In the wake of the April 2015 tragedy this year, which saw 19 people die from an avalanche at Everest Base Camp, we have decided to write an article on Everest Base Camp trek deaths so that you understand what you are getting yourself into when you decide to trek to Everest Base Camp.
The first thing that should be noted is that the climbers killed at base camp in 2015 were just that – climbers. They were not trekkers.
Anyone on the EBC trek on the 15th April 2016 would not have been affected by the avalanche at base camp. The climbers who were killed were situated further up the valley towards the infamous Khumbu Ice fall.
This is not to say that the EBC trek is totally safe, but it certainly shouldn’t be confused with the much more risky business of climbing Mount Everest.
Deaths on EBC Treks
There are no official statistics for Everest Base Camp trek deaths, however, we would estimate that somewhere in the region of two to four people die every year, although in some years there are undoubtedly no deaths and in others, more deaths.
With over 30,000 people trekking to Everest Base Camp every year, the death rate is actually very small.
Recent tragedies include Royal Navy scientist, Rachel Burke, who died on her trek to Everest after she started feeling ill from altitude sickness. She had to continue walking a further 10 hours and died the next day in a tea house dining room. Her death was reportedly the result of an underlying heart condition.
Debra Wilding was trekking with her daughter and a team of 12 hikers from the UK when she began to struggle with her breathing. The 49-year-old spent the night at a hotel in Khumjung with her daughter after returning from the trek, however, she died the next day from apparent altitude sickness.
Deaths in the Everest Region
We would estimate that some of these deaths, which are attributed to the EBC trek, are in fact from treks throughout the region, like the Gokyo Lakes trek and the Khumbu Valley trek.
There are also a number of trekking peaks in the Everest Region, such as Island Peak and Mera Peak that, although far less dangerous than climbing Everest itself, still pose certain dangers such as altitude sickness.
Glacier crossings, rock falls and moraines add significant danger to longer treks involving ascending high passes such as Cho La pass. Fortunately, these dangers are not encountered on standard treks in the Everest region, and certainly not on a Classic EBC trek.
In our opinion the EBC trek itself is relatively safe in that the trail is straight in and straight out and has in places been widened and smoothed down.
Reducing Risk on an EBC Trek
There are certainly factors that make the EBC trek more dangerous than other treks – the main factor being the altitude. At its highest point – Kala Patthar – you’ll be standing at an altitude of 5,644 metres. If you have taken the necessary acclimatization then you should be fine, however, altitudes of this height can lead to Acute Mountain Sickness and it’s severe variants like High Altitude Cerebral Edema and Pulmonary Edema, as well certainly exacerbate underlying health problems such as heart disease.
Although EBC trek deaths are not common, here are a few points to take note of before you embark on your adventure.
- Make sure you understand the symptoms of altitude sickness and the golden rules for acclimitisaion – see here.
- Injuries like twisted ankles and sprains can cause major issues when you are so far from medical support. You need to make sure that you have adequate travel insurance in place before trekking to Everest Base Camp. Learn more about EBC trek insurance here.
- If you plan to trek solo, think twice! It is much more risky to trek on your own than in a small group or accompanied by a qualified guide. That being said, trekking group tours also pose risk. In fact, 80% of all altitude sickness deaths occur in trekking groups. This is usually always because trekkers have rushed and not given their bodies time to acclimatize. A simple rule to follow is to make sure you only join a group that is following a gradual ascent profile and don’t get pressured into rushing. EBC treks of 12 or more days are better than shorter variations.
- A good rule of thumb is to try to always sleep a maximum of 300m higher than you did the previous night, and make sure you build acclimatisation days into your itinerary.
- Choosing the right tour operator can literally save your life. Make sure your tour operator is fully registered, employs qualified guides and has rigorous safety procedures. To get connected with a tour operator who we know to be excellent go here.
- Look out for yaks on your EBC trek. This may sound odd, however, it is common knowledge in the area that you need to hug the trail wall when you pass any yaks as these creatures have been know to inadvertently shove people off the path and down the steep slopes. This happens more often than you think.
- Drink loads of water and eat well. Dehydration at high altitude is a major problem. Make sure you drink at least 3 litres of water a day and eat lots of nutritious food that are high in carbohydrates. Hygiene standards in Nepal are poor so make sure you wash your hands frequently and avoid meats or uncooked foods (like salad) higher up on the trail.
Whilst the Everest Base Camp trek does pose certain dangers, it is statistically very safe and certainly well worth doing! However, we strongly recommend seeking professional medical advice from a doctor prior to your trek. If you’re given the all-clear and take your time on the trek then you should be fine. Deaths are very rare and can usually be avoided with the right preparation.
Tags: EBC Trek deaths, Everest Base Camp Trek Deaths, Deaths on Mount Everest Base Camp Trek, How many people die on Everest Base Camp trek
References: 1. Guide interviews, 2. NMA Stats, 3. Evening Standard
Great Information Thanks for the article
Given that there were two deaths that we know of during November of European trekkers on the EBC route, I’d err caution. The last we knew, they’d found the Bulgarian woman, but the young Frenchman’s body had still not yet been found. He was in a trekking group of 8 and had simply lost his balance and plummeted. We also saw five airlifts from the Khumbu including from our own tea house at Machermo, which we were in with just one other couple. The treks are amazing and worth every second, but there is certainly a risk involved, particularly on some of the narrower sections of track, which are overused during peak trekking season. Get a decent guide and be sensible!
