Three people died this weekend climbing down the 29,029-foot Mount Everest, the New York Times reports. One of them was 34-year-old Dr. Maria Strydom, an Australian finance professor who just a few months ago told her school she and her husband were planning to climb Everest "to prove that vegans can do anything and more." They'd already climbed the six other highest peaks in the world.
"It seems that people have this warped idea of vegans being malnourished and weak," Strydom continued, and "We've all heard stories of frostbite and having to turn around from excessive waiting times due to inexperienced people blocking routes. This can lead to life threatening situations and death." Ultimately, it wasn't any of these things that killed her - board director at Seven Summit Treks Pasang Phurba Sherpa told AFP Strydom fell ill on Saturday afternoon between camps 4 and 3: "She said she was feeling very weak and suffering from a loss of energy … signs of altitude sickness."
She and her husband Dr. Robert Gropel suffered from high-altitude pulmonary edema, the Washington Post reports, which caused fluid to build up in Strydom's brain and Gropel's lungs around 3,000 feet below the top of the mountain. While Gropel was able to fight his altitude sickness and try to help resuscitate his wife when she collapsed, he was unable to successfully resuscitate her. He remains in a hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Gropel does not want to leave the country without Strydom, whose body remains 26,000 feet up the mountain. Her sister, Aletta Newman, told the paper the family would not begin organizing a funeral until they knew for sure whether or not they could recover Strydom's body: "It just wouldn't feel right leaving her up there alone. It will make it so much harder." The BBC reports bodies are oftentimes left up on Mt. Everest because it's incredibly dangerous to try and recover them. More than 200 bodies reportedly remain on the mountain.
Gropel's father Heinz told the Australian, "Physically, [Gropel]'s OK, we think. Mentally, he is a mess. He's just lost his wife. These guys were not amateurs, they were experienced climbers."
In her original interview with Monash Business School, Strydom had said the first thing she'd do after coming down off the mountain was to have a hot shower: "And then, depending whether we reach the summit, I am sure my mind will turn to the next adventure."
Everest's other two victims this weekend were Eric Arnold, a 35-year-old alpinist who'd tried to climb the mountain five times and made it to the top this time before succumbing to frostbite, and Subhash Paul, another climber who died due to altitude sickness on his way down the mountain.
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