Why the 2023 ascent of Everest was particularly deadly

It is the most iconic peak of all. Everest, which culminates at nearly 8,850 meters, makes more and more people dream. Adventurers not always experienced enough. It’s one of the reasons the 2023 season was one of the deadliest on record. On average, every year, five mountaineers are killed on the steep and icy sides of the highest mountain in the world. This year, 17 did not survive (12 dead and five missing) while some deaths could have been avoided, according to Nepalese experts.

According to Eric Bonnem, founder of Expeditions Unlimited (the only French-speaking operator in Everest expeditions), “there is not enough selectivity in the issue of climbing permits”. Proof of this is that this year, the figure has risen to 478 when it was around 200 in 2010. A boom that reflects the desire to reach the “most emblematic summit on the planet”, analyzes Eric Bonnem. But also the less and less strict selection of the Nepalese authorities, when the Chinese authorities do not distribute more than 200 permits per season. “We need more selectivity at the start but also that tour operators ensure that those registered have the experience, culture and sufficient physical preparation” to climb such a challenge, insists Eric Bonnem.

“It’s becoming a bit of a mess”

Sensible when you know that the ascent of Everest can be done via Tibet and Nepal and that to access the Tibetan side, you must have already climbed a summit… of 8,000 meters. It is therefore better to have already rubbed shoulders with Mont Blanc or Kilimanjaro, before tackling the 8,850 meters, even if, “with the acceleration of tourism, companies in Nepal have equipped the 8,000 meters”, advances the founder of Expeditions Unlimited. Namely that ropes have been installed all the way. “It’s becoming a bit of a mess,” breathes Eric Bonnem.

And more and more tourists are taking oxygen earlier and earlier. However, “the challenge is precisely first of all the lack of oxygen, the cold, this requires colossal and tenfold efforts at high altitude. Beyond 8,000 meters, brain cells die, we call it the death zone, ”develops the expert interviewed by 20 minutes, who still regrets a lack of experience and autonomy among climbers.

Somewhat naive climbers, equipped with oxygen cylinders of about 5 kg each, who are therefore increasingly supported by Sherpas (experienced Nepalese mountaineers). “There are about two Sherpas for a Westerner, says Eric Bonnem. That’s almost 1,500 people on the mountain, it was unimaginable ten years ago. And between lack of experience and physical preparation would slip today breaches of basic safety rules and behavior described as “criminal” by Eric Bonnem. The theft of oxygen bottles “in several teams, including ours, reveals one of the main problems of the season (…) the logistics of oxygen and safety standards”, thus recently deplored to AFP Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, from Imagine Nepal Trek and Expedition.

“There shouldn’t even be any safety instructions on the camps except for the start window to start the climb. One must be able to equip oneself. We are in such a mountain that it is unimaginable to have to explain the safety instructions and this shows the very amateurish dimension (of the climbers)”, still tackles Eric Bonnem.

A perilous ascent

Not to mention that the amateurs must also face a formidable weather, one of the first factors of death on Everest while “the cold, the wind will accelerate fatigue”. “We die of exhaustion, of acute mountain sickness (AMS), which will cause a pulmonary or cerebral embolism linked to the lack of oxygen, it is absolutely necessary to acclimatize without rushing. But there is a lack of humility from customers who think that everything is due to them”, continues the founder of Expeditions Unlimited. And this, while this year, the temperatures have been exceptionally extreme. “It should already be hot, around -28°C, but this year it was even -40°”, according to Mingma Gyalje Sherpa.

In the end, “we count the dead and the people who return amputated from a limb”, still asserts Eric Bonnem, who assures that the 2023 ascent is the first to count “as many individual deaths, without objective explanations like an avalanche by example “.

On the western side, Everest has a success rate of between 40 and 45%. A success that is only effective if the mountaineer has managed to climb and then descend. However, this figure could drop while “the number of deaths will probably increase, warns Eric Bonnem. And according to the heights expert, the race for “the image, the desire to post a photo one day at the top” contributes to the fact that there are “more and more people with less and less experience” on this Everest “which makes you fantasize”.

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