Even at 8,848 metres above sea level, beware of thieves.
The majestic Mount Everest often inspires altruism, but it also brings out the villainous side of people. At least two mountaineers who scaled the summit this season complained of oxygen cylinders being stolen, which, at those heights, means depriving someone of vital life support.
Every team stores oxygen cylinders near the summit ahead of their climb so they have sufficient supply but do not have to carry excess weight.
“Our four-member team had 27 cylinders stored at camp four, which is also called the summit camp, and took nine along when we started from the base camp,” Rudra Prasad Haldar, an employee of West Bengal police, told HT. “Upon reaching camp three, we learnt that only eight of our oxygen cylinders were left at camp four.”
“It was unfortunate but true that a large number of oxygen cylinders were stolen,” said Halder, who reached the summit on May 21.
Each climber generally requires eight cylinders — five for the climber and three for the accompanying Sherpa, an ethic group of Nepal considered elite mountaineers and often hired as guides in expeditions to the Everest.
The team of four that Haldar was part of took four additional cylinders considering that the pressure of the cylinders could be lower than normal as they were lying unused for two years. The team consisted of Satyarup Siddhanta, Malay Mukhopadhyay and Ramesh Roy — all from Bengal.
“At camp three, learning about the theft of cylinders, we decided to wait and asked the travel agency to send in more cylinders at the earliest,” said Haldar.
The teams that climbed the summit at the beginning of the season faced difficulties due to bad weather and had to stay longer on the mountain than planned. They ran out of oxygen and allegedly stole cylinders stored by other groups, said Halder.
“Whoever took those cylinders out of sheer necessity in that ‘death zone’ should at least have the courtesy and sense of duty to inform people at the base camp,” he added.
Australian mountaineer Adrian Ballinger shared a similar experience on his social networking page. “A lot of bull**** is going on around us - stolen oxygen bottles, poached tents, climbers taking it too close to the edge. We’re going to do our best to keep our ascent attempt clean, succeed or fail,” Ballinger wrote in a post from camp four on May 23.
Ballinger unfortunately had to call off his ascent because of lack of oxygen, but his climbing partner, Cory Richards, made it to the top without supplementary oxygen.
This is not the first time that climbers have complained of stolen oxygen cylinders.
In 2012, Sano Babu Sunuwar and Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa found their cylinders at camp four stolen. Against all odds, they made it to the top. Their descent, on the other hand, was easier because they had climbed the Everest with the intension of paragliding down.
Dutch mountaineer Arnold Coster, who climbed the Everest in 2004 and 2005, experienced similar problems in 2007, when their stock of oxygen at Mushroom Rock was stolen, making their descent perilous.
In 2005, Polish climber Marcin Miotk’s stock on medicines and sleeping bags were stolen as well.
Such incidents, however, are in sharp contrast to the heroic acts of many others who risked their own lives to help others. Former British serviceman Leslie John Binns is being hailed as a global hero for sacrificing his summit dreams barely 450 meters from the peak on May 22 to save the life of mountaineer Sunita Hazra, who was in terrible distress and would have perished without help.