Two mountaineers — one of whom was American — died while descending Mount Everest Wednesday due in part to an issue of overcrowding near the summit at nearly 30,000 feet.
Fifty-five-year-old Anjali Kulkarni, an Indian climber, summited Mount Everest on Sunday, according to her son. She then became stuck in what has been called a “traffic jam” — an increasingly overcrowded area at the final camp before the summit — at 8,000 meters (26,247 feet) and she was unable to make it down the mountain safely, CNN reports.
American climber Donald Lynn Cash, 55, died Wednesday after fainting from high altitude sickness while descending the mountain.
Some believe that the summit of Mount Everest is one of the most dangerous parts of the mountain. This area, where climbers often arrange themselves in a queue to the top, is known as the “death zone.” On this particular day, May 22, there were 320 people in this queue, standing along a ridge, awaiting their turn to make the final summit, as can be seen in this Facebook post.
While some believe that this overcrowding has increased the level of danger in this area, director general of Nepal’s Tourism Department, Danduaj Ghimire, refuted these claims, calling them “baseless.” He continued to say that “the main cause of deaths on Everest has been high altitude particularly throughout this climbing season.”
Aside from the overcrowding, conditions at the summit are not conducive to life. Overcrowding in such an area further deteriorates the level of safety, as can be seen with the recent spike in deaths.
At the summit itself, conditions quickly become intolerable for climbers. At 8,848 meters (29,029 feet), the air itself contains only one-third of the oxygen found at sea level. Additionally, the human body begins to rapidly deteriorate at such an altitude — especially without proper supplemental oxygen supplies.
This week alone, there have been seven deaths on the mountain, according to Fox News, two of them on Wednesday.
According to Anjali Kulkarni’s son, both she and her husband had been avid climbers for 25 years and had spent the past six years training to climb Everest. It was their dream to accomplish this together.
Cash, a Utah native, collapsed alongside a trail at an altitude of about 8,770 meters (28,700 feet). The company guiding him, Pioneer Adventure, reports that they “did their best” to save his life, but ultimately were unable to do so. Still, Cash’s children feel a sense of pride for their father for achieving his 40-year-long goal of summiting Everest.
His body will likely remain on the mountain. Of the 200 recorded mountaineer deaths on the peak since 1922, the majority of bodies are believed to be buried under glaciers or snow.