Japanese climber Nobukazu Kuriki, who we told you about last week, had to be airlifted off Everest this past Sunday. The 30-year old mountaineer had been attempting to summit the tallest mountain on the planet when he contracted severe frostbite on his hands, feet and face. The painful condition left him stranded in Camp 2 and unable to descend, until a rescue team was able to evacuate him to a hospital in Kathmandu.
When we wrote about Kuriki last week he was preparing to climb Everest’s remote and seldom visited West Ridge, which is one of the toughest routes up the mountain. The weather had been cold and windy on the upper slopes of the mountain, but forecasts indicated that the winds would die down for a few days, granting access to the summit. In order to take advantage of that potential weather window, the Japanese man set off alone and without supplemental oxygen, hoping to complete one of the more ambitious Himalayan ascents in recent memory.
Kuriki climbed as high as 7500 meters (24,606 ft) but the predicted weather window failed to open. As a result, he was forced to abandon his attempt and head back down the mountain. Along the way, cold weather and high winds took their toll on his exhausted body and frostbite set into his extremities. The condition was likely exasperated by the lack of oxygen in his system, something that could have possibly been avoided had he used supplemental oxygen on the climb.
When enduring extremely cold temperatures the body attempts to keep itself warm by not circulating blood to the fingers, toes or other extremities. Without that blood flow, those body parts don’t get enough oxygen however, and as a result, the tissue soon begins to freeze and die. Had Kuriki taken bottled oxygen along on his climb there is a good chance that the wouldn’t have suffered frostbite at all or certainly not to the severe degree that he did.
The Japanese climber was able to descend as far as Camp 2 before calling for help and a rescue helicopter was later dispatched to retrieve him. Once he was back in Kathmandu, doctors began the painful process of treating the frostbite, although it will likely be some time before they know the true extent of the damage.
Today the doctors in Nepal released Kuriki to fly home to his native country, where he will undergo further examination and treatment.
By Kraig Becker
[Photo credit: Nobukazu Kuriki]