A queue of climbers on the Hillary Step of Mount Everest is shown in a May 22, 2019 handout photo.Mark Ballard / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canadian climber says crowding on Mount Everest is just one factor in death count

Everest claims multiple victims each year, often in the ‘death zone’ above 8,000 metres

A climber from Newfoundland and Labrador who made it to the top of Mount Everest during a season marked by multiple deaths says he feels that crowding at the final ascent is just one among several safety problems.

Mark Ballard said Monday that when he came to the last portion of the climb there was a chaotic scene of lineups as a number of expedition companies attempted to reach the summit under last week’s bright and clear skies in the Himalayas.

Ballard says his Sherpa guide was instrumental in navigating his way through the crowds, especially on the final Hillary Step, swiftly taking him around slower groups and reducing his waiting time in the frigid, thin air.

Still, he said there was a 1.5-hour wait on the way down from the summit due to the queues of climbers lining the route on May 22.

Ballard says he believes there needs to be “work on qualification of climbers” attempting the summit, as he noticed some continued to climb despite difficulties adjusting to the altitude.

He also says some climbers lacked knowledge, such as the protocols when two climbers meet as one is ascending and the other descending on the same rope.

“It was chaos coming down for sure,” the Canadian climber said in an emailed comment.

“That (the descent) was all about staying warm, my right foot was freezing.”

A photo he provided shows a line of dozens of climbers making their way up and down on May 22.

“I think that part of what happened came down to the smaller weather window this year, which required many companies to push into a small amount of days,” Ballard said.

Trevor Day, an associate professor of physiology at Mount Royal University in Calgary, says high altitudes can cause all climbers to lose strength and can lead to sickness — but inexperienced climbers may not have a strong sense of their own limits.

“If you have experience getting sick and being up there, you have a sense of what you can do and what you cannot do,” he said.

The Associated Press has reported a number of May deaths on the world’s highest peak, which is about 8,850 metres high and commonly requires about two months of trekking to summit.

Indian climber Ravi Thakar, 28, died during the third week of May while sleeping in his tent at Mount Everest’s highest camp site.

An Irish climber, Seamus Lawless, was missing after falling while returning from Everest’s summit.

CNN reported that Robin Haynes Fisher died at about 8,600 metres while descending from the summit on May 25, noting he had commented on the overcrowding in his final social media post.

The body of Indian climber Ravi Kumar was spotted on May 20, but it was impossible to retrieve the body, after the climber fell some 200 metres.

Climbers from the United States, Slovakia and Australia also died on the mountain over the May 18-19 weekend.

Everest claims multiple victims each year, often in the “death zone” above 8,000 metres, where the air is too thin to sustain human life.

For example, in 2017, 648 people summited Everest, according to the non-profit Himalayan Database. Six people were confirmed to have died on the mountain that year, one of them on the north side.

Eric Simonson, a partner in International Mountain Guides, said in a telephone interview that his company takes safety measures that include multiple Sherpas carrying additional oxygen tanks when there’s a lineup on the final ascent.

“It’s just the way the cards got dealt this year …. Unfortunately the weather didn’t come good until the very end (of May) and everybody had to go,” he said in a telephone interview from the firm’s headquarters in Ashford, Wash.

He said on May 22 his company had eight climbers and 11 Sherpas going up to the summit.

“We went up with abundant extra oxygen and manpower …. It wasn’t optimal, but I’d rather have people standing in line on a nice day than battling a whiteout.”

Simonson said ensuring safety — whether it be additional Sherpa guides or training of the mountaineers — costs money.

“The teams that spend the money can create greater safety margins for their customers, and the teams that are bare-boned, they don’t have those resources,” he said.

The Associated Press reported that the Nepalese Tourism Department issued a record 371 permits this year to people to scale the mountain. The increased number of climbers this year is likely because many people were unable to climb in 2014 and 2015, when deadly avalanches disrupted the climbing seasons.

— Follow (at)mtuttoncpor on Twitter.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Alberta RCMP offers tips for water safety this summer

Since 2016, 57 people have drowned in Alberta

‘Alberta Long Ears’ in Stettler Aug. 10th-11th.

Established in 1989, the Alberta Donkey & Mule Club is an offshoot of the national organization

Communities in Bloom judges check out Stettler’s finest features

National and International results will be announced in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in September

Buccaneers pillage Irish 36-0

Central Alberta bounces back after off week against Wolfpack

Alberta Prairie Railways marks 30 unforgettable in the biz

Tickets purchased this year go to a special ‘luxury’ train ride for 30 guests

VIDEO: Calgary, Flames agree to terms on new NHL arena

The proposed 19,000-seat facility would replace the Saddledome at an estimated cost of $550 million

Weather Network’s anti-meat video ‘doesn’t reflect true story’: cattle ranchers

At issue is the video’s suggestion that cutting back on meat consumption could help save the planet

VIDEO: Missing teens named as suspects in three northern B.C. killings

Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky are wanted in the deaths of Lucas Fowler, Chynna Deese, unknown man

Alberta ahead of average tornado count at 17 so far this year

The province’s average over the past 30 years has been 12 tornadoes per year

The Beaverton’s sharp satire thrives in polarized political climate

Canadian TV series’ third season to air Tuesday on CTV after “The Amazing Race Canada”

VIDEO: Bystander training gains traction as tool to prevent sexual harassment, violence

Julia Gartley was sexually assaulted after an event, and no one stepped in to help

Sexual assaults, extortion on the rise even as crime rates stay low: Stats Canada

Rates of police-reported sexual assault rose for the fourth year in a row

A year later, ceremony commemorates victims of the Danforth shooting

It’s the one-year anniversary of when a man opened fire along the bustling street before shooting and killing himself

Ottawa fights planned class action against RCMP for bullying, intimidation

The current case is more general, applying to employees, including men, who worked for the RCMP

Most Read