Published May 21, 2012
MT. EVEREST, Nepal – Mountain climber Jon Kedrowski was one of the lucky ones. He didn't make it to the top of Mount Everest last weekend, but he made it back alive -- and told a harrowing tale of how severe weather trapped several climbers and left at least 4 dead.
The weather and overcrowding at the tallest peak made for a frightening scene after climbers attempted to use a brief window of good weather in an otherwise poor climbing season.
"I counted four people that had either died that evening or probably got disoriented or basically passed out from their summit attempts on the 19th." Kedrowski of Colorado told Fox affiliate KDVR.
Strong winds of up to 100 MPH moved in and trapped dozens of climbers.
“[One man] was basically hallucinating, he took his hat off, his gloves were thrown away and then he kind of reached out and looked at me … he kind of reached out to me, kind of in a zombie-like fashion,” Kedrowski says.
The first clear weather conditions of the spring climbing season were Friday and Saturday, but a windstorm swept the higher altitudes of the mountain by Saturday afternoon, said Gyanendra Shrestha of Nepal's Mountaineering Department.
An estimated 150 climbers reached the summit on either day, most of them on Saturday.
"There was a traffic jam on the mountain on Saturday. Climbers were still heading to the summit as late as 2:30 p.m., which is quite dangerous," Nepali mountaineering official Gyanendra Shrestha said
The victims have been identified as Ebehard Schaaf, 61, a German medical doctor; Sriya Shah, 33, a Nepali-born Canadian woman; Song Wondin, a 44-year-old man from South Korea; and Wen Ryi Ha, 55, of China, according to officials.
The climbing season runs from late March to the first week in June, and the Nepalese government places no limits on how many climbers can be on the 29,035-foot mountain. The season's first clear conditions were on Friday and Saturday, but that window already was closing by Saturday afternoon with a windstorm at higher altitudes, Shrestha said.
On May 10, 1996, eight people died on what is believed to be the worst day on Everest, as described in Jon Krakauer's best-seller "Into Thin Air." The main reason for that disaster was said to be that climbers who started their ascents late in the day were caught in a snow storm that swept the mountain in the afternoon.
This year, the danger has been compounded by an unusually light snowfall, renowned Everest climber Conrad Anker said.
"Because there is little fresh snow, icy surfaces on the slopes make climbing more difficult and dangerous," Anker said, adding that "the snow acts as glue, stopping rocks from falling on the climbers."
Well-known expedition organizer Russell Brice cited the mountain's precarious condition in his decision in early May to cancel this year's climb for more than 60 clients.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.