/ ARTICLE: "Death, Carnage, Chaos": Analysing the 2019 Himalayan Climbing Season

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UKC/UKH Articles 03 Jun 2019
Alan Arnette on the summit of Everest in 2011. Ash Routen speaks to mountain guides and journalists to analyse what went wrong this season, in which 21 climbers were confirmed dead or missing.

I cannot believe what I saw up there. Death. Carnage. Chaos. Lineups. Dead bodies on the route and in tents at Camp Four. People who I tried to turn back who ended up dying. People being dragged down. Walking over bodies. Everything you read in the sensational headlines all played out on our summit night," wrote Adventure Filmmaker and Everest climber Elia Saikaly last week.

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Damo 03 Jun 2019
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

Thanks Ash, good to get the input from those people. There's some commonality there, and interesting to note that some say the numbers/permits are not necessarily the problem, which I think is largely correct.

Of course the notable comment: "People when they start their journey they already know they have a 50% chance of returning safely and a 50% chance of dying or being rescued. It's a fight between nature..." and "...if we check the background history of the people who died or were rescued, they all were a really good climbers." shows that, there is, er, a variety of levels of insight and wisdom between operators, which is probably not irrelevant!

A good adjunct to this might be a (surprisingly good) piece of work done by the our ABC with lots of well-presented stats derived from the Himalayan Database:


And another good piece, especially as it comes from India itself:

"It’s cool to stand at a Party with a glass in your hand and talk about how you faced the challenge of Everest. It’s great to be garlanded in your local area by your local Member of Parliament, among a group of equally ignorant folks and show picture of you proudly standing on top of Everest and with the National Flag and perhaps land a Government job or get promoted from constable to a Sub-Inspector. If you are lucky and get some backing from a politician you could even land yourself an award or a plot of land."


Also, another very experienced guide has written his views down particularly well, and makes an interesting comment about expanding the rope-fixing crew to get the ropes set earlier so there can be more usable summit windows (as there used to be years ago):

"If we had a larger team of rope fixers who had a mandate to fix to the summit by the end of April there would be an entire month of potential summit days and the crowding would be virtually non-existent."


Post edited at 08:58
Rigid Raider 03 Jun 2019
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

For years divers have understood the Incident Pit, whereby one small and apprently harmless problem sets you on a steepening slope to disaster. The equivalent to spending too much time in a queue must be spending too much time at depth.  

I'm afraid that greed, corruption and ego are the vices resonsible for this avoidable disaster. 

Post edited at 09:33
gavinj 03 Jun 2019
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

Seems poorly timed to publish this (very good) article while climbers are missing in the Himalaya, and their relatives deeply worried, and some bodies seen but not identified. I don't see why UKC couldn't wait a few days. Cynically I suspect it is because at the moment journalists will be crawling over the site and it's a good time to get content out. 

Post edited at 13:04
Eric9Points 03 Jun 2019
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

I find it remarkable that the owner of Seven Summits seems happy to take people's money while accepting that half of them will die or be rescued. He seems to take the attitude "they're crap climbers, what do they expect?"

gavmac 03 Jun 2019
In reply to gavinj:

That was my first reaction. No problem with the article but it’s poorly timed. 

Ash Routen 03 Jun 2019
In reply to gavinj: 

Thanks Gavin. I filed the story late on Saturday, around the time that the breaking news came through that Martin Moran’s group were missing, but it had been commissioned a week prior. Natalie (editor) is currently climbing in the US at the moment so may well not have even been aware of the Nanda Devi news.

It’s a tough balance between timely articles and sensitivity to families etc. This season I’ve sat on news whilst the families are informed. It doesn’t always work like that though. Sergei Glazunov’s (died on Latok 1 last year) family found out his fate by online news first.


We are following news about Martin's expedition, but consider this piece to be dealing with a different kind of Himalayan expedition (8000'ers, commercial expeds on Everest with inexperienced climbers vs. Martin's guided first ascent exped on a smaller peak). 

It's unfortunate timing, but as Ash wrote this piece was comissioned prior to the group going missing and there is absolutely no desire on our part to capitalise on tragedy or attract news outlets. 

Our thoughts go out to Martin's family at this difficult time.

In reply to Eric9Points:


> The climbers should help us by taking training, gathering experience and studying the mountain before they come to climb any mountain, which will by far decrease the rate of deaths and rescues.

You would have thought all that would be mandatory?

scottbecker 14 Jun 2019
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

I really like the idea put forward by Stefan Nestler:

“Another idea could be fixed ropes only at the key points instead of on the complete route to the summit. Then many would reach their limits further down.”

