Climbers Are Dying on Mount Everest at an Alarming Rate
The 2023 death toll on Everest has already reached double digits—with multiple people still missing. And the climbing season isn’t over yet.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
The 2023 climbing season on Mount Everest has become a chaotic mess in recent days, with multiple reports of deaths, missing climbers, and high-altitude rescues. An estimated 500 people reached the summit in the last week, taking advantage of a prolonged period of calm weather and clear skies. Amid the rush to the top, ten climbers have died, making 2023 among the deadlier years in recent memory—and the season isn’t over yet.
As of Monday, May 22, the fatalities include four Sherpas and six foreign climbers. On April 12, a collapsing ice tower buried and killed three Sherpa guides in the Khumbu Icefall. The seven other fatalities were all due to sickness, cold, or exhaustion. At time of publishing, several climbers are missing on the mountain, and the death toll could rise in the coming days.
According to data collected from record-keeping website The Himalayan Database and other accounts, the annual average number of deaths on Mount Everest from 1922 through 2022 is approximately five climbers. The 30-year average from 1993 through 2022 is 6.2 deaths. Thus, the 2023 season is approaching twice that.
Everest’s deadliest season happened in 2014 when 16 climbers died—a hanging serac on Everest’s west shoulder collapsed, releasing tons of ice into the Khumbu Icefall, where sherpas were ferrying gear to higher camps. The second deadliest year was 1996, when 15 climbers died in a season that was chronicled in John Krakauer’s book and classic Outside feature Into Thin Air.
Among the dead on Everest is Australian Jason Bernard Kennison, 40, who died near the Balcony on his descent on Sunday, May 21. Kennison,who was climbing with Asian Trekking, survived a horrific car crash in 2006, and had to re-learn to walk after sustaining a spinal injury in the wreck. Kennison was climbing the peak to raise funds for an Australian nonprofit that helps people with spinal-cord injuries.
“We are so proud of his achievements and we take great solace in knowing he made it to the summit. The highest place on this earth,” his family wrote in a statement online.
The Himalayan Times reported that Dawa Steven Sherpa, of Asian Trekking, said that two Sherpa guides were descending with Kennison after reaching the top when they noticed him acting abnormally. “Sherpa guides brought him to the Balcony area. They ran out of oxygen, and bringing supplement bottles from Camp IV couldn’t be possible due to excessive winds,” Dawa Steven said. Website Explorersweb quoted Dawa Steven as saying the guides administered the corticosteroid dexamethasone to the stricken climber and increased his oxygen supply, but the measures did not improve his situation. After seven hours, Dawa Steven told his Sherpas to descend to Camp IV, as their oxygen was also running low. “Jason, who collapsed near the balcony area, refused to move with Sherpa guides, and his body is still in the Balcony area,” he told The Himalayan Times.
On Friday, May 19, a 56-year-old Malaysian climber named Awang Askandar Bin Ampuan Yaacub died at Camp IV due to unknown health problems. Local media in Malaysia reported that Askandar was a lieutenant colonel with the Malaysian police, and a father of six children. “Although you were busy with work, there has never been a single day that you ignored us,” his wife wrote online. “You are indeed a father who really loves all his children, always advising them to ‘help mama, listen to mama.’”
The same day another Malaysian climber named Muhammad Hawari Bin Hashim, 33, went missing after summiting the mountain. Both men were climbing with outfitter Pioneer Expeditions. Hashim, who is hearing-impaired, disappeared after descending from the summit to Camp IV. Pioneer Expeditions executive director Nivesh Karki told local media that his team lost contact with Hashim amid their attempts to locate Askandar. The company founder, Ngaa Tenji Sherpa, made an urgent plea on Instagram for help in finding his client, asking “The situation is critical, and time is running out. We have been searching since the time he went missing. We are pleading with anyone who may have spotted a stranded climber to immediately contact me at the Everest Base Camp (EBC). Every second counts in this race against time!”
Another missing climber, Singaporean Shrinivas Sainis Dattatraya, 39, went missing on Friday, May 19th. He sent a text message to his wife that day saying he had reached the summit of Everest, but he was not likely to make it back down. Sushma Soma, his wife, told The Straits Times, said she last heard from him at 3.30 P.M. on Friday. There has been no word from him since. Soma said: “Through his satellite phone, he told me that he had made it to the summit. But then he followed with bad news, saying he could not make it down.” He was with Seven Summit Treks.
Videos and accounts of the scene on Mount Everest flooded social media over the weekend. One Instagram clip showed veteran guide Gelje Sherpa wrapping an abandoned climber in a tarp and strapping him to his back. “At the Balcony during our summit push around 8,300m, I saw someone in danger. A man who needed rescuing, and no one else was helping. I made the decision to cancel our client’s summit push so that I could bring him down to safety before he died up there alone.” Gelje wrote on Instagram. “I carried him myself all the way down to Camp 4, where a rescue team helped from then on.”
