A Victoria man who summited Mount Everest during a climbing season marred by deaths and overcrowding is speaking out about the acts of heroism that saved lives on the world’s tallest peak.
Chris Dare stood atop the 8,848-metre peak on May 23, during a week when throngs of climbers, all seeking to take advantage of a limited window of good weather, became stuck in a lineup to the summit.
“This year was the perfect storm for disaster,” Dare told the Times Colonist, speaking via satellite phone from base camp.
In 2018, climbing conditions on Mount Everest were particularly favourable, with 10 days of calm.
“This year, the weather window was one day,” Dare said. “And what that did is it forced all of the climbers on the north side to go at the same time. And that resulted in huge queues and lineups.”
The overcrowding was underscored by a striking photo taken by a climber on May 22 that shows dozens of mountaineers lining up on a narrow ridge leading to the summit.
The area where mountain climbers have been delayed has been dubbed the “death zone.” This season has been one of the deadliest, with 11 fatalities in a matter of days.
“The longer you spend in the death zone, the more danger you’re in,” Dare said.
Dare’s determination to climb Mount Everest dates back to nine years ago, when he set a goal to complete the Seven Summits challenge, in which climbers summit the tallest peaks on each continent. Dare is raising money for B.C. Children’s Hospital, and he has surpassed his goal of raising $8,848 — one dollar for every metre he climbed. He is the 23rd Canadian to climb the tallest summit on all seven continents.
“When I got to that summit, the entire weight of working nine years toward this goal kind of came off me,” said the 35-year-old military dentist, who works at CFB Esquimalt. “I was overcome with emotion and I cried behind my goggles because I had worked so hard to get there.”
Dare, who was climbing with his sherpa Nuru and members of the U.K.-based climbing company 360 Expeditions, tried to beat the rush and leave for the summit two hours early.
Several other teams had the same idea and were already lined up at three vertical single-file climbs on the north side of the mountain.
The wait added hours to both the ascent and descent, Dare said, because climbers would have to unclip from the guide rope to go around slower climbers. Dare was unwilling to take that risk.
The wait became more and more dangerous as the window of good weather shrank, with incoming 60-kilometre-an-hour winds and -50 C temperatures.
Dare described the ascent as the most “dangerous and terrifying” thing he has ever experienced, as much of the route consists of a 20-centimetre ledge perched above sheer drops of hundreds of metres. During the ascent, Dare passed the bodies of failed climbers, a stark reminder of the peril he was in.
He said most people summit within six to nine hours, but the journey took Nuru and Dare
11 1/2 hours, which taxes the oxygen supply.
“Two of my teammates, they ran out of oxygen at high altitude and they almost died,” Dare said.
Dare spent just 10 minutes at the top of Everest, forgoing the coveted summit photo before beginning the gruelling descent.
Dare said he recognizes now that he was in danger of dying on the mountain. He made it back thanks to encouragement from Nuru, and thinking of his wife, Jenney, and his parents in Victoria.
“If Nuru wasn’t there … I definitely would not have made it,” Dare said. “I credit him for getting me through that.”
Dare said when he reached Camp 3, he was in such a daze that he sat outside his tent, exposed to the wind and the snow, until a man named Jamie, part of the 360 Expeditions team, pulled him inside the tent.
Dare, Nuru and Jamie spent a frigid night huddled in the tent, sharing one tank of oxygen and waiting anxiously for other team members to return.
“We all thought they were definitely going to die, but there was nothing we could do, as we were virtually paralyzed ourselves,” Dare wrote in a Facebook post about the experience.
In the post, Dare told the story of a woman named Kam who became weak as she ran out of oxygen on the descent from the summit. Her sherpa, too weak to help himself and Kam, left the climber to save his own life, Dare said.
When another climber named Rolfe heard she was stranded, he mounted a one-man rescue high above Camp 3. When Rolfe found her, Kam couldn’t stand or move and her hands were too frozen to grip any ropes.
Rolfe attached Kam to himself and rappelled down three pitches, dragging the woman into the camp.
“Kam would have surely died, if Rolfe didn’t find and rescue her,” Dare wrote, calling the man a true hero.
One member of the expedition team did die on the mountain, an Irishman named Kevin Hynes. Dare said he last saw Hynes on summit day, when he decided to descend to a lower camp. The
56-year-old father of two died in his tent at 7,000 metres, according to BBC News.
Dare said the harrowing experience taught him a lot about the difficult decisions people must make during challenging circumstances.
“Despite all our technology, support and modern gear, it’s the mountain that’s still in charge,” he wrote.
Dare said the commercialization of Mount Everest and the proliferation of budget mountaineering companies means many people are climbing the world’s highest peak with limited training or experience.
Those climbers put themselves and others at risk, he said. “I think it’s extremely important for people to realize how difficult this mountain is,” he told the Times Colonist.
Dare flies home on Saturday and said his family will likely be relieved to hear that he’s taking a break from extreme mountain climbing.
“Because the seven summits are done for me and because of the tragedy I saw and the heartache I had, I’m going to tell them: ‘I’m not going to climb any more of these difficult high mountains’ and they can relax. Throughout this entire Everest trip, they were on edge.”