A Colorado man became the 11th person to die while climbing Mount Everest in what has been a particularly devastating season for those trying to summit the highest mountain in the world.
Christopher John Kulish is the second American to perish on the Himalayas this year amid concerns that “traffic jams” on the mountains are causing people to die of exhaustion and tiredness due to the risky delays they face. According to The Daily Mail, the 62-year-old managed to get to the top of Everest on Monday after climbing the Southeast Ridge route, but he died at South Col as he descended from the peak. The cause of his death still remains unclear.
The “heartbroken” family of Kulish, who was a lawyer, paid him tribute in an emotional statement, saying he “saw his last sunrise from the highest peak on Earth” and “passed away doing what he loved.” He left behind his mother, a younger sister, and a younger brother.
This climbing season has been particularly devastating, with the death toll now rising to 11 in just 10 days. As reported by CNN, many mountaineers claim that unfavorable weather conditions and overcrowding have contributed to the high number of deaths, as well as the fact that more inexperienced climbers are now trying to summit the world’s highest peak. This year only, Nepalese authorities have issued 367 permits to foreigners and another 14 to Sherpas (seasoned Nepalese climbers who are Everest experts), according to a government liaison officer.
— Khawaja Nasir (@KhawajaNasir_) May 28, 2019
The fact that large numbers of people are all trying to reach the summit at the same time — while the weather windows are fewer — means that climbers face “traffic jams” on the way to the top, where oxygen intake is limited and hence take longer to descend to the lower camps. Last week was particularly crowded, with photos showing queues of people scrambling up the last stretch to the peak, which is 8,848 meters (29,029 feet) high. According to CNN, the area where many climbers were delayed is known as the “death zone.”
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As I and my teammates sit for interview after interview about the supposed crowds on #Everest, I keep remembering moments like this from this season. Alone, high above the world, responsible for myself and my teammates, and they responsible for me. . . We should not demonize the climbers who realized a life dream to climb Mt. Everest. Nor should we demean the place. Are there problems as the mountain grows in popularity? Absolutely. Now is the time to aggressively address those problems. They are solvable. The mountain is not overcrowded. But regulations on commercial operators are desperately needed to require experience of clients, Sherpa, mountain guides and expedition leaders. Even in a difficult season like this one, with few possible summit days, the herd mentality thinking that led to hundreds climbing on the same day and to multi-hour waits on the South Side, is completely unnecessary. Teams could have chosen slightly less ideal weather conditions to avoid crowds. They could have backed off and held at a camp an extra night when they saw the potential traffic jams. They could have utilized climbing techniques to leave the fixed ropes and move around bottlenecks. And they could have chosen alternative routes from the easiest (but busiest) South Side route (for reference, the route from Tibet (North Side) had 1/3 the number of climbers this year as compared to the South Side from Nepal). . . We don’t need fewer people to dream of climbing to the roof of the world. We need competent and courageous companies led by highly experienced mountain guides, willing to make hard decisions for safety regardless of their impact on the bottom line. #everest #everest2019 . . ???? @jgriber
Experienced mountain guide and Alpenglow Expeditions founder Adrian Ballinger told the outlet that the “lower level of experience of the climbers trying to come here and also of the companies that are trying to offer services on the mountain” has become an issue lately, and is one of the problems during Everest’s climbing season.
“Even when using bottled oxygen, supplemental oxygen, there’s only a very few number of hours that we can actually survive up there before our bodies start to shut down. So that means if you get caught in a traffic jam above 26,000 feet… the consequences can be really severe,” Ballinger added.