Swiss among first Everest fatalities of the season

Mount Everest (file photo) Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

A Swiss and an American have died on Mount Everest in the season's first casualties on the world's highest mountain, expedition organisers said on Thursday, as the Nepali region struggles with an escalating Covid-19 outbreak.

This content was published on May 13, 2021 - 12:16

Both climbers died of exhaustion while descending the slopes of the mountain on Wednesday. The Swiss, who was 41 and from St Gallen in eastern Switzerland, had already reached the peak, but began experiencing issues as he came down. The US national had reached the Hillary Step, but had to return because of snow blindness and exhaustion.

“Additional sherpas were sent with supplies and oxygen but unfortunately they could not save them,” Thaneshwar Guragai, a manager of the Seven Summit Treks company, told Reuters.

It is not clear when their bodies will be brought down. Bad weather conditions have forced climbers to descend to lower altitudes for now.

Record year for foreign climbers

Mountaineering journalist Billi Bierling heads the Himalayan Database,External link the archive of Himalayan climbing in Nepal.  She said the deceased climber had told her that he had been attempting to climb all seven summits of the highest mountains on each continent; Everest was his last one.

There are currently a record number of foreign climbers in the region, despite the pandemic year, Bierling said. Among them are five Swiss nationals, including the deceased climber. Nepal has issued 408 permits to climb Everest in the April-May climbing season following last year's closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But Nepal and the Everest region are currently grappling with a Covid-19 outbreak. “The season started off well, when people arrived the cases were so low,” Bierling told SWI “Then the Indian Covid tsunami hit with a vengeance and it hit within days.”

A Norwegian climber with the area’s first positive Covid case was flown out of the Everest region at the end of April. Bierling says that officially around 30 Covid-positive people have been evacuated from Everest, but she suspects the actual number may be bigger.

Covid is also affecting people on other Nepali peaks. Swiss top climber Sophie Lavaud became infected while taking part in the Women Who Dare Project on the Dhaulagiri mountain (8,167 metres).

Economic concerns

The Nepali government has not shut down access to Everest in part because it gets $11,000 (CHF10,000) per foreigner who wants to climb the peak, according to Bierling. Expedition leaders are also reluctant to stop guiding.

Bierling said that anyone who chooses to proceed with an Everest climb should be aware that if they were injured, they would struggle to get hospital care in the Nepali capital Kathmandu. Hospitals there are at capacity due to Covid, and international flights are suspended until May 31.

Everest has been scaled by more than 6,000 climbers since it was first summited by Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953. At least 311 people have died on its slopes.

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