I appreciate that most guides, commercial operators and those with a financial interest in Everest summits would be against this because it would significantly affect their bottom line. In my view making it harder to take inexperienced clients so high on the mountain is a double win. It would both reduce crowding and help restore Everest to the climbing challenge it once was, instead of the commercial circus it is today.

george sewell 21 Jun 2019
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

interestingly the first contrubuter made the point that the Tibetan  side is much safer because fewer people died ... however fewer people were on it so actually it comes to only being about 1% safer so ye kind of interesting.  another contributer stated that it can be up to 100% more costly to go with a more expensive operator (and if there is fewer permits the more pricey operators will be on the Tibetan side) so cost benefit is it worth paying 100% more (with some of that money going to an autocratic regime rather than benefiting a developing and democratic country) to be 1% safer ? 

Post edited at 13:54
teh_mark 21 Jun 2019
In reply to george sewell:

I'd argue it's safer principally because fewer people are on it; if you're less likely to get stuck in some M25 tailback at altitude you're less likely to suffer the consequences of, well, being stuck in an M25 tailback at altitude.

george sewell 21 Jun 2019
In reply to teh_mark:

im not arguing anything im just looking at the figures , there are much larger issues like tail backs etc that are obviously a masive problem , let alone the environmental damage. its hidiouse that that many people climb it ! 

i just found the stats interesting in that its only around a 1% diferaince i thought it would be much worse due to things like the tail backs etc 

Post edited at 14:05
Ed Heslam 25 Jun 2019
In reply to george sewell:

The Everest/Chomolungma circus throws up series ethical and environmental issues. From a climbing and mountaineering perspective I take the Steve Haston point of view, which is that if you ascend the mountain with the aid of a group of servants (otherwise known as sherpas) and you use supplementary oxygen, then you haven’t really done the mountain at all. In similar fashion you could get yourself up Cenotaph Corner using ladders and hoists, with flunkies providing refreshments en route. You would get to the top of Dinas Cromlech and take your selfie and post it up on UKC (not forgetting to photoshop the servants out of the picture), but what would you really have achieved? The only real difference between these situations is that Chomolungma/Everest has an established business model milked by a sizable group of greedy people who have an interest in promoting your ascent as some big achievement on your part. Don’t kid yourself. You didn’t lay the fixed ropes and ladders. You didn’t porter in the food, drink and equipment. You didn’t set up the tents. Yes, it is true that, even with all the hand-holding, people still die on Chomolungma because it is a serious mountain made even more dangerous by the hefty queues of paying clients. Just because you managed to survive a dangerous situation you cannot claim that you achieved something special. You were just lucky at playing the game of high-altitude roulette.

Isn’t about time that we asked a few basic questions of this business model? Should we not start applying the same mountaineering rules to the Himalaya as those we apply to the mountains in our own backyard?

Clear up after yourself. Don’t leave your junk on the mountain.

If you pull yourself up on fixed gear, then you haven’t done the route.

If you suck oxygen on the route, then you haven’t done it.

If you employ servants to assist you, then you haven’t done the route

Stick with the local name of the mountain. If you cannot pronounce it, that’s your problem.

The Everest circus gives climbing/mountaineering a bad name. Shouldn’t we, as climbers start calling it out for what it is and treating it with the derision that it deserves.

jimtitt 25 Jun 2019
In reply to Ed Heslam:

By your standards the FA of Everest doen't count. Fixed ropes, porters and oxygen are a historical part of Himalayan mountaineering, it isn't Stanage or North Wales.

It's called Sagamartha by some of the locals by the way.

Ed Heslam 25 Jun 2019

Thanks Jim, but it seems to me that you are ducking the issues at bit here. In answer to your first point, Hillary and Norgay were the first to ascend the world's highest, but their's was a lesser achievement than that of Messner, who did it Alpine-style and without oxygen.

You make the point that the fixed ropes and other paraphernalia carries some sort of essence of history, which gives it legitimacy in your opinion. Just because some people have always done a thing in one way doesn't make it right. Shouldn't we strive to do things better? I don't see a difference between caring for Stanage (your example) and caring for the environment in the Himalaya. I don't believe humans have the right to spread rubbish all over mountains and other wild places. Expedition climbing is a high impact game made even worse by private companies coming into the scene and giving their deluded clients the idea that they are achieving something that they are not.

Ask yourself how you would feel if these cowboys came along to the crags at Swanage and left tents, defunct climbing gear, bottles of oxygen, faeces and dead bodies all over it.

jimtitt 25 Jun 2019
In reply to Ed Heslam:

Well oxygen bottles no but all the rest are kinda normal


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