Hi Annie, sounds like you were on the Gokyo Lakes trek to EBC. This route poses a few more risks than the classic trail as many people 1. go to quickly and thus succumb to altitude sickness at Gokyo or indeed at Machermo, and 2. involves crossing the Cho La which at ~5,300m is a big pass that can experience bad weather and lots of snow / ice.
Hey, a woman died on Christmas afternoon. I just thought I’d let you know as it’s sad that it’s not even been reported anywhere as far as I can see. We tried to help her but she was in an advanced state of HAPE by the time we came across her and nothing helped. It was tragic and unnecessary. From what I understand she’d insisted on continuing to go up after her guide had said it was time to go down. Plus there were rumours of the helicopter company responding too late. Listen to your guide people. They are there for more reasons than alerting you to Yaks coming. RIP to her. Leaving her on the mountain was awful.
Hi Em, That’s very sad news but thanks for sharing your experience. Deaths on Everest Base Camp Treks don’t get reported enough.
Hi Em that woman was a friend of ours. Would appreciate any information you have
Ted has just made contact and thank you Mountain IQ for facilitating that. I have passed on all the information I have to Ted and he is most welcome to share it with any of Man’s friends and family of course. I’m so sorry for your loss. She wasn’t alone when it happened and my comment re leaving her was related to us having to continue trekking. At that point it was too late for her to be rescued. She was being looked after by a group of UK trekkers when I left (I was also trekking with just a guide and porter) but the first aid and oxygen they administered was too late and she passed away. It was terribly sad and everyone was deeply affected by it. Again, my condolences for your loss. She was obviously a great adventurer and it’s very sad that her adventure ended this way.
Hi Em and Yen, not sure if you will see this as this was a long time ago now but I was part of the group and the thought of the Christmas day just popped into my head.
I can tell you all i know i am easy to find on facebook.
When you say, “leaving her on the mountain was awful”, do you mean that she was abandoned by her tour operator and was left on her own?
The lady’s name is Man Chung Li. She is my beloved partner in life. I would appreciate any information that you can provide about the circumstances.
Hi Ted, Sorry to hear about your loss. I don’t know who Em is but I have sent you her email directly. Best wishes!
Thanks again for making contact. I’m so glad I could give you some more information. It’s a real tragedy.
Many thanks to Em for the private email setting out important details about my dear, beloved partner, Man Chung. May I thank everyone who was present on that fateful day for the assistance, comfort and care provided to Man Chung. She was a beautiful and gentle spirit. Thank you, for all that did. Ted.
https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/amp.smh.com.au/national/mount-everest-death-matthew-jones-complained-of-breathing-difficulties-20170306-gus74k.html sadly another one.
Hello. Condolences to those who have lost loved ones on this track. Very sad to hear about the Melbourne man. Does anyone know what the Coroner ruled? It seemed to happen so suddenly for him. I’m doing the Everest base camp walk soon and was wondering what your opinion of Diamox is? Thank you Jayne
Hi Jayne, we recommend Diamox, but as a prescription drug you should first get clearance from your doctor before using it. More information on Diamox can be found on this page: https://www.mountainiq.com/resources/altitude-sickness/
May her soul rest in peace
I am from Singapore.
I would like to get some advice on my plan to trek EBC Gokyo next May 2019 with my son (22). We had trekked to ABC couple of months’ ago and loved it very much.
I will be 56 by then and pray that I am still in good health as I am now.
Is the EBC-Gokyo doable? I plan to add more acclimatisation days in a 18D trekking trip.
Cho La Pass really scarce me off. Is it really dangerous? Must I get a guide? If so, can I hire one just to cross the Pass?
Your advice is very much appreciated.
Hi Willie, Thanks for getting in touch. The Gokyo route to EBC is my favourite. Your plan to take a few extra days for acclimatisation is a good one. I wouldn’t worry about the Cho La pass, it is really just a hike, and doesn’t require any climbing skills. The concern is the altitude and the glacier crossing on the other side of the Gokyo valley. As a precaution it is always worth taking an experienced guide, but it can be done independently. I recommend taking yak tracks to fit to your shoes just in case it is snowy and icy. Hope this helps!
Debra Wilding was my late wife. She died due a heart attack due to a mixture of circumstances, amongst which were high altitude, furred arteries, blood thickening due to cold and altitude but also the medication she had taken to help cope with the thin air. Having read her diary which our daughter brought home, it was apparent that she was suffering with heart problems for days before her death, but her fellow trekkers and the guides were so focused on ensuring that she reached Base Camp that they didn't see the deterioration in her condition.
Deb didn't want to let anyone down and so she pressed on. I have wondered in the years since, whether it would have made a difference if I had been there to remind her that she was on holiday and tell her that it was okay for her to head back to Kathmandu. I will never know, but I suspect that we would have talked about it, headed to lower altitude and would still be together today.
Every adventurer has a great tale to tell until things go wrong. Unfortunately, the dead don't write blogs or publish magazine articles.
My own big adventure was to sail 3,000 miles across the Atlantic in a home-made boat along with two friends. I came through it a stone lighter, with dramatic video footage and a lot of great stories about storms and heavy seas. But a notice board that I saw in the Azores, was sobering. It was filled with the telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of people who had lost loved ones in accidents and boats that were missing along with their crew. Little did I realise that I would find myself in a similar position only a year later.