American recalls 'unnerving' sight of dead climbers on Mount Everest

"It shook me inside."

May 28, 2019, 6:19 PM

KATHMANDU, Nepal -- It was an unforgettable sight as Ed Dohring made his way to the top of Mount Everest for the first time a few days ago. It was clear and the rising sun cast an orange glow over the world's tallest peak.

But as he stood on the flat part of the 29,000-foot summit, a spot Dohring described as about the size of two Ping-Pong tables, there was another 15 to 20 people jostling for the perfect angle to take a photo.

"I several times was elbowed, pushed aside, shoved," Dohring, a 62-year-old spine surgeon from Arizona, told ABC News in an interview Tuesday at a hotel in Kathmandu, Nepal. "It was scary because, if you lose your footing, potentially you're going to slide off the summit."

“After about 20 minutes I said, 'OK, this is enough.'”

As this year's climbing season draws to a close, overcrowding has been blamed in part for one of Everest's deadliest seasons on record.

Dohring, who scaled the mountain's popular south slope on Nepal's side with a small group of other climbers and a veteran Sherpa guide, said that he passed the bodies of several dead climbers. Among them, was a woman who appeared to have just died and was still clipped to the safety line.

He also saw Sherpas dragging several people down the mountain who had collapsed from exhaustion, were sick or injured.

“You can’t do anything about a person who’s dead and it just -- it shook me inside," Dohring told ABC News. “It was unexpected. I mean, I know people die on Everest. But as you’re moving along the safety line and it’s dark and you’re only seeing a few feet in front of you and all of a sudden that circle of illumination has a dead body in it, it’s very unnerving.”

PHOTO: Ed Dohring speaks to ABC News in Kathmandu, Nepal, on May 28, 2019.
Ed Dohring speaks to ABC News in Kathmandu, Nepal, on May 28, 2019.
ABC News

One of the climbers in Dohring's group, Chris Kulish, a 62-year-old lawyer from Colorado, died after returning to the camp below the peak. He's the eleventh person to die climbing Everest in 2019.

Dohring, who said he got to know Kulish on the perilous trek, described him as a "very experienced climber" and "very fit," which is why the news of his death came as a shock. Kulish had completed the Seven Summits -- the tallest mountains on all seven continents -- by scaling Everest, according to his family.

"I was shocked because I knew how fit he was and how experienced he was," Dohring told ABC News while holding back tears. "He was all the way back down to camp four, so he had done the hard part of the round trip. But I mean, we don't know what happened. All I can say is we've lost a really good human being."

Dohring is an experienced mountaineer himself and spent months training to pre-acclimatize to Everest's high altitude. He said his group didn't come across crowds of other climbers on the ascent until after reaching an area called the Balcony, at 27,000 feet.

"We started getting into where the crowds were, and at that point you have to stop periodically," Dohring told ABC News. "You might actually be standing still for 15 to 20 minutes. Once you're standing still, you stop generating heat."

PHOTO: Mount Everest in an undated photo.
Mount Everest in an undated photo.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

The overcrowding was in part due to the fact that there was a smaller window of good weather for climbers to safely summit this season -- about five days scattered over two weeks, as compared to 11 continuous days in 2018. But Dohring said, in an observation that has been echoed by some experts, that the danger has also been compounded by a growing number of inexperienced climbers taking on Everest, leading to hours-long waits in high-altitude areas where people must go in single file.

Dohring said he observed some people struggling with their climbing gear while navigating the steep, narrow, icy, rocky ridge up to the top.

“It just was difficult to be waiting," he added. "You get colder, you get more tired and you start to potentially run out of oxygen.”

Dohring said he also encountered crowds on the descent, and it was difficult to safely maneuver around people going in the opposite direction on a route with a several-thousand foot drop.

"It was literally going around one [person] at a time," he said, "attaching the safety line in front of them, behind them. Take the one off that’s in front of them, so you could move two steps. Let them move up two steps. And then repeat."

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