2 Mongolian Climbers Usukhjargal Tsedendamba and Prevsuren Lkhagvajav perish on Everest while climbing without oxygen and guides
Mongolian climbers die on Everest

Rescue teams successfully located the body of a second Mongolian climber who had gone missing on Mount Everest, expedition organizers confirmed on May 19, marking the second fatality of this mountaineering season on the world’s highest peak. Mr. Usukhjargal Tsedendamba, aged 53, and Mr. Purevsuren Lkhagvajav, aged 31, were last heard from on the evening of May 12 from Camp 4, situated just under 1km below the summit. Mr. Tsedendamba’s remains were discovered at an altitude of 8,600m on May 17 following extensive search and rescue efforts that were hindered by adverse weather conditions. An official from 8k Expeditions, the organizer of their climbing permits and base camp accommodations, stated, “The second body was located on Friday, but required confirmation. We were able to confirm his identity yesterday.” Efforts are underway to retrieve both bodies, with four guides dispatched for the search and rescue operation. Mr. Lkhagvajav’s body was found close to an area known as the balcony, a small platform situated at an elevation of around 8,400m. It was mentioned that the two climbers were without guides and that their walkie-talkie was found in their tent.

Nepal’s tourism department revealed through a statement on May 14 that another team had spotted the pair “making their way towards Everest’s summit” on the morning of May 13. Numerous climbers have traveled to Nepal, which is home to eight of the world’s 14 highest peaks, to attempt summits during the favorable spring climbing season characterized by warmer temperatures and calmer winds. In 2024, Nepal issued over 900 permits for its mountains, including 419 for Everest, generating more than $5 million (S$6.7 million) in royalties. So far, around 80 climbers have successfully reached the 8,849m summit of Everest following the installation of ropes by a team in April. Tragically, two climbers lost their lives on the nearby Makalu, the world’s fifth-highest peak, in 2024. French climber Johnny Saliba, aged 60, passed away at an elevation of 8,120m during a summit attempt last week. Additionally, a 53-year-old Nepali guide lost his life on the same peak while descending from the summit just a week ago.

Mount Everest, standing tall at 8,848 meters (29,029 feet), is the ultimate mountaineering challenge, drawing adventurers from around the globe. Among these brave souls were Usukhjargal Tsedendamba and Prevsuren Lkhagvajav from Mongolia, who embarked on a mission to summit Everest without supplementary oxygen or Sherpa support. Their story, filled with determination, resilience, and ultimately tragedy, highlights the extreme challenges faced by climbers on the world’s highest peak.

The Ascent

Usukhjargal Tsedendamba and Prevsuren Lkhagvajav were experienced climbers with a clear objective: to reach Everest’s summit under the most challenging conditions. They aimed to climb without using supplemental oxygen and without the help of Sherpas, a feat attempted by only the most seasoned and confident mountaineers.

Their journey began with a series of acclimatization climbs, as is standard practice for high-altitude expeditions. They ascended and descended between camps to allow their bodies to adjust to the decreasing oxygen levels. By mid-May, they were ready for the final push.

On May 13, 2023, the Mongolian climbers made their summit bid. Conditions were far from ideal. High winds battered the upper slopes, making the already arduous climb even more grueling. Nevertheless, Tsedendamba and Lkhagvajav pressed on, determined to achieve their goal.

The Summit

Despite the harsh conditions, the pair reached Everest’s summit. This moment of triumph was captured in photographs taken on their mobile phones, showing them standing on the roof of the world. These images would later confirm that they had indeed made it to the top, but they would also be the last pictures taken of them alive.

Unfortunately, the extreme altitude and severe weather took a toll on their bodies. Realizing the severity of their situation, they decided to use supplemental oxygen, a decision that likely prolonged their lives but did not save them.

The Descent and Tragedy

Descending Everest is often more dangerous than the ascent. Exhausted, oxygen-deprived, and battling the elements, many climbers find the journey down to be their undoing. For Tsedendamba and Lkhagvajav, the descent proved fatal.

