Despite the fact that the spring climbing season in the Himalaya seems to be proceeding about as smoothly as can be expected following the challenges of the past few years, there are still some dark clouds hanging over the big mountains. The Himalayan Times is now reporting that four foreign climbers have lost their lives in the past five days, breaking the sense of safety and serenity that has hovered over the region so far this year.
Two of the deaths came on Shishapangma, where a Swiss climber named Patrik Mattioli and an Austrian named Jon David Johnson fell from a fixed rope into a crevasse. The accident occurred on April 24 at 6200 meters (20,341 ft) as the two men were climbing up from Advanced Base Camp. They were apparently killed immediately.
Meanwhile, over on Everest, a Japanese climber named Hidenori Hagi passed away in Base Camp on the same day. He was being treated for altitude sickness at the time, but succumbed to the illness. His body was retrieved and flown back to Kathmandu.
The fourth death also occurred in the Khumbu Valley yesterday. An unnamed Korean climber died of altitude sickness while returning from Lobuche Peak. Details on the incident remain sparse, with local officials still investigating the incident, although it seems to be a simple case of HACE or HAPE claiming another life.
Altitude sickness is a common occurrence in the Himalaya. According to the Times, at least seven people were evacuated from Everest Base Camp over the past three weeks while exhibiting symptoms of the illness. Another 110 patients have been treated in EBC for HACE or HAPE as well.
The altitude sickness treatment center in Pheriche in the Khumbu Valley shared even higher numbers. They indicated that 9 people had to be evacuated from the area, while 250 have been treated for altitude sickness.
While these numbers seem high, they are generally in line with what you would expect from the spring climbing season. It is not uncommon for people to take ill at altitude, but those symptoms aren’t always life threatening or dangerous. Some are quite mild, with headaches or mild nausea common.
That said, a friend of mine collapsed twice above the Khumbu Icefall on Everest last week and had to be evacuated from the mountain. Had he gone much higher, the situation could have become dire, but fortunately he was able to be pulled off the mountain safely and is now home and recovering. Hopefully that will be the case for most who run into trouble.