Wednesday 16 October 2019

More climbers die in Everest 'traffic jam' - death toll so far this season higher than 2018

Death toll so far this season higher than the five killed in 2018, writes Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu

Peak hold-up: The queue to ascend the summit of Everest last week. Photo: Nirmal Purja
Peak hold-up: The queue to ascend the summit of Everest last week. Photo: Nirmal Purja

Another climber too weak to descend from Mount Everest has died. The British climber passed away yesterday, becoming the eighth climber to die on the world's tallest mountain and the 18th in Nepal's Himalayas during this climbing season.

Hiking officials attributed most of the deaths to weakness, exhaustion and delays on the crowded route to the 8,850m (29,035 feet) summit.

Robin Haynes Fisher (44) died in the so-called "death zone" known for low levels of oxygen on descent from the summit, an official said.

He is the eighth fatality on Everest in a climbing season that ends this month.

"He died because of weakness after a long ascent and difficult descent," Murari Sharma of the Everest Parivar Treks company that arranged his logistics told reporters. "He was descending with his sherpa guides from the summit when he suddenly fainted."

Fellow guides changed Fisher's oxygen bottle and offered him water, but could not save him, Sharma said.

Last Friday, Irish climber Kevin Hynes (56) died in his tent at 7,000 metres in the early hours the morning, after turning back before reaching the summit. The father of two was part of a group from UK-based climbing company 360 Expeditions which was attempting to scale the world's highest mountain.

His death comes a week after Trinity College professor Seamus (Shay) Lawless, from Bray, Co Wicklow, fell during his descent from the peak having achieved a lifetime ambition of reaching the summit.

A recovery operation is under way.

In a statement, 360 Expeditions said: "It is with the greatest sadness that we have to confirm that one of our Everest team has passed away.

"Kevin was one of the strongest and most experienced climbers on our team, and had previously summited Everest South and Lhotse."

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it was aware of reports of the death of an Irish citizen on the north slopes of Mount Everest. "We stand ready to provide consular assistance," a spokesman said.

The company said Mr Hynes reached Camp 3 at 8,300m last Wednesday. Butthe next day, while other climbers in the team headed higher, Mr Hynes began his descent accompanied by experienced Sherpa Dawa Sangee, who had himself made the summit of Everest South twice, Everest North and Makalu twice.

"Kevin passed away in his tent at the North Col at 7,000m in the early hours (Nepali time) of May 24," the company confirmed.

"His wonderful wife, Bernadette and two children, Erin and James, are comforted by all the communication that Kevin sent out from his expedition, letting them know that, 'this was proving the most fun he had had on any one of his expeditions and the team was amazing and that he was loving being with [mountaineer] Rolfe Oostra'."

The company added: "Our heartfelt thoughts and condolences are with all Kevin's family and his friends. He really was a wonderful man and it was a great privilege to have him on our team."

The latest search to locate the body of Seamus Lawless (39) began last Wednesday, close to where he fell. Eight high-altitude Sherpa climbers are involved in the operation.

The family of Mr Lawless, a father of one, launched a fundraising campaign to help finance expensive search and recovery efforts.

His relatives, who said Mr Lawless's insurers were not assisting in the search, set up a GoFundMe page seeking the public's help to raise the money needed to gather a team of Sherpas to find him.

It has a target of €750,000. More than €265,000 has been pledged to date.

Mountaineering has become a lucrative business for Nepal since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made the first ascent of Everest in 1953.

This year is likely to be a busy year for people reaching the summit. The Himalayan nation has issued a record 381 permits, costing €10,000 each, for this year's spring climbing season, sparking fears of bottlenecks en route to the summit if poor weather cuts down the number of climbing days. With each climber normally accompanied by at least one Sherpa guide, the mountain is likely to see more than 750 climbers treading the path to the top.

The short spring climbing season only normally allowed seven to 12 good-weather days to reach the summit. So far in 2019, there had only been two good-weather breaks, consisting of a total of five days. With so few opportunities and so many permits, it difficult to squeeze that many people through the notorious bottlenecks on both sides.

Between five and 10 climbers die on Mount Everest in an average climbing year. The mountain's popularity has also led to complaints it is turning into a high-altitude dump, as the slopes -become ridden with discarded oxygen bottles and rubbish.


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