A Canadian woman who was climbing Mount Everest the same weekend four others died provided a chilling description of her own perilous journey, saying the mountain seemed "like a morgue."
The tweets from Sandra Leduc come as another 200 climbers attempt to scale the 8,850-metre peak between Friday and Sunday, and Nepalese officials say there is little they can do to control the rush.
Leduc began to summit the southern route up Everest by leaving the last camp on the evening of May 19, the same day fellow Canadian climber Shriya Shah-Klorfine of Toronto and three others died during their descent, apparently from exhaustion and altitude sickness.
Leduc said she could see lightning and estimated winds were gusting to 100 km/h.
In the early-morning hours of May 20, and just a few hours from the summit, her Sherpa guide told her they needed to return immediately, adding it was the worst weather he had ever seen.
Leduc said there were "lots of dead or dying bodies" in a Twitter post. "Thought I was in a morgue."
Her regulator froze on the descent so she travelled for three hours to the camp immediately below the summit without any oxygen, saying that she could barely stand during the last 30 minutes.
Leduc, who works as a lawyer for the government of Canada, said she would try again to reach the summit, probably on Saturday. Based on her energy level, however, she said it was likely she would turn back.
"But at least I'm going to try," she posted on Twitter.
Climbers need 'considerable' experience
Two Vancouver-based climbers, meanwhile, successfully made a trek to the top of Everest on May 19, although the pair took the northern route up the mountain.
Steve Curtis and Sam Wyatt made the climb to help raise $150,000 for the Take a Hike Foundation, a charity devoted to helping at-risk youth through adventure-based learning, academics and community involvement.
Wyatt said they avoided the southern side of the mountain because it is prone to overcrowding and falling ice, adding that the challenging rock climb on the northern route tends to spread people out.
Wyatt said he too came near to a number of bodies on the mountainside, including that of Calgary climber Frank Ziebarth who died in 2009.
"He had tried to climb without oxygen and he was curled up in the fetal position at the base of the third step," Wyatt said. "And I could clearly see him."
The bodies of those who die on Everest are often left up there, Wyatt explained, because it is too dangerous to retrieve them.
"That’s a pretty spooky event to walk by people who have passed away in years past," he said.
Wyatt said climbing Everest is a serious endeavour.
"It shouldn't be considered a 'Wow, I think I'll go climb Everest,'" he said. "People should definitely go with a considerable amount of experience."
'Traffic jam' on Everest
Approximately 200 climbers tried to reach the top of Everest last weekend as they rushed to use a brief window of good weather in an otherwise troubled climbing season. Many had been waiting at a staging camp for several days for their chance to head to the summit.
"There was a traffic jam on the mountain on Saturday. Climbers were still heading to the summit as late as 2:30 p.m., which is quite dangerous," Nepali mountaineering official Gyanendra Shrestha said. That meant climbers were staying too long at high altitudes and exhausting their oxygen supplies because they didn't anticipate having to wait.
Climbers normally are advised not to try for the summit after 11 a.m. The area above the last camp is nicknamed the "death zone" because of the steep icy slope, treacherous conditions and low oxygen level.
More than 3,000 people have climbed Everest since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first to do so in 1953. Some 225 climbers have died attempting it.
The deadliest day was May 10, 1996, when eight people were killed. The main reason was said to be that climbers who started their ascent late in the day were caught in a snowstorm in the afternoon and lost their way.
The climbing season normally runs from late March to the first week in June, but this year the first clear conditions came last weekend.