Is climbing Mount Everest a suicide mission in disguise?

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Is climbing Mount Everest a suicide mission in disguise?
Image by Peter Anta from Pixabay

Three climbers, on the week ending May, perished on Mt. Everest pushing the death toll to nine in the 2019 climbing season alone. At 8848 meters (29,029 ft), Mount Everest is undeniably the world’s highest mountain, and owing to its exclusive height, this landmark has for years remained a tempting target for hoards of mountaineers seeking to satisfy their appetite for a record-breaking adventure. But did you know that a hike to this sky-scraping peak is a handshake with death?

Who died on Everest most recently?

Nepal’s director of the tourism department Mr. Meera Acharya confirmed two of the deaths that occurred on the Nepali side. Dhruba Bista a Nepali climbing guide was picked up by a helicopter after falling ill only to die at the base camp on Friday, May 25th.

The next day, Robin Haynes Fisher also died as descended from the summit. The British climber succumbed to complications that were closely related to altitude sickness at 28,215 feet.

On Friday morning, 56-year-old Kevin Hynes from Ireland died in his tent on the Tibetan side of the Everest at 22,966 feet or 7000 meters. According to the UK Press Association report, the father of two was hiking with a group from a UK based company known as 360 Expeditions.

Hynes had climbed 8300 meters on Wednesday, May 23rd but changed his mind and turned back the next day in the safe company of experienced guide Dawa Sangee.

In a statement of condolence, 360 expeditions said Hynes was “one of the strongest and most experienced climbers on our team,”

Earlier that week, a multitude of climbers was stuck in a queue to the peak somewhere above Mt. Everest’s highest camp at 26,247 feet (8000 meters). As a result, an American climber Donald Lynn Cash, 55, died on Wednesday, May 23rd.

Two more Indian climbers, Nihal Bagwan, 27 and Kalpana Das, on Thursday, May 24th succumbed to the harsh high altitude conditions and died on their way down from the summit.

Earlier on, on May 17th, a 28year old Indian climber only going the name Ravi passed away in similar circumstances.

Quick facts about Mount Everest

  • Countries: Nepal and China
  • Mountain range: Himalayas
  • First ascent: May 29th, 1953
  • Elevation: 8848 meters
  • Deaths: over 300

Another traffic jam victim Anjali Kulkarni added to the list of casualties when she died while on her way down from the peak. The vagaries of Mt Everest’s high altitude circumvented Anjali’s over twenty-five years of climbing experience and brought her adventurous career to an icing end.

Speaking to CNN, her grief-stricken son Shantanu Kulkarni said his mum had successfully scaled Mount Elbrus in Russia and the East African Mount Kilimanjaro before. He was at a loss to explain why tragedy struck at a time when she was only trying to take her mountain climbing ventures to a new level.

Further details revealed that Kulkarni, who previously co-owned an advertising agency with her husband, had been training to climb Mount Everest for a whole six years.  “They both retired to pursue their dream of standing atop Mount Everest,” Shantanu said

According to Pioneer Adventure Pvt. Ltd, Donald Lynn Cash collapsed at an altitude of about 28,700 feet or 8770 meters. The company’s statement read in part, “Despite our team’s best efforts in providing the best guidance, sufficient oxygen supplies, and medical support, they could not save his life.”

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

When reached for a comment, the director general of Nepal’s Tourism Department, Mr. Danduraj Ghimire rubbished claims that Cash and Kulkarni deaths were caused by heavy traffic as “baseless.”

He attributed the duo’s death to high altitude sickness insisting that it is the main reason behind most other deaths witnessed as well.

That same week, the search for a Seamus Lawless a 39 year Trinity College Dublin professor was called off due to harsh high altitude conditions and what the professor’s family called “a treacherous impossible range of the search that would endanger another person’s life.”

The professor tripped and fell while descending the peak.

There is no denying that many people lose their lives on Mt.Everest’s and the death toll for the year 2019 climbing season has been unusually high. In 2018, for example, only five climbers reportedly died while six deaths happened in both 2016 and 2017.

Why do people still take the risk to climb Mount Everest?

Each climbing season gathers news of successful firsts, reports of mountain top gridlock and jaw dropping tales of tragedy on the world’s tallest mountain. This notwithstanding, base camp is never in short supply of climbers agitating to shake hands with death.

