'Recipe for disaster': Calgary climber on Everest 'traffic jam' deaths
Nirmal Purja's photo, posted on Instagram, shows a line of people climbing Mount Everest. (Instagram / @nimsdai)
Published Friday, May 24, 2019 4:54PM MDT
Last Updated Friday, May 24, 2019 10:42PM MDT
More than 120 climbers scaled the famed Mount Everest on Thursday, but some won’t be returning home.
Nepal’s tourism department confirmed Friday that seven climbers have died this week in an attempt to summit the world’s largest peak in an area known as the “death zone.”
Several of the climbers who died were confirmed to have been stuck in what’s being called a “traffic jam” above Camp Four, which at 8,000 metres is the final camp before the summit. The Nepal Tourism Board says extreme weather meant there was only a small window for climbers to reach the top.
The “death zone” is an all too familiar place for local climber, Dave Rodney, who became the first Canadian to summit Mount Everest twice.
“You literally have to take your turn and as you're in those conditions with the lack of oxygen the weather can easily and always will move in,” he told CTV News Calgary.
“When you've got too many people in that spot and that same time it is a recipe for disaster."
Rodney adds it’s the only place in the world where you’re fully exposed to the elements.
“You’re dealing with hundred-mile-per-hour winds, 50 C below temperatures, there’s 10 times the UV up there and when you’ve got only one-third the amount of air to breathe, my goodness that’s a whole set of problems.”
Ironically, Friday marked the 18-year anniversary of his second summit.
The native of Mankota, Sask., now calls Calgary his home. He’s noticed the increased interest in climbing Everest over the past couple of decades, which he says might be why hundreds of people are on the mountain at once.
One of those people on the mountain this week was Nirmal Purja, who posted online that he’d made it to the top on Wednesday. Photos on Instagram showed what he described as roughly 320 people in the queue to the mountain, stuck in an area called the “death zone.”
Rodney wasn't there this week, but he understands the risk: “There’s room for a lot of people, but as you get to the ‘death zone’ and especially as you get to the south column and the Hillary Step, what really happens is that you’re entering the narrow part of the hour glass.”
He says there’s not a lot of room for error near the top of Everest, and one wrong step could mean falling kilometres down the mountain to one’s death.
“You have to get up fast and that speed is actually what’s keeping you safe because when you’ve got too many people in that spot at that same time, the chance of getting altitude sickness goes up significantly.”
Rodney adds that patience and clear communication in teams is essential to a successful journey to the top of Everest, but even that might not be enough.
“There’s storms, rockslides and avalanches, and if you’re in the wrong place at the right time, even if you’re doing absolutely everything correctly, it’s not going to matter sadly. I was fortunate enough to fulfill my dream; I just hope others get the chance to do it in a safe way.”