A Grim Climbing Season Draws to a Close

Death Toll for the 2019 Himalayan Climbing Season Could Be Near Thirty

Himalayan Hiking Season is finally, and perhaps mercifully, over.

At least eleven people died attempting to summit Mount Everest this year. Tragically, several of those who died had in fact summited and were on the way down when they collapsed and died.

The deaths attracted considerable media attention this season, as did photographs showing climbers queued up in long lines to reach the summit. Overcrowding was blamed as a contributing factor for several of the deaths, as was the inexperience of the adventure tourist climbers and the incompetence of many guides.

The photo that started the talk about Everest was this one by the summit chaser Nirmal Purja.

Here’s another close to the Hillary Step off Instagram by the filmmaker Elia Saikaly…who praises his Sherpa partner for basically risking his life to bring him camera batteries.

View this post on Instagram

The Hillary Step at 28, 750ft above sea level. . It was one of the most extraordinary moments of my life. We had endured the hardship of the sub-zero temperatures all night long in the death zone, passed over 40 climbers and spent most of the evening gathering as much content as possible while combatting the onset of frostbite. . Deep down, the filmmaker in me was panicking as all of the footage up to this point was in the dark. In the span of 20 minutes, as we raced up and over the south summit and dropped down onto the final ridge, night transformed into day, the clouds and mist burned up thanks to the early morning rays of light, a surreal pink and baby blue twilight sky was revealed as was the Hillary Step. It was a fantasy film moment unfolding in real-time. . You can see the grave look of concern in my eyes in the middle of the line. Batteries were plummeting from 100% to zero in less than a few minutes and @sherpapk had the reserve stash in his downsuit. With the cues pushing us upwards and forwards, I couldn't lose my place in line as I needed to film the team of Arab women climbing the famous crux of Everest. . PK! I shouted, like a crazy person. I need batteries! . What does my badass climbing partner do? Unable to pass, he leaps up onto the knife edge ridge and climbs OVER the entire line of climbers, above the safety lines, front points his way across the cornice and drops down beside me and smiles. 'Here you go'. . I couldn't believe the mastery he displayed in that moment. I slipped the battery into the camera, hauled myself up the Hillary Step as fast as I could and filmed our team making their way towards the summit. . Pasang Kaji Sherpa, you're the real hero here. You and your Sherpa brothers who make all of this possible. . I can't wait to see how these scenes play out on screen in the final edit. . 📷 by the one and only @sherpapk . . . #Everest #summitclimb #8848 #Everest2019 #hillarystep #Sherpa #topoftheworld #nepal #himalayas #earth #beautifulearth #adventure #explore #expedition #8000m #Canon #dreamsbecomingreality #shotoncanon #voyaged #mountaineering #adventure #adventurephotography #shotoftheday @natgeo @bbcearth @cbsnews @ctv @cbc

A post shared by Elia Saikaly (@eliasaikaly) on

While the Everest tragedies were widely reported, what is less well known is that 2019 was a deadly season for Himalayan climbing in general. Last week, the Indian government declared that eight climbers who went missing attempting to summit Nanda Devi — the highest peak entirely inside India — are now presumed to be dead.

Mt. Nanda Devi.jpg
Nanda Devi (25,643 ft) is the highest mountain located entirely within the borders of India and the 23rd highest in the world. By Sumod K Mohan – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61657012

The 12-member team, led by the Scottish climber Martin Moran, was attempting to tackle the east summit of this very remote and notoriously difficult climbing peak. The main summit of Nanda Devi has been closed to climbing for most of the last half century.

It is presumed that eight of the team members, including Moran, were swept away by an avalanche soon after leaving camp and that none survived. The remaining four members, who were climbing a separate route, were safely evacuated.

A helicopter search by the Indian Army located five bodies, four of them still linked by rope, presumed to be members of the team. As always, our deepest sympathies go to the families of the victims.

What is most telling about the Nanda Devi fatalities is that these were not inexperienced tourists trying to prove some point. These were highly trained and experienced mountaineers. Moran had previously led forty expeditions in the Himalayas, according to his website, and his resume also includes an ascent of the North Face of the Eiger (THE “North Face.”) These were not people who didn’t belong there, but paid for the privilege; Moran and his team had earned the privilege.

Their experience did not matter. There is no way to completely avoid the risk of an avalanche apart from not going into avalanche zones in the first place, and you can’t do that and climb a technical Himalayan peak. Essentially, what happened had nothing to do with skill, it was plain bad luck.

THE online authority for Himalayan Hiking is Alan Arnette, who blogs about climbing to raise awareness for Alzheimers Disease. He reports 21 climbing deaths this year in the Himalaya, including the eleven on Everest. And his figures do not yet include the eight missing on Nanda Devi.

A surprising number of them died on the descent. It’s not enough to make it to the top; you have the survive the entire experience to make it through.

The always pitch dark humor of the Onion sums it up…


Everest is one of the very few places where there are public “named corpses” on permanent display.

So far, there has been no announcement of changes any time soon from the Nepalese Government, which has come under heavy criticism after it handed out a record number of permits to climb Everest this year. The cost of a permit is about $11,000 for a foreign climber. In fact, the Nepalese tourism officials have thus far rejected any claims that overcrowding had anything to do with the deadly situation on Everest…despite ample eyewitness accounts to the contrary.

We can’t wait to hike SAFELY in the Himalaya’s someday. Note that in a previous post the site editor had stated that we had no intention of ever attempting to summit Everest. Well, he spoke too soon. Shortly after this post, one member of our team dissented and said it would be ‘really cool’ to stand on the summit of Everest and she would ‘really love to do this someday.’ Suffice it to say, Minister of Expedition Planning Brian has no intention of accepting the utterly suicidal rich man’s folly logistically challenging project of an Everest Summit attempt.

However…we WOULD like to hike the Everest Three Passes Route someday, which takes the hiker to south base camp one on the Nepal side. This itself is a formidable challenge.

We hope the Nepalese government comes up with some plan to better control access to this most remote of remote places before worse happens.

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