They were last seen alive by two climbers from Tag Nepal at 8:54 am on May 13. The Tag Nepal climbers, faced with worsening weather conditions, turned back from their summit attempt. However, the Mongolian pair continued their descent.

By the time 8K Expeditions, the outfitter responsible for their logistics, attempted to contact them, it was too late. The Mongolians had left their radio at Camp 4, cutting off a vital line of communication. When they failed to respond, concerns grew, and a search was initiated.

Sherpa searchers eventually located their bodies. The details of their final moments remain unclear, but it is believed that exhaustion, altitude sickness, and the severe weather conditions contributed to their deaths. The searchers retrieved their mobile phones, which were sent to the victims’ families in Kathmandu. These phones contained summit pictures, providing some closure by confirming their monumental achievement.

The Aftermath

The retrieval of the climbers’ bodies became a priority for 8K Expeditions. Lakpa Sherpa, the expedition director, stated that efforts to bring the bodies down would commence once the second group of clients summited. Moving bodies off the route is a critical task to prevent further hazards for other climbers.

The tragedy of Tsedendamba and Lkhagvajav underscores the immense risks associated with high-altitude climbing. Despite their extensive experience and preparation, the unforgiving nature of Everest claimed their lives.

Reflections on Climbing Everest Without Oxygen

Climbing Everest without supplemental oxygen is a goal that only the most elite mountaineers attempt. It requires not only physical fitness but also exceptional mental resilience. The lack of oxygen at extreme altitudes can lead to hypoxia, where the body and brain are deprived of oxygen, resulting in impaired judgment, hallucinations, and loss of consciousness.

For many climbers, the use of supplemental oxygen is a critical safety measure. It can mean the difference between life and death. However, purists argue that climbing without oxygen is the truest test of a mountaineer’s abilities.

The Physical and Mental Toll

The physical and mental demands of climbing Everest cannot be overstated. The journey involves weeks of acclimatization, extreme weather conditions, and the constant threat of avalanches and crevasses. Climbers must be in peak physical condition and possess the mental fortitude to push through pain, fear, and exhaustion.

Tsedendamba and Lkhagvajav were well aware of these challenges. Their decision to climb without supplemental oxygen and Sherpa support was a testament to their skill and determination. Yet, even the most prepared climbers can fall victim to the mountain’s perils.

More summits are expected today

Anticipated updates are forthcoming from other climbers attempting to summit Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen. Hugo Ayaviri from Bolivia has begun his ascent towards the peak. Along with the physical demands of the climb, these individuals must contend with long wait times and a slow trek, leaving them especially susceptible to the harsh cold. Karol Adamski of Poland, who previously indicated his intention to climb without oxygen, successfully reached the summit today as part of the Satori Adventures team, although there was no confirmation that he abstained from supplemental oxygen use. Norrdine Nouar from Germany departed from Camp 2 two days ago, as shown by his tracker, but no further updates on his progress have been provided.

Lessons Learned

The deaths of Usukhjargal Tsedendamba and Prevsuren Lkhagvajav serve as a sobering reminder of the dangers inherent in high-altitude mountaineering. Future climbers can learn from their experience by:

  1. Prioritizing Safety: While the goal of summiting without supplemental oxygen is noble, it is essential to prioritize safety over personal goals. Supplemental oxygen can save lives and should not be dismissed lightly.
  2. Effective Communication: Maintaining communication with base camp and support teams is crucial. Leaving behind a radio can cut off a vital lifeline in emergencies.
  3. Respecting the Elements: Weather conditions on Everest can change rapidly. Climbers must be prepared to turn back if conditions become too dangerous, even if it means abandoning a summit bid.
  4. Understanding the Risks: Climbing Everest involves significant risks, including the possibility of death. Climbers should thoroughly understand these risks and be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

The Impact on the Climbing Community

The loss of Tsedendamba and Lkhagvajav has resonated deeply within the climbing community. Their story is a poignant reminder of the thin line between success and tragedy on the world’s highest peaks. It also highlights the spirit of adventure and the relentless pursuit of goals that drive climbers to take on such monumental challenges.

Their legacy serves as an inspiration to future generations of climbers, reminding them of the importance of preparation, caution, and respect for the mountains.



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