The 2023 climbing season on Mount Everest has produced another fatality.
On Monday, May 1, an American named Jonathan Sugarman died in Camp 2 at approximately 21,000 feet of elevation during an acclimatization ascent on the world’s highest peak. The death was confirmed to Outside by the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu. This is the third death on Everest in 2023, and the first American fatality.
“Dr. Jonathan Sugarman passed away while climbing Mt. Everest Monday May 1. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends,” read a statement from the embassy. “The embassy is in contact with Dr. Sugarman’s family and with local authorities.”
Sugarman, 69, was part of an expedition led by American company International Mountain Guides (IMG) at the time of his death. In a statement published on the IMG website, company founder Eric Simonson acknowledged that one of the expedition’s climbers had died at Camp 2, but he did not identify the person in question as Sugarman. “We can confirm that this event was not the result of a climbing accident or route condition that would be of potential impact or safety concern to any other teams on the mountain,” Simonson wrote. “The rest of the IMG climbing team is all doing as well as can be expected given the circumstances.”
When contacted by Outside, Simonson declined to provide additional details of the death. Website Everest Chronicle quoted unnamed officials at Everest Base Camp who also confirmed that the deceased climber at Camp 2 was Sugarman.
Sugarman was a retired medical doctor from Seattle. He had diligently for the expedition and was feeling well, a source familiar with the expedition told Outside. He was chasing the Everest summit after turning back on the peak in 2022. During his Everest attempt he turned back after reaching Camp 3 at 24,000 feet. During that trip Sugarman summited 20,161-foot Lobuche and 20,210-foot Island Peak.
He arrived in the Khumbu valley alongside the International Mountain Guides expedition in early April, and according to the company’s website, the group reached Everest Base Camp on April 10. According to IMG updates, the group did training on adjacent peaks for a week before venturing onto Everest on April 17 to begin acclimatization hikes to higher camps. On April 29, the group departed Everest Base Camp on another hike to higher elevation—half of the team made it to Camp 2 while some climbers stayed behind in Camp 1. The remaining climbers arrived in Camp 2 on April 30, and the group planned to take a rest day on May 1 before pushing to Camp 3 on May 2.
The latest IMG update did not say whether or not the team plans to continue with its acclimatization round. According to Everest Chronicle, officials were attempting to bring Sugarman’s body to lower elevations on May 2.
Sugarman was a veteran of international mountaineering expeditions. In August 2022, Sugarman gave an interview to coaching website UphillAthlete, in which he discussed his history in climbing. He said he had stopped doing the sport in college, only to pick it up again in his fifties.
“I climbed when I was in college, but quit cold turkey when I found myself doing something that had resulted in recent deaths. I realized that I was not appropriately concerned. I dragged around a climbing rope, harness, and rack for years, though,” he said.
Sugarman returned to the sport decades after quitting when a college roommate invited him on a trip to Tanzania to scale 19,341-foot Kilimanjaro. “Although I wasn’t initially inclined, my daughter (then in college) asked if she could come too, and that sealed it. That led me to climb Mount Rainier a short time thereafter, to join the Mountaineers in Seattle, and to take a couple of climbing courses—and then embark on a number of domestic and international climbs,” he told the website.
Sugarman had struggled with high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE)—a potentially fatal illness caused by rapid elevation gain—in the past, and parts of his interview with Uphill Athlete focused on the training regimen he had pursued to overcome the illness. In 2016 he suffered from HAPE while attempting to scale 26,864-foot Cho Oyu and aborted his expedition after reaching Camp 1 at 21,000 feet.
Sugarman had amassed an impressive collection of summits during his career, including an ascent of 22,837-foot Aconcagua in Argentina, and a successful ascent of 20,310-foot Denali in Alaska. According to Uphill Athlete, he took a climbing trip to Ecuador in November 2021, and summited 19,347-foot Cotopaxi and reached the upper mountain of 18,99-foot Cayambe and 20,549-foot Chimborazo before turning back due to avalanche danger.
In a post on Facebook, UphillAthlete founder Steve House called Sugarman a “lovely person.”
“I remember Jonathan from his time working with Uphill Athlete in 2021. He was a really interesting and intelligent man,” House wrote. “I admired his humility as well as his willingness to learn. Sending my thoughts to his friends and family and all those involved in this loss.”
He leaves behind his wife, Terese Sullivan, in Seattle and his daughter Maya Sugarman in Los Angeles.
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