Everest deaths: Odisha mountaineer Kalpana Das dies, traffic at summit sparks safety concerns

The fatalities heighten concerns that a drive for profits is trumping safety on the world's highest peak.

Everest

This photograph from climber Nirmal Purja's Project Possible expedition shows heavy traffic of mountain climbers lining up to stand at the summit of Mount Everest. Many teams had to line up for hours on May 22 to reach the summit, risking frostbites and altitude sickness, as a rush of climbers marked one of the busiest days on the world's highest mountain.   -  AFP

Odisha mountaineer Kalpana Das has died, reports confirm. The 52-year-old mountaineer reached the summit but died on Thursday afternoon while descending, as a huge number of climbers queued near the top.

Another Indian, Nihal Bagwan, 27, also died on his way back from the summit.

A traffic jam of climbers in the Everest “death zone” was blamed for two of four new deaths reported on Friday, heightening concerns that the drive for profits is trumping safety on the world's highest peak.

 

READ | Three more deaths on overcrowded Mount Everest

Odisha's first woman mountaineer, Kalpana died while descending after scaling Everest for the second time.  She scaled the peak for the first time from Nepal in 2008. She had also gone ahead and scaled several peaks in India, Nepal, South America, Australia and Europe.

News of her passing was confirmed by her brother, Pradeep Kumar Dash. According to reports, Kalpana had trouble walking after reaching the peak and took the help of Sherpas to make the descent. By the time they reached the balcony area, her breathing had stopped.

 

Nepal has issued a record 381 permits costing $11,000 each for the current spring climbing season, bringing in much-needed money for the impoverished Himalayan country.

But a small window of suitable weather before the short season ends has in recent days triggered bottlenecks of hundreds of climbers wanting to achieve for many - although perhaps not for purists - the ultimate in mountaineering.

The four latest deaths reported on Friday, taking the toll from a deadly week on the overcrowded peak to eight, include two Indians and a Nepali on the Nepal side and an Austrian on the way down on the northern Tibetan side, officials and expedition organisers said.

Ang Tsering Sherpa, former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, said that the weather window to summit this season was narrow, meaning that many teams had to wait to go up.

“Spending a long time above the death zone increases the risk of frostbite, altitude sickness and even death,” he said.

READ | Black Africans must pick up Everest challenge, says landmark climber

Reporting Nihal's demise, Keshav Paudel of Peak Promotion said, "He was stuck in the traffic for more than 12 hours and was exhausted. Sherpa guides carried him down to Camp 4 but he breathed his last there."

A 33-year-old Nepali guide died at the base camp on Friday after he was rescued from Camp 3 after falling sick.

Wednesday claimed the lives of an American and another Indian.

Donald Lynn Cash, 55, collapsed at the summit as he was taking photographs, while Anjali Kulkarni, also 55, died while descending after reaching the top.

READ | Indian climber Anjali Kulkarni dies on Everest as traffic jam at summit delays descent

Kulkarni's expedition organiser, Arun Treks, said heavy traffic at the summit had delayed her descent and caused the tragedy.

“She had to wait for a long time to reach the summit and descend,” said Thupden Sherpa. “She couldn't move down on her own and died as Sherpa guides brought her down.”

Last week, an Indian climber died and an Irish mountaineer went missing after he slipped and fell close to the summit and is presumed dead.

The Irish professor was in the same team as Saray Khumalo, 47, who this week became the first black African woman to climb Everest and who is hoping to conquer the highest summits on each of the seven continents.

- Big business -

Mountaineering in Nepal has become a lucrative business since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made the first ascent of Everest in 1953.

Most Everest hopefuls are escorted by a Nepali guide, meaning more than 750 climbers were expected to tread the same path to the top in the current season.

At least 140 others have been granted permits to scale Everest from the northern flank in Tibet, according to expedition operators. This could take the total past last year's record of 807 people reaching the summit.

“About 550 climbers have summited the world tallest mountain by Thursday according to the data provided by expedition organizers to us,” said Mira Acharya, spokeswoman for Nepal's Tourism Department

Many Himalayan mountains -- including Everest -- are at peak climbing season, with the window of good weather between late April and the end of May.

Eight other climbers have died on other 8,000-metre Himalayan peaks this season, while two are missing.

In 2015, 18 people were killed at the Everest base camp because of an avalanche triggered by a quake.

READ | Bachendri Pal, first Indian woman to scale Mount Everest, reveals story of bruised egos 35 years on

- Winning widows -

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For generations climbing has been firmly the realm of men among the legendary Sherpas of Nepal, tradition dictating women care for the home while their husbands conquer the Himalayan peaks. Furdiki Sherpa and Nima Doma Sherpa broke that ceiling.   -  AFP

In happier news, two Sherpa widows, Furdiki Sherpa and Nima Doma Sherpa reached the summit of Everest on Thursday, their team coordinator confirmed.

The two want to force a rethink about the role of widows in their conservative community, after their husbands died on the world's highest mountain.

“We want to climb Everest with a message for widows and single women. We are not less than anyone, we are capable of achieving anything,” Nima Doma said to AFP ahead of the expedition.

French climber Elisabeth Revol, who was dramatically rescued last year from Pakistan's Mount Nanga Parbat, summited Lhotse Friday morning, a day after reaching the top of Everest.