As It Happens

Everest fatalities a reminder 'death and mountain climbing are synonymous,' climber says

Mount Everest claimed four lives last weekend as hundreds rushed to to summit the mountain. Climber Alan Arnette says the yearly death toll has become par for the course.
Mountaineers walk past the Hillary Step while pushing for the summit of Mount Everest as they climb the south face from Nepal. (Pemba Dorje Sherpa/STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Read Story Transcript

Every year, hundreds of people go up Mount Everest — and most years, some of those climbers never make it down.

Last weekend, four climbers died on the mountain. It's been reported that at least some of the climbers died after experiencing altitude sickness on the mountain's so-called "death zone."

You have to be very clear in your motives before you go to a mountain like Mount Everest because there's a thousand reasons to turn around and there's only one to keep going.- Alan Arnette
The dead are from Slovakia, Australia, India and the U.S. In total, six people have died on Everest since March. 
Alan Arnette, right, is a mountaineering blogger who reached the Everest summit in 2011. (Alan Arnette)

Alan Arnette made it to the summit in 2011. An avid climber and mountaineering blogger, Arnette spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about why the recent deaths are a harsh reminder of the inevitable risks involved with climbing such a dangerous mountain, rather than an alarming trend due to increased numbers of climbers.

Carol Off: What are you hearing about the mood at Everest base camp after these four deaths?

Alan Arnette: Well, sadly, and I don't mean for this to be disrespectful, but death and mountain climbing are synonymous. And this year, the six deaths are right in line with the historical average. It goes anywhere from two to 18 deaths since Everest has begun to be climbed back in the 1920s. So, you know, if you go to Mount Everest then you assume there is going to be a death on the mountain and occasionally it will happen on your team. It's devastating, but you continue. 
Climbers navigate the knife-edge ridge just below the Hillary Step on their way to the summit of Mount Everest. (Adrian Ballinger/Alpenglow Expeditions/AP)

CO: There was a record number of permits given this year to climb to the summit and a record number of people who actually achieved the summit this weekend. Would that have an effect on the people who died?

AA: Of the six people who died, it looks like two were from a fall. One was just a wonderful Nepali gentleman who was 86 years old. He was attempted to set the age record. The other three were altitude-related. So I think it's safe to say it had nothing to do with the weather and it had nothing to do with the number of people on the mountain. 
People die on Everest every year, says mountaineer Alan Arnette. (Alpenglow Expeditions/Adrian Ballinger/AP)

CO: What keeps people going despite the fact that they are seeing those who aren't surviving the climb?

AA: That's tragic. This weekend, with four people dying on the mountain, I am positive that people did see bodies on the trail. I've sadly had to bury a teammate on one of these 8,000-metre mountains. We zipped him up in a sleeping bag. We lowered him into a crevasse and had a short ceremony for him.

It causes you to re-evaluate why you're there. You have to be very clear in your motives before you go to a mountain like Mount Everest because there's a thousand reasons to turn around and there's only one to keep going. And when you see a body, in that moment, that brings that equation into focus.

It's devastating. You think about their family. You know that their spouse or perhaps their children or parent will never see that person again. It does cause you maybe to double-check everything and to become very careful as you go forward because you don't want to join that person.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Alan Arnette.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?