The number of climbers who have died climbing Mount Everest this season has risen to eight, after the body of a missing Chinese climber was found at 8,600 metres on the north side of the mountain yesterday.
Ha Wenyi, 55, was the fourth to have died over the weekend as hundreds of climbers finally had a chance to make their bid for the summit when high winds at the top of the mountain lifted for a few days. An unnamed Nepalese climber is still missing.
The three other mountaineers confirmed dead were named as Eberhard Schaaf, a 61-year-old doctor from Germany, a Nepalese-born Canadian businesswoman, Shriya Shah-Klorfine, 33, and Song Wong-Bin, a 24-year-old South Korean, one of a group of 10 former pupils of a high school in the city of Daejeon.
All three were descending from the summit on Saturday. Sherpa Ang Tsering of Asian Trekking, which organised Schaaf’s expedition, said the German had probably died of altitude sickness at the mountain’s south summit. He said Shah-Klorfine had collapsed on a feature called the Balcony, just below it.
The weekend’s deaths bring the total on the mountain this season to eight. It has been a typically busy year on the mountain, with 32 expeditions involving 750 climbers.
Conditions on the mountain have been unusually warm, and low snowfall increased the risk of falling stones at certain key points on the route from the Nepalese side. Sherpas working for expedition outfitter Himalayan Experience reported working in T-shirts at base camp at the start of the climbing season in early April.
Himalayan Experience pulled its climbers and sherpas off the mountain in mid May because of the threat of falling rocks and ice, particularly in the notorious Khumbu icefall which flows downhill from the Western Cwm. For every journey a climber makes through this labyrinth of ice cliffs and crevasses, the sherpas who keep their clients supplied have to make as many as 10.
Tom Briggs, of Sheffield-based expedition outfitter Jagged Globe, said the unusual conditions had not caused the latest deaths. “I don’t think you can suggest that they’re related,” he said.
Jagged Globe’s team, led by David Hamilton, postponed their summit bid to evacuate Pem Chirri, one of their sherpas who was injured working above Camp III.
“That put us back 24 hours and we could see that the weather window was closing with high winds forecast,” he added.
Everest wasn’t climbed this year until sherpas fixed ropes to the top on Friday, unusually late in the mountain’s recent history. The promise of good weather on Saturday led to hundreds of climbers moving up to the top camp on the South Col in Nepal and also to the top camp on the Tibetan side.
Briggs said the first summit climbers left camp at 9pm local time on Friday, moving up through the hours of darkness to reach the top the next morning. Many guides say climbers should turn around by 1pm at the latest, but witnesses on the mountain say that there were still people queuing at the Hillary Step, just below the top, at 2.30pm, waiting for their turn to go up. A Jagged Globe sherpa reported seeing the lights of descending at the south summit at 7.30pm.
“That’s a hell of a lot of standing around,” Briggs said. “That certainly increases the dangers of frostbite and other problems like high-altitude sickness.” By Sunday morning, climbers at the South Col returning from the summit were reporting strong winds. A second wave of summit attempts is expected on Thursday and Friday, when the high winds currently battering the mountain are forecasted to lift.
Kenton Cool, who is carrying the 1924 Olympic medal of Everest pioneer Arthur Wakefield to the summit, spent Monday resting at Camp 2, just above the icefall, and is planning to reach the summit later in the week