There’s been an accusation of grand theft on the roof of the world.
On Thursday, May 12, New Zealand climber Guy Cotter of expedition company Adventure Consultants wrote on Facebook that valuable climbing gear belonging to him had gone missing at Camp IV, which is located at approximately 26,000 feet on the South Col of Mount Everest. According to Cotter’s post, a cache of tents, stoves, pots, and gas was gone when he arrived. Cotter said he believes the stuff was stolen.
“The thieves do not consider the impacts this might have on the safety of our people when they arrive to find this vital equipment gone,” Cotter wrote, adding that the action may put people’s lives in jeopardy.
What happened to Cotter’s gear? We have yet to read substantive reports of the situation. Cotter wrote in his post that he believes other expedition operators who were looking to cut costs took the items. “This is the work of cheap operators who do not have enough of their own equipment and have to steal to cover the shortfall. I think this may only be the start, we already hear of some of the large cheap operators not having enough oxygen to supply this [to] teams,” he wrote.
Outside reached out to Cotter on Monday, May 15 to get more information about the missing gear but did not hear back.
This isn’t the first time that gear has gone missing—or has been outright stolen—on the world’s highest peak. In late April, Dutch climber Roeland van Oss recorded a teary video in which he said he saw someone take his gear on the peak. Van Oss said he heard a noise outside his tent during his first acclimatization rotation at Camp II (elevation 21,000 feet) and saw a man “pack the items into his backpack and disappear.” He said his gas stove and cooking set were missing.
Accusations of theft on Mount Everest crop up every few years. In 2019, British guide and climber Tim Mosedale reported hearing of stolen oxygen bottles at a high camp. In a lengthy Facebook post, Mosedale wrote that in 2017 his team had 14 bottles stolen from his site at Camp IV on Lhotse.
“When it’s one, two or three bottles, you could perhaps put it down to an innocent error. Maybe one climbing Sherpa deposited a load at ‘point x’ on the ropes above Camp III and another collected a different stash from ‘point y’. A simple enough error,” Mosedale wrote. “This team had diligently supplied what they deemed to be a necessary supply of oxygen for their climbers and their climbing Sherpas to safely make their summit bid.”
Losing oxygen can have deadly repercussions on Mount Everest. Few climbers can reach the summit without supplemental oxygen. The Himalayan Database, a website that records Himalayan climbing statistics, reports that only 221 of the 11,341 successful summits on Everest were accomplished without using supplemental oxygen—that’s just 1.95 percent.
The 2017 incident prompted the BBC to write about the prevalence of oxygen bottle theft on the peak. A guide named Nima Tenji Sherpa told the publication that the uptick in inexperienced climbers and unqualified guides had contributed to increasing instances of thievery on the mountain. “It is becoming a serious problem up there,” he said. “I kept on hearing from expedition groups that their oxygen bottles had disappeared and that could be life-threatening—particularly when they have used up what they are carrying on their way up and they are still not on the summit yet, or they plan to use the stocked bottles on their way back.”
Actually addressing the crimes is difficult. In 2017 Phurwa Namgyal Sherpa, general secretary of Nepal National Mountain Guide Association, told The Himalayan Times, “There is nothing we can do when oxygen bottles, food items and cooking gas cylinders are stolen by breaking tent locks.”
But developments this season may change the decorum on Everest. Earlier this spring, the Nepali government announced it would station officials at Everest Base Camp to help “manage climbing activities” amongst the record number of climbers on the mountain. Yubaraj Khatiwada, director at Nepal’s Department of Tourism, told U.S. News and World Report that a “team of doctors and government officials would be stationed at the Everest base camp for the first time to manage climbing activities throughout the season. We are concerned for their safety and are well prepared to cope with the crowd, by spreading summit bids as long as the good weather window provides to ensure the climbing goes smoothly as far as possible.”
Whether the presence of these officials prevents future thievery is yet to be seen.
Climbers Ready For the Early Push
Hundreds of climbers are making their way to the summit of Mount Everest this weekend, after nine Sherpa guides installed fixed safety ropes to the top on Saturday, May 13. The opening of the climbing window is later than normal, and thus far the season has been delayed by high winds that kept climbers pinned down at lower camps for much of the first half of May.
Among the climbers to reach the summit early is Pasang Dawa Sherpa, who on Sunday made it to the top for the 26th time. He is now tied with Kami Rita Sherpa for most summits on the world’s highest peak.
Weather reports suggest that the jet stream winds will be below the 30-mph threshold through May 20, hopefully allowing climbers to spread out and avoid the massive queues of 2019, which generated international headlines. Another good omen is the lack of typhoon activity in the Bay of Bengal. These storms can bring high winds and snow to Everest, stopping everyone from climbing.
Some teams wrote online that they are targeting Wednesday, May 17th as the day to reach the summit, while other expeditions are waiting. I recently spoke with Garrett Madison of Madison Mountaineering who said, “We’re not going until around May 22-23 onwards. Hopefully, it won’t be too crowded then.”
Nepal issued 467 permits to foreign climbers on Mount Everest, but with the usual attrition of between 20-25 percent, I estimate there are 350 remaining left, supported by approximately 525 Sherpas. My rough estimate is that 875 climbers will attempt to scale Everest over the next two weeks, with about half of that number leaving in the early wave.
These climbers may encounter crowding at the sections of the route that are prone to bottlenecks, such as the narrow ridge between the Balcony and South Summit and Hillary Slope. Reports say the rope fixers installed dual ropes in some spots along this section—one for ascending and one for descending.
A Traditional Summit Schedule
Having written about Everest expeditions for several years now, I’m familiar with the traditional schedule for reaching the peak’s summit. Most teams spend two nights at Camp II (21,000 feet elevation) on their summit push, using it as an Advanced Base Camp. Teams spend additional time there during sudden changes in weather to allow Sherpas to haul tents, oxygen, and other supplies to Camp III (24,000 feet elevation) and Camp IV (26,000 feet elevation) on the South Col.
Should climbers encounter clear skies this week, this is what their schedule will look like:
- Everest Base Camp to Camp II: Six hours (some teams stop at Camp I at 19,900 feet for one night)
- Camp II to Camp III: Six hours (climbers will sleep with supplemental oxygen)
- Camp III to Camp IV: Four hours (some teams sleep at Camp IV, while others head for the summit the same day)
- Camp IV to Mount Everest summit: Between eight and 12 hours (climbers spend 15 minutes to one hour one the summit)
- Mount Everest summit to Camp IV: Between three and five hours (climbers rest for 30 minutes and refuel)
- Camp IV to to Camp II: Between two and four hours (climbers sleep at Camp II)
- Camp II to Everest Base Camp: Between two and four hours, followed by a big celebration
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