An American and a Swiss climber have died on Mount Everest in the season's first casualties on the world's highest mountain at nearly 30,000 feet at its peak, expedition organizers said Thursday.
U.S. national Puwei Liu, 55, died at the highest camp on the mountain at South Col. He had reached the climbing feature named the Hillary Step, located between South Col and the summit, but had to return because of snow blindness and exhaustion, expedition organizer, Seven Summit Treks said.
With the help of support team members and additional oxygen, he was brought back to the camp at South Col but died on Wednesday evening, it added.
The Swiss climber, Abdul Waraich, 41, reached the peak before having difficulties, said Chhang Dawa of Seven Summit Treks in Nepal.
"Abdul successfully reached the summit but began experiencing issues during his descent," he said. "We sent two additional Sherpas with oxygen and food. Unfortunately, the Sherpas couldn't save him."
No other details were given on the dead climbers and when their bodies would be brought down. Bad weather conditions have forced climbers to descend to lower altitudes for now.
Carrying bodies down the icy and slippery slopes from the highest altitudes is a difficult task that takes lots of time, requires several Sherpa workers and is generally very costly.
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Nepal and China both canceled climbing seasons last year on the 29,032-foot-high mountain, which is divided between them. China is allowing only Chinese climbers on the north side of the mountain this year.
The pandemic prompted Everest's closure to climbing last year on both its southern side in Nepal and the northern side on China. Nepal had issued more than 400 permits to foreign climbers, despite the surging a Covid-19 outbreak in the region, as of earlier this month.
The month of May usually has the best weather for climbing Everest. Scores reached the summit this week and more are expected to make their attempts later this month once the weather improves.
A high climber death toll in late May 2019 was attributed to inexperienced climbers and overcrowding on Everest. Photographs of long lines of climbers nearly two years ago sparked debate over whether tougher government restrictions were needed to limit inexperienced climbers from attempting the dangerous trek. At least 11 people, including three Americans, died on Everest in May 2019.
Nepal is one of the poorest nations in the world and took in about $300 million each year from climbing.