The video captures the desperate scene on the mountain, which was also described to me in a firsthand account from a climber who wished to remain anonymous. “I think there might be one or two more not reported yet. When we were at Camp II, we heard about the Sherpa whose hands froze at Camp IV and died. Just going from Camp III to Camp IV, they were bringing two bodies down, then on the summit push, one clearly dead Chinese, one-half alive but missing a boot,” the climber told me. “When I got back to Camp IV, one new dead on the trail that couldn’t have been more than three hours old because he wasn’t there when my faster teammates made it back. My buddy shook the body and was clearly dead.” The climber said he expects more deaths to be announced in the coming days.
Ten deaths marks a steep uptick from 2022, when three climbers died on the mountain. In 2019, 11 perished—some while waiting in traffic jams to reach the top. There are just eight previous seasons in which the death toll has hit double digits: 1982 (11), 1988 (10), 1996 (15), 2012 (10), 2014 (16), 2015 (13), and 2019 (11).
The climbing season on Everest may come to an end later this week. High winds are forecasted to return to unsafe levels of over 30 miles per hour, according to Chris Tomer of forecasting service Tomer Weather Solutions. “Jet winds return on the 26th and scrape the summit for several days. Even the 25th is markedly windier,” he told me. “This is most likely the end of the Everest climbing season. A few climbers might try after the 26th but any summit windows look small, brief, and windier.”
A group from Madison Mountaineering may be one of the final groups to reach the top. On Monday, Garrett Madison of Madison Mountaineering reported from Camp III on their summit push that the winds had let up, as predicted. The expedition will spend a full day as planned at the South Col, aiming to summit on Wednesday morning, May 24. Other teams scheduled to summit on Wednesday include Alpine Ascents, Adventure Consultants, Summit Climb, and several Nepali operators. The climbing season on Everest officially ends when the Icefall Doctors, who maintain the route from base camp to Camp II, remove the ladders across multiple gaping crevasses, which has yet to be scheduled.
Deaths on Mount Everest 2023
April 12: Tenjing Sherpa, Lakpa Sherpa, and Badure Sherpa, all working for Nepali operator Imagine Nepal, died when the upper section of the Khumbu Icefall collapsed
May 1: American Jonathan Sugarman, 69, died at Camp II climbing with American operator International Mountain Guides (IMG)
May 16: Phurba Sherpa died near Yellow Band above Camp III. He was part of the Nepal Army Mountain Cleanup campaign
May 17: Moldovan climber Victor Brinza died at the South Col with Nepali operator Himalayan Traverse Adventure
May 18: Chinese Xuebin Chen, 52, died near the South Summit with Nepali operator 8K Expeditions
May 18: Indian Suzanne Leopoldina Jesus, 59, who intended to climb Everest but left Base Camp ill and died in Lukla.
May 20: Malaysian Ag Askandar Bin Ampuan Yaacub got above South Summit, then became ill and died. He was climbing with Nepali operator Pioneer Adventures
May 21: Australian Jason Bernard Kennison, 40, died near the Balcony. He was with Asian Trekking
Amid the deaths and drama, Mount Everest did see multiple historic ascents in recent days. Nepal’s Pasang Dawa Sherpa, 46, tied Kami Rita Sherpa, 53, with 27 successful summits. Earlier in the season, Pasang Dawa had tied Kami Rita with 26, only to be surpassed by one several days later. He made it to the top for his second summit of the season. His record could be short-lived, as Kami Rita is expected to make one more attempt before this season ends.
On Friday, May 19, Nepal’s Hari Budha Magar, 43, became the first double above-the-knee amputee to climb Everest. Magar, who lives in Kent, England, was a Former British Gurkha soldier, who lost his legs to a bomb blast while serving in Afghanistan. His success comes after Kiwi Mark Inglis paved the way for double amputees with his Everest summit in 2006 from the Tibet side. Inglis’ amputations were below the knee.
Not using oxygen is a rare feat, as less than two percent of the 11,341 summits have been without the benefit of supplemental oxygen. However, Russians Vitaly Lazo and Anton Pugovkin told Explorersweb that they summited on Monday, May 22, without oxygen and then skied down.
Scott Lehmann and Shayna Unger, who are both hearing impaired also summited. According to their Instagram post, they believe to be the first “profoundly deaf” American couple to summit. They were supported by Seven Summits Treks. They reported, “It was freezing cold and super windy at the summit, our Garmin InReach ran out of battery, and our phones wouldn’t work!”
Another history-making ascent occurred on Wednesday, May 17, when an American surgeon named Dr. Jacob Weasel of Rapid City, South Dakota, reached the top. Dr. Weasel is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and according to his Instagram, he believes he is the first member of the tribe to summit Everest.