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May 21, 2012
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Local man among rescuers in Everest tragedy

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - The window to summit Mount Everest was death's door for at least four climbers, but a few others may live because a local man was helping with rescue efforts.

Jon Kedrowski was near the summit of the world's tallest mountain Saturday when the weather changed and 100 mph winds trapped dozens of climbers, Kedrowski said.

It's being called the worst Everest tragedy since 1996, when eight people died. That event was the subject of Jon Krakauer's book, "Into Thin Air."

Kedrowski said there was a two-hour wait at one of the main chokepoints near the summit, as more than 150 climbers attempted to summit during Friday and Saturday's brief weather window.

High winds moved in and trapped folks who were ascending and descending. Some folks had already been climbing for 18 hours or more.

Many climbers had been waiting at a staging camp for several days for their chance.

"Jon was ascending while others were descending from 18-hour climbs to the summit," said Chris Tomer, Kedrowski's climbing partner for 15 years and a meteorologist with Denver's Fox 31 television. "They were exhausted, sick from altitude, hallucinating, frostbitten and disoriented."

Kedrowski spotted four climbers on the verge of death and did everything he could. One man had his hat and gloves off, and was completely frozen.

"He reach out to Jon like a zombie for help," Tomer said.

Another person was lying face-down in the snow with his headlamp still on.

"Another climber was so sick, Jon and a Sherpa stuck that guy with a needle full of DEX (an altitude drug)," Tomer said.

Everyone had their oxygen masks strapped on, Kedrowski said.

Kedrowski is now back at Basecamp recovering.

"Don't count me out just yet for a return up the mountain to catch the weather window May 25-26," he said.

Kedrowski is part of Dan Mazur's SummitClimb Expedition. He earned his Ph.D. in geography and is on Everest as part of his research into air and water quality at extreme altitudes.

The Everest climbing season runs from late March through early June and right now there are 32 teams on Kedrowski's route, up the Khumbu Icefall to the summit - 337 climbers and more than 400 Sherpa.

The Nepalese government places no limits on how many climbers can be on Everest. It's raising concerns about crowding in one of the world's most remote places. More than 150 climbers tried to reach the summit Friday and Saturday.

Three dead climbers suffered exhaustion and altitude sickness, Nepali mountaineering official Gyanendra Shrestha told the Associated Press. Climbers are advised not to try for the summit after 11 a.m., Shrestha said.

"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," Shrestha said.

The season's first clear conditions were Friday and Saturday, but that window was closing by Saturday afternoon when the windstorm hit, Shrestha said.

"With the traffic jam, climbers had a longer wait for their chance to go up the trail and spent too much time at higher altitude. Many of them are believed to be carrying a limited amount of oxygen, not anticipating the extra time spent," Shrestha said.

The area above the last camp at South Col is nicknamed the "death zone" because of the steep icy slope, treacherous conditions and low oxygen level.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated May 21, 2012 09:17PM Published May 21, 2012 09:13PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.