak on Earth, standing at 29,029 feet, Mt. Everest is a popular destination for mountain climbers. The first official climb was in 1953 and according to Nepal’s tourism department there has been more than 200 deaths since then.
Climbing Mt. Everest isn’t a task that you simply say “sure, why not?” about. It requires a lot of planning, training and acceptance that you might not make it back down. If you saw the film Everest then you got a small look into what goes into a climb.
Even Sherpas, some of the most experienced climbers are subject to tragedy. According to CNN, “Sherpa people are an ethnic group from Nepal who have lived in the high altitudes of the Himalayas for generations. They have long served as guides whose local expertise has been invaluable for foreigners attempting Everest climbs.”
In the past two years, avalanches on the world's highest peak have killed 35 brave climbers. Since last Thursday, four people, including Phurba Sherpa, Eric Arnold, Maria Strydom, and Subash Paul, have died climbing Mount Everest's 29,029-foot peak due to altitude sickness, and others are currently missing or severely ill. Today, we remember all of those who had the courage to risk their lives on their quest to conquer the most dangerous mountain in the world, and those who are still climbing. (#regram: @andy_bardon) #RIP #MtEverest
So what exactly makes Mt. Everest so dangerous? Well, there are several reasons how climbing this peak can end in disaster.
- The weather. Mother Nature is unpredictable, making this one of the top reasons Everest is hazardous. Climbing after heavy snowfall is risky as it can prompt accidental avalanches. When you climb a mountain you are at the mercy of Mother Nature and need to (literally) tread carefully. You can’t force your way up the mountain and instead, need to wait until the weather gives you the opportune time to climb.
- Natural disasters. Avalanches, snowstorms, earthquakes…these are all natural disasters that are hard to predict and can be deadly. A 2014 avalanche killed 13 people (mainly Sherpas) and most recently, a 2015 earthquake sparked avalanches that killed 18 people on Everest. Since these disasters are usually unpredictable, climbers put their lives in the hands of Mother Nature.
- Medical problems. Between snow blindness, mountain sickness, frostbite and hypothermia, there are a lot of signs and symptoms to look out for. Staying hydrated and proper use of oxygen can easily prevent some of these conditions. However, even with the best preparation the most experienced climbers can succumb to medical problems. High Altitude Cerebral (HACE) and Pulmonary (HAPE) Edema are serious conditions you can encounter during climbing. Both Cerebral and Pulmonary Edema are caused when fluid collects inside the brain/lungs causing motor functions to fail, vomiting, sleepiness and even hallucinations. These two conditions can kill you fast and the best way to avoid it is to slowly acclimate your body rather than pushing it to its limits.
- Experience. You need some climbing experience before you decide to tackle Everest. The more experience you have, the safer you will be on top of the mountain. A Mt. Everest climbing site recommends climbing for often for 2-3 years, including some high Alpine climbs in order to prepare.
- Oxygen. Having an ample supply of oxygen is key to successfully completing a climb on Everest. The previously mentioned climbing site says that you shouldn’t attempt an Everest climb without oxygen unless you are “an experienced +8000-meter/26000 ft. climber, with at least one previous experience at 8500-meters/28000 ft. without oxygen.” Even then your Sherpa should have a spare oxygen bottle for you in case of emergency.
- The ropes. This is one of the variables that is essentially out of your hands unless you’re an expedition leader or a Sherpa hired to fix the ropes. The ropes are a necessity for climbing and in the past, all climbing groups shared the responsibility of paying for and fixing the ropes. Now, the nearly $20,000 cost typically falls on the shoulders of whichever expedition group does it first. This is because most climbers don’t return to Everest. They simply climb once or twice in their life and are done. These ropes can be a danger to climbers because if they aren’t fixed on time it can mess with the climbing schedule and if they aren’t done properly then people can get injured or die.
If you’re thinking of climbing Everest, you should be aware of the dangers listed above and plan your trip carefully. Research where you are purchasing your oxygen from, the expedition group you plan to join and properly acclimate your body to prevent medical problems.
Are you a mountain climber? Would you ever take the risk and attempt to summit Everest?
*Feature photo originally posted on Instagram by @eddiebauer