American, Swiss Climbers Die on Mount Everest in First Deaths Since Covid-19 Pause

Two climbers, one American and the other Swiss, have died on Mount Everest in the first casualties of the climbing season on the world’s tallest mountain, expedition organizers said.

U.S. national Puwei Lei, 55 years old, managed to get as far as the Hillary Step, located between the highest camp at South Col and the summit, but had to turn back because of snow blindness and exhaustion, expedition leader Seven Summit Treks said Thursday

Chhang Dawa Sherpa, a director at the Nepal-based company, said that with the help of additional Sherpas—members of an ethnic group from the Himalayan valleys—and extra oxygen, Mr. Lei managed to return to the South Col base late on Wednesday evening before he died.

Abdul Waraich, a 41-year-old climber from Switzerland, died on the way back down after reaching the summit. He also suffered from exhaustion. “We sent two additional Sherpas with oxygen and food. Unfortunately, the Sherpas couldn’t save him,” Mr. Dawa said in an Instagram post.

It isn’t clear when the expedition might be able to bring bodies down to lower altitudes. Bad weather conditions have hampered the operation, which can be time-consuming and dangerous even in good conditions.

Nepal canceled last year’s climbing season on Mount Everest because of the Covid-19 pandemic, as did China. The 29,000-foot peak straddles the borders of the two countries, and while China has this year restricted its side to Chinese climbers, Nepal has opened up the summit to foreign climbing expeditions, which are a valuable source of income. Its government has issued 408 permits for climbers attempting to summit the peak, a record, and May is generally regarded as the best time of year for making the ascent.

The Nepal Mountaineering Association, though, has asked climbing expeditions to bring back used oxygen cylinders as the country girds itself for a rise in Covid-19 infections after a surge across the border in India. The bottles can be refilled and used to treat patients. There are also concerns about Covid-19 infections among climbers in the Himalayas.

Scores of climbers have completed the ascent of Everest over the past week, and more are expected to make the attempt later in the month.

In all, thousands of climbers have scaled Everest since Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay made the first recorded summit in 1953. At least 311 others have died trying.

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