A large team of climbers averted disaster Wednesday after a “systematic oxygen failure” occurred close to the 29,029-foot summit of Mt. Everest.
The 26-member Alpenglow Expeditions team, led by U.S. mountaineer Adrian Ballinger, had split into two groups for for the predawn summit push on the world’s tallest peak.
Ballinger explained on Instagram that the teams were at 28,000 feet and 28,500 feet when, in the darkness, several oxygen regulators failed almost at the same time.
“And that’s when Everest demanded everything we had. Climbers buddy-breathed with guides.
“Our strongest Sherpas – those that still had functioning oxygen – handed off their oxygen systems to members and descended without; and everyone without question gave up on a summit to ensure our team got down alive.”
All 26 members were reported to be safe and accounted for at Advanced Base Camp.
Kera Stinson, who was part of the expedition, described her experience:
“My team was involved in the mass oxygen equipment failure at 28,500ft on our summit push. Our oxygen regulators began to fail en mass at an extremely dangerous altitude and location.
“With the selfless help of our Sherpa and guide team, we all were able to get to a safe altitude alive while keeping our fingers and toes. Can’t quite wrap my head around the events of this morning yet, but extremely grateful for the safety of my team.”
Alan Arnette, a climber who is chronicling the 2018 season via his blog, reported that Ballinger warned climbers farther down the mountain that their oxygen systems could be faulty. (High on Everest’s slopes, air is so thin that most climbers require supplemental oxygen to stay alive.)
Ballinger told Arnette that the regulators failed “in rapid succession” as climbers were simply breathing – not while attaching or detaching new bottles.
Some devices made popping sounds as they abruptly released plumes of oxygen, while others merely released oxygen too quickly.
Arnette stated that two other teams experienced issues with oxygen systems, and added that the cylinders, regulators and masks used but the climbers were made by a British company.
Ballinger said, “We tested every reg and mask at 6,400 meters (Advanced Base Camp) before taking them up the hill. This problem did not manifest itself until very high on the mountain.”
Arnette added that more than 140 climbers from other expeditions achieved Everest’s summit on Wednesday, and that more summit attempts were expected Thursday.
–Image showing how close the climbers were to Mt. Everest’s summit is courtesy of Alpenglow Expeditions