A grim detail in an Australian mountaineer's video from Mt Everest has highlighted the dangers of climbing the world's highest peak, as this year's season becomes one of the deadliest on record.
Luke Rollnik, 43, had the "mountain gods" on his side when he reached the tallest point on earth, with video footage capturing the incredible moment he balanced on the side of the mountain at 8,8000-metres — just 50 vertical meters below the summit.
Despite undergoing extensive training and having "a really good run", the experienced climber told Yahoo News Australia nothing could have prepared him for the "really confronting" reality that not everyone is so lucky.
While heading back down the snowy, steep rockface, video posted by Mr Rollnik on TikTok shows a steady stream of eager mountaineers walking past a dead body frozen on the ground just an arm's reach away.
"That is a body in the grey suit. I believe it's a climber from India from an earlier expedition," he said, adding it appeared it had been there for a few years due to "the fading of the suit".
"Passing that body was when I was like 'how much do I want this?' You also look straight down into the abyss when passing the body so your mortality is very real and in your face."
Mountaineer sees three dead bodies on Everest
The tragic scene wasn't the only one the Aussie encountered while completing the trek in May last year, with Mr Rollnik revealing he saw a total of three dead bodies "in that area" during his descent, and a glove with an arm in it.
"When I came across the first body [I saw] that was really close, like I'm talking, one foot away from you, it was fairly well preserved because it was frozen," he told Yahoo. "It's really confronting, and I did have a little talk to myself at the time saying you know, is it worth it? Like, what if this ends up being me?
"And I know most people won't understand this answer, but I decided I didn't come this far to just come this far. I'm gonna keep going and take the risk."
'Not just about getting that Instagram photo'
"Just like a lot of people," the Gold Coast personal trainer revealed he had "no idea" what he was doing when first climbing to base camp, in memory of his good friend who passed away from cancer.
"He was only 42 when he died. And it made me realise that life's short, and you've got to live your dreams," he said.
Mr Rollnik is "super proud" that he was able to complete the journey to the summit and back down, but warns people "it's a really hostile environment".
"I think some of the climbers know the risks but some of them also just think 'it won't happen to me'. But when you're in that environment, especially above 8000 metres, literally everything's trying to kill you. The cold is trying to kill you. If you spend too much time out there you'll freeze to death. If you run out of oxygen, you'll die. If you know make a wrong step and fall then you can die."
Such a high altitude leaves climbers feeling exhausted, Mr Rollnik said.
"You don't think straight and your cognitive function isn't great either. And when you're up near the summit, there's about 30 per cent of the oxygen as what you breathe at sea level. So even though you're breathing supplemental oxygen, you're still very much reduced with what you're actually breathing," he explained.
Why so many deaths on Mount Everest this year?
During the 2023 season, 478 permit numbers have been issued by the Nepal government — the highest number for one season. And 17 people have been declared dead (12 people reported dead and five still missing, but presumed dead by local media). Reuters reports it is the deadliest year since 18 died in 2015 when an earthquake triggered an avalanche.
While there are several factors at play for the fatalities, the main reason is attributed to bad weather, followed by inexperienced climbers.
"There was a hell of a lot of frostbite this year," Mr Rollnik said, who brought a group of climbers up to Everest between March and April this year through his fundraising initiative, Ballzy Expedition, which started in memory of his friend.
He also mentioned how a day after he and the group left base camp, a big chunk of glacial ice – known as a serac – collapsed and killed three sherpas at Khumbu Icefall. "That's sadly just a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. "There's just inherent dangers with mountaineering and that one really couldn't be helped."
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