The question is, what spell does Mount Everest cast on hikers to find it so alluring as to ignore all the risks and clear signs of danger?

Most likely, each climber will have their own opinion on this, but studies have shown that risk takers look at such dangerous attempts in a very different way from those who avoid those behaviors. Some hikers find themselves at base camp driven by an enduring dream that inspires profound reverence and intense preparation.

Image by Jing Zhang from Pixabay

It would have been an uphill task, for example, to restrain Anjali Kulkarni from taking the hike after her six years of preparation.

Speaking about the subject, respected Everest blogger Alan Arnette said: “It’s like a light to bugs that attract people once they hear about it.”

The current urge to scale Mount Everest began when over 150 years ago, British surveyors declared that the 29,029 ft peak was the world’s tallest.  Immediately every explorer wanted to become the first to reach on top of it.

Hamilton College historian Maurice Isserman observed “From the moment it was identified as the highest mountain, it became an object of fascination,”

By and large, the risk-taking behavior is vast and more intricate than psychologists once imagined. When Clarkson University psychologist Andreas Wilke, challenged some risk takers to evaluate their behaviors, he only realized that the majority don’t even consider what they do as risky.

Interestingly, most of those who engage in chilling activities like SCUBA diving and bungee jumping have bought comprehensive car insurance.

Certainly, extreme risk takers do not necessarily live on the edge all the time. It seems that they do what other people perceive as dangerous because of a developed skill set that inspires their confidence. Others simply find the benefits of taking the risk outweighing the fears involved. To put it simply, the balance of rewards and risks varies from one person to the other.

How many more people have perished on Mount Everest?

Since 1922 when the first death was recorded, 300 or more people have died while scaling the summit of Mount Everest. The only year that went in the record without a death on the mountain is 1977, and this was the time that only two climbers got to the summit.

How do people die on Everest?

The majority of deaths have been as a result of

  • sweeping avalanches,
  • Frostbite
  • Injuries from fall
  • serac collapse
  • Arising health complications and more

The upper reach of the mountain is in what mountaineers call a death zone. This a high altitude (above 8000 m or 26000 ft) where the oxygen level ceases to be sufficient for human consumption.

The majority of deaths are attributed mainly to the direct or indirect effects of the death zone. You may directly lose your vital organ functions or indirectly suffer by making poor decisions due to intense physical exhaustion and emotional stress.

Without supplementary oxygen in this zone, one is unlikely to cope because the rate of oxygen consumption is way higher than the intake. Therefore staying without an artificial oxygen supply is courtship with death because most body functions will deteriorate and result in loss of consciousness and eventual death.

Mount Everest’s peak might have gobbled up many lives before, but the first recorded incident was in 1922 when seven porters perished in a furious avalanche during a British Mount Everest expedition.

Babu Chiri Sherpa set a new record by climbing the mountain ten times and in 1999 he executed a superhuman feat by chilling at the top of Everest Mountain for 21hrs without supplementary oxygen.  He also scaled the mountain to its summit twice in a fortnight and set the 16hr 56 minutes records of climbing from base camp to the peak.

But as the saying goes, too much of something is poisonous.  Eventually, Babu tripped and crashed into his death near camp two in 2001.

One of the most tragic deaths occurred on May 11th, 1996, where eight climbers died as they attempted to make history. During this climbing season, fifteen people died turning 1996 into the worst single year in mountaineering history (till then).

In the 2014/2015 climbing seasons, Everest tragedies claimed more than a dozen people. An avalanche on April 18th, 2014 swept over the base camp and killed 16 Sherpas.  The following year on April 25th, 2015, another avalanche that was triggered by a massive earthquake rammed through the base camp, killing 19 people.

How many dead bodies are on Mount Everest?

Unfortunately, when these tragedies happen, rarely are bodies brought down for honorable send-offs. This is due to the dangers and difficulties that characterize the search mission. It is therefore hard to draw an accurate account of the bodies that are mummified on Mount Everest. In 1999 searchers looking for George Mallory’s body near around the peak stumbled over several bodies buried in the snow, Mallory’s body included. Earlier on October 24th, 1984 while seeking to recover Hannelore Schmatz’s body, two experienced Nepalese climbers perished never to be found.

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