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Grieving man rebukes guides for failing to halt wife’s Everest trek

Shriya Shah, expedition manager Rishi Kandel and Ganesh Thakuri, managing director of Utmost Adventure Trekking Pvt. Ltd., on the way to Camp 1. Ms. Shah died while returning from the summit in May 2012.

Unknown/Shah's Facebook page

The husband of a Canadian woman who died after reaching the summit of Mount Everest in May believes she was too inexperienced to tackle the highest peak in the world and her Nepalese outfitter should have turned her away after she seemingly struggled on her acclimatization hike.

Speaking this week in one of his first interviews about his wife's death, Bruce Klorfine said he had serious concerns about his spouse heading to the Himalayas without having climbed a mountain previously. But he said Shriya Shah-Klorfine told him not to worry because the Nepalese outfitter she hired, Utmost Adventure Trekking Pvt. Ltd., would teach her the skills she needed when she got there.

However, after an acclimatization hike that took her part way up Everest, he said his wife told him by phone that one of her guides expressed unease with her slow speed. She was keen to keep going, but Mr. Klorfine said his wife's obvious inexperience should have trumped her eagerness. He contends Utmost Adventure Trekking should have never let her continue, but the outfitter rejects criticism she wasn't ready to climb Everest.

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"I feel like these people from that company really left it up to her," said Mr. Klorfine, an information-technology systems administrator in Toronto. "There was nobody who stepped in to say, 'Okay, I'm calling the shots and we found that you are not suitable based on what we see.'"

Ganesh Thakuri, managing director of Utmost Adventure Trekking, rejected criticism that Utmost didn't have enough experience to guide Ms. Shah-Klorfine to the summit, noting the three other climbers who died on the same day – some of them experienced mountaineers – were with other expedition companies. He asserted that Ms. Shah-Klorfine had told him that she had previous mountain climbing experience in North America and that the guides felt she had the skills and fitness to climb after her month-long training in the Himalayas.

With two Sherpas guiding her, Ms. Shah-Klorfine, 33, reached the 8,848-metre summit of Everest on May 19 but died on her way down. Exhausted and out of oxygen bottles, she collapsed around 8,500 metres, one of four climbers to perish on one of the deadliest and most crowded days in the iconic mountain's climbing history.

Mr. Klorfine flew to Nepal after the tragedy. Too distraught to talk publicly then, he's now calling for several changes to how Everest treks are handled, including reducing the number of climbing permits granted in a season, creating a way to ensure all expedition companies are qualified to lead people to the summit, and establishing mountaineering requirements to deter novice adventurers, such as his wife.

"The thing is it seems like she was really led to believe that she could do it. I don't think she just thought that off the top of her head, that she can accomplish this," Mr. Klorfine said. "She always told me that this is something that people can do."

With next year marking the 60th anniversary of the first successful Everest summit by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, hundreds of adventurers from around the world are gearing up to climb the world's most well-known peak. It wasn't always this way.

When Canadian Pat Morrow climbed Mount Everest in 1982, his team was one of only two allowed on the mountain during the fall climbing season. Contrast that to this year, when the Nepalese government issued around 325 permits to foreign mountaineers at $10,000 a piece.

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"Obviously there's a problem there with overcrowding," said Mr. Morrow, who lives in Invermere, B.C. "There is a lot of danger in being stuck on the rope, with people ahead of you and behind you, especially on summit day."

Ms. Shah-Klorfine got stuck waiting above 8,000 metres in the "death zone," an area so high the human body begins to deteriorate because it can't adapt to the thin air. Mr. Thakuri said he and the Sherpas urged Ms. Shah-Klorfine to turn around and abandon her bid to reach the summit, but she refused to stop.

"The situation wasn't good – the traffic and so many people climbing on the same day," Mr. Thakuri recalled. [The windows of decent weather were late and short this past spring.]

"When she climbed to base camp and did ice-climbing training, she looked okay," he said.

In the end, 10 people perished this spring on Everest, making it one of the deadliest years on the mountain. But around 550 people made it to summit, among the most ever. Ultimately, guiding has reduced the chances of death, said American mountaineer Mark Jenkins, who reached the summit in May.

"The dangers of climbing Everest have significantly dropped," Mr. Jenkins noted. "Every decade, climbing Everest becomes safer and safer."

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Still, British mountaineer and guide Kenton Cool, who conquered the peak for the 10th time this spring, said he thinks this year's deaths should prompt the guiding industry to examine whether changes are needed to improve safety.

"I think the industry perhaps needs to self-regulate ... and maybe needs be a little bit more careful about the people that they take to Everest," said Mr. Cool, who has turned adventurers away because he didn't think they had enough experience. "You can't just take anybody to Everest, despite what they think."

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About the Author
National news reporter

Renata joined The Globe and Mail's Toronto newsroom in March of 2011. Raised in the Greater Toronto Area, Renata spent nine years reporting in Alberta for the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal, covering crime, environment and political affairs. More


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