Four Die on Everest - World's Greatest Challenge or Highest Graveyard?

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A day after 73 year-old Tamae Watanabe became the oldest woman to summit Mount Everest — the mountain took the lives of four other climbers.

According to CNN, the climbers died while coming down the southern slope of the mountain during the weekend after reaching Everest's 29,028 foot summit. There was a veritable "traffic jam" of trekkers scrambling to conquer the mountain as nearly 200 attempted to make it to the top.

Ha Wenyi of China, Eberhard Schaaf of Germany, Nepal-born Canadian Shriya Shah and South Korean Song Won-bin died on their descents, apparently from exhaustion and altitude sickness. There is at least one climber still missing.

David Breashears, a climber and filmmaker who has reached Everest's peak five times, told CNN that anyone still unaccounted for after nightfall has poor prospects for survival. "You will surely perish at night at those elevations and those temperatures without the safety of a tent and the protection of a warm sleeping bag," Breashears told CNN.

Credit Image: © Anton Jankovoy/Caters News/ZUMAPRESS.com

May is considered the best month to climb Everest, because climbers get about two windows of good weather for their bid for the summit. But weather conditions have been challenging this year, prompting several expeditions to cancel their plans.

Just days after the four died Nepal officials told the Associated Press that a similar rush  will begin soon, probably this weekend, and there's little they can do to control it. The bottlenecks on Everest mean climbers have to wait too long in the “death zone” above 8,000m, creating dangerous conditions for all. To get a sense of what it's like at the various camps, read Outside Magazine's account of this year's quest for the summit.

After seeing first-hand the mountain claim the lives of those who had set out before her, an Ottawa woman is facing a difficult choice: try to summit or turn back because she’s no longer in top condition. Sandra Leduc has been climbing Everest for two months and chronicling her journey on Twitter and a blog. Her group set out on Sunday and climbed for 10 hours before harsh weather set in, her brother said. "She was 200 metres from the summit and her team decided to turn back.” .

 

 

Six people have died on Mount Everest this year, but it's not the deadliest year to date for the mountain.  On May 10, 1996, 10 teams were stranded by a storm and white-out conditions, with temperatures reaching 40 degrees below zero, in an expedition chronicled by Jon Krakauer's in the book Into Thin Air.

I vividly remember the 1996 tragedy, as one of those killed was Scott Fischer, a well-known climber and guide from my best friend's hometown in New Jersey. His company, Mountain Madness, was taken over by Christine Boskoff, another highly trained mountaineer, who died ten years later on Genyen Peak in China proving that even the most experienced climbers aren't immune from disaster.

The lack of oxygen at the top of Everest is often a factor in failed attempts and deaths since it is difficult to function and a climbers' judgement can be grossly affected. Knowing the risks, however, doesn't stop people from attempting the climb. In fact, in recent years, almost anyone who can pay for the expedition can try to summit.

One commenter on CNN.com wrote:

daddy2010: "At least they died doing what they enjoy. Better than dying in a cubicle on Friday and having no one find the body till Monday."

Others were less philosophical and commented about the consequences of so many climbers trying to summit the mountain - including many who are way too inexperienced.

Unit34AHunt: "Everest has in excess of 200 known corpsicles, and massive heaps of discarded trash. Seems properly respectful of this earth to clear out all that detritus rather than allowing it to accumulate. 'They died doing what they love?' Tell it to the corpses of the ones who begged not to be left behind as they froze to death."

Following the celebration for Watanabe, who broke her own 10-year-old record, comes despair for the families of the four climbers that perished. A bittersweet time for all.

British climber George Mallory (who some believe was the first to actually summit the world's tallest peak) is famously quoted as having replied to the question "Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?" with the retort "Because it's there." 

What do you think? Would you climb Mount Everest just because it's there?

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