B.C. climber 'pushed to the brink of death' on overcrowded Everest

Chris Dare worked for nine years to summit the tallest peaks on each of Earth's seven continents.

He spent the past two of those years preparing for Mount Everest, the last on his list.

Dare, 35, reached the top of the highest mountain in the world at 9:30 a.m. local time on Thursday.

He spent 10 minutes at the summit. He didn't take a photo because sparing the time could have killed him — doing even the most simple tasks on top of the world is made much more complicated by the thin air, high winds and freezing temperatures — and he had already spent precious minutes and oxygen stuck in a bottleneck of climbers on three of the vertical sections of the ascent. 

Hammered by wind and with temperatures dropping to -50 C, Dare turned around and left.

"I was literally pushed to the brink of death. And I'm not lying about that," said the Victoria resident, speaking by satellite phone from his tent at base camp on the Tibetan side of the peak on Tuesday.

"Every mountain I go to, they're always difficult," he said. "But Everest … it turned out to be a different beast."

Chris Dare

Deadly season

Dare experienced Everest during one of its deadliest climbing seasons to date, with at least 11 deaths so far this spring.

Climbers and industry experts have said overcrowding, inexperienced climbers and mad dashes for the top during shorter windows of clear weather have contributed to the losses.

Dare, an officer with the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), climbed with an expedition team and the aid of sherpas. The group trekked up the Tibetan side of the peak, which Dare said has better crowd control because the Chinese government issues fewer climbing permits than the Nepalese.

Photos taken from the Nepali side of the mountain show a long line of climbers packed shoulder-to-shoulder, waiting for their turn to reach the top.

Climbers shed as much gear as possible and pack only the oxygen they need during the final push to the 8,848-metre summit. With a finite amount of bottled oxygen, bitter cold and weather liable to change, delays can be deadly.

Even though the Chinese side was less busy, Dare said his group ran into a lineup on summit day, because everyone wanted to go during a one-day window of good weather.

Chris Dare

"It forced everybody on the north side to go at the same time," he said.

A climb that should have taken six to nine hours took Dare more than 11½. He later wrote on Facebook that he only made it down by repeating the words "I'm not dying here today" in his head as he "stumbled" back to camp. 

Comments on a photo taken later note how much weight he had lost.

@nimsdai Project Possible/AFP

'Incredible climber' lost

One climber in Dare's group, an Irishman named Kevin, died before reaching the peak. Dare said he was an experienced climber who regularly conquered peaks in Pakistan and India, as well as Everest once last year.

"On summit day, he moved 200 metres out of camp and said, 'You know what, this isn't going to happen. I'm not up for it. Something's wrong. I gotta turn back,'" Dare recalls.

Dare said he patted Kevin on the shoulder and wished him luck as he passed him. He said Kevin ate, drank and went to sleep with oxygen inside his tent that night. Sherpas heard him snoring around 7 a.m. and left him to sleep a little longer.

By 8 a.m., Kevin had died.

Chris Dare

"It's hard to tell what happened," Dare said. "He was an incredible member of our team and we all miss him so much."

Dare said two more climbers in his group barely made it back to base. One British climber in his group, Kam, had to be rescued after her climb was delayed and turned into a 13-hour slog that drained all her oxygen.

"Her sherpa actually had to leave her for dead so he could go back and try to find help," Dare said.

The group's guide, Rolfe Oostra, went to look for Kam and spotted her blinking another climber's headlight as they lay in the snow. Dare said Oostra rappelled Kam to safety.

"It was a horrific day. Absolutely horrific," Dare said.

Dare decided he would climb the Seven Summits in 2010, as he sat on his bunk on a military base in Afghanistan during a deployment with the CAF. The officer had climbed Kilimanjaro that year and reached five other summits — Elbrus, Denali, Aconcagua, Puncak Jaya and Vinson — over the next six years.

Dare, who was once stationed in Edmonton, is now the 23rd Canadian to ever reach all seven peaks. He raised more than $10,000 for B.C. Children's Hospital with his climb up Everest.

He said the fundraising has been a bright spot.

"You know, I'm glad to have made the summit, but it was a lot of tragedy," Dare said, packing up to leave Everest on Wednesday.

"It's not just our team that lost members. Other teams had lost members that day as well, on both the north and south side.

"I don't know if I would want to go again."

Chris Dare