The evacuation of badly frost-bitten and exhausted climbers was continuing yesterday, according to reports from the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. Most, if not all, of the 20 or so climbers involved were from two large commercial expeditions who tackled the 8,848m summit on Friday.
Scores of people climb Everest each year by the standard South Col route on the Nepal side, with May the busiest month. A place on a commercial expedition costs thousands of pounds, but the weekend disaster will reinforce warnings that Everest cannot be treated as a package holiday.
An experienced group led by the British climber, Mal Duff, had turned back from a summit attempt on Friday, fearing a deterioration in the weather. Mr Duff and his team, also a commercial venture, are now helping survivors down to Base Camp. The descent includes the Khumbu icefall, a hazardous barrier of ice cliffs and crevasses which will be particularly difficult for weary and injured climbers.
Three of the dead climbers were from a commercial group known as the International Friendship Expedition led by New Zealander, Rob Hall. They were Andrew Harris, 31, from Queenstown, New Zealand, Douglas Hanson, 42, of the United States, and Yasuko Namba, 47, of Osaka, Japan, who had just become the oldest woman to climb Everest.
Mr Hall was missing yesterday with growing fears for his survival. Last in contact on Saturday, he had frost bite on his hands and feet after staying high on the mountain to assist a stricken client.
It was reported yesterday that another member of the Friendship team, Seaborn Weathers, 49, a pathologist from Dallas, had been found alive and was on oxygen at the South Col camp. But feared dead was Scott Fischer, 41, leader of a mainly US expedition organised by the Mountain Madness Outdoor Adventure, of which he was a co-owner. The Americans began descending on Friday afternoon but on Saturday night Mr Fischer was reported to be unconscious and barely clinging to life. He and Mr Hall are well known in the international climbing community and their deaths will be keenly felt.
Last Thursday, a Taiwanese died on the mountain following a fall.