Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: In my gardens or online
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Last weekend brought carnage to the Death Zone on Everest. In total six people died - arguably most or all the result of bad judgement.
Everest is one of the world's Big Dreams. For decades before it was originally summitted, it fascinated mountaineers of all abilities. As complicated as getting there is today, never mind climbing it, back in the first half of the 20the century it was an even more daunting task. It entailed mounting expeditions of exploration of truly heroic proportions. Obtaining financing for those without independent means sometimes took years & a lot of hard selling. By today's standards, equipment was appallingly inadequate. It took a combination of great courage, chtuzpah & in many ways, a measure of enormous hubris to the point of stupidity to do this.
George Mallory had already been on the 1st two British expeditions to everest, in 1921 & 1922 and was preparing for his 3rd & ultimately fatal attempt in 1924 when he gave his simple & famous quote when asked WHY climb Everest - with its forbidding, foreboding approaches & bleak vistas: "Because it is there."
"Because it's there." For most modern climbers, that no longer means very much. For many, it's a great personal challenge. We've had blind climbers, deaf climbers, amputees, older seniors & teens successfully summit Everest. Sadly, we also see far too many wealthy people make the attempt because they can afford to do so. And equally unfortunately, we have expedition companies who aren't stringent about assuring a client is adequately prepared.
Make no mistake - climbing the Big Ones is an enormous challenge & once you get above the death zone, everything changes. Yes the body can acclimatize over time, if said acclimatization is done carefully. But that can only happen to a point & even with supplentantal oxygen, the vast majority of people do poorly over 8000 meters in altitude. Doing poorly is understating matters. Body tissues start dying. Fun issues such as dehydration, shutting down of the digestive system, alkalosis, cerebral & pulmonary edema kick in. They're unpredictable. A person who's summitted successfully 6 times may, on the 7th expedition, get to camp 2 & have to pack ity in - the body just isn't having it.
Careful training, religiously carried out & hopefully monitored by an experienced haigh altitude mounatineer can help tremendously but is no guarantee of successful adaptation. And sadly, you can 'cheat' your way up the mountain to a certain degree. A slower climb & being short roped up the roughest parts by a Sherpa are or used to be, common enough. Short roping literally means you're tied to a Sherpa with a shortish length of rope & they haul you up or help your efforts.
In recent years, more & more people have found the means to try their luck on Everest. China & Nepal have handed out lots of climbing permits - it's lucrative. It provides work for the Sherpas & yaks, expeditions spend money on hotels, food, supplies to go up, transportation & there's a growing base camp tourist industry. Most years, it more or less works.
And then you hit a year like this year, where the weather sucks. The monsoon arrives - usually in late May & early June, bringing unbelievable storms & snowfall to the mountain. Before that, there's winter to deal with with its storms. The summit window is pretty short - usually a few weeks & within those few weeks, conditions are not often ideal.
This year, the weather has been flat out atrocious & we saw the results last weekend. Hundreds of eager climbers piled up in the worst possible place - near or above 8000 meters where they had to wait their turn to go up the very narrow path. It's the same path you need to use to go down & trail etiquette can become... interesting.
A climber may have paid $60k for their share of a permit. They've had to buy all their kit & it had better be excellent stuff - that's not cheap. They've invested, (hopefully), a lot of time training & preparing. There's a lot on the line. Now... they're most of the way up a mountain & waiting for their chance at the summit. They may have to literally wait for a few hours on oxygen. Every minute they're at that altitude, their body is breaking down. Judgement lapses badly & they can get pretty stubborn. They focus on the trip UP, forgetting the trip back down is just as hazardous as the summit attempt. A great many climbers have made it to the top only to die on the way down.
Over 230 people, (known), have died on Everest. Over 200 bodies remain up there. Some simply disappear. Storms, fallng into crevasses or down an ice face or wandering off from their tent at night. Some die within sight of others, in the arms of others or with others. Climbers pass bodies all the way up - you'd think that offers plenty of opportunities for sober, second thought. Whether it does or not, climbers sign waivers before joining an expedition - one that makes it clear that in the event of death on the mountain, there's no guarantee bodies can be recovered.
Currently in the news in Canada, many are following attempts to bring down the body of Canadian climber Shriya Shah who died last weekend. She'd made it to the top but died soon after beginning her descent of exhaustion & altitude sickness. A team of Sherpas reached her, got her down to The Balcony - a tiny 'rest stop' still in the Death Zone, then had to leave her there as bad weather came in. What really irks me is how a lot of news attempts have described this as 'a failure to bring her body down'. Failure? GETTING to her body - just below the summit is a magnificent accomplishment in & of itself. At that altitude, you take a step, then stop & rest - breathing up to ten times before you're physically capable of taking the next step. You get weaker every step up you take.
These men; I've read between 6-8 of them - are going to be pretty weak after just getting to her body. Then, they faced the job of fastening her to a tarp & attaching ropes to that so they could start a controlled slide of her body downwards. Sounds easy, doesn't it? But they're weak & they have to take the same trail DOWN that a ton of climbers are once again stacked up on heading up - last chance to summit before the monsoon hits & even after last weekend, they're stacked up like cordwood or were - as of earlier today Nepal time.
Going down is fraught with danger. Each step has to be planned, measured & very deliberately taken. You may be low on bottled oxygen. You're dehydrated & low on energy. Your brain isn't reliable. People have reported hallucinations & have seen people literally walk off the edges of ridges, convinced they were on flat ground. The world may appear unreal. It's difficult enough to get yourself & your pack & oxygen rig down. Having to struggle with balancing a loaded 'toboggan' that wants to drag YOU to your death is no easy additional task.
The team had to give up & get themselves down the mountain. They're going to give it one more shot - try to get her down to camp 2 from where her body can be air evaced to where her family can claim her. I'm not sure what's motivating this - a sense of responsability on the part of the expedition company. Extra money for the sherpas, guilt... I don't know.
Bad enough this woman & others - died. It would be a travesty if others died trying to bring her body down.
Shush - because the sofa bears don't know.