In an Instagram post, Ben, who told us about his motivation to climb Everest earlier this year, wrote: “At 8,000m plus, most people need supplemental oxygen in the thin air. At 8,100m, just north of the Balcony, mine exploded. Luckily for me, Ming Dorjee Sherpa was able to give me his mask, regulator and cylinder and he returned to the South Col without O2.”
When a regulator fails, it means that the climber is no longer able to draw oxygen into the mask. In the death zone on Everest, where the level of oxygen in the atmosphere is significantly less than at sea level, this is a huge issue.
“Then our cameraman’s regulator burst at 8,500m and this time Ang Thindu (in tears) volunteered his bottle and regulator,” Ben added.
Unfortunately, the difficulties didn’t end there. “At 8,800m, at a life threatening height, my second regulator exploded on my back. To say it was terrifying is an understatement. My heart sank. If I was scuba diving I would have been dead. Luckily, the heroics of @kentoncool, meant that he gave me his only cylinder and mask. Kenton was able to descend to the South Col for an emergency mask.”
Alan wrote: “I spoke live by satellite phone with Adrian Ballinger, founder of Alpenglow, at 6.47am, Everest time. He was at 8,500m, near the 2nd Step on the Tibet side when he said they had 10 of 39 oxygen bottle regulators fail and had to turn back. Everyone was safe and below C3 at 8,300m as of our conversation.”
In a similar scenario to Ben’s, the guides and Sherpas gave up their regulators to ensure their clients still had oxygen, and they subsequently made their way back down the mountain to safety. As they made their way to and beyond Camp 2 on the north side, four more regulators failed.
Aplenglow has since issued the following statement: “Both of our Alpenglow Expeditions teams, along with other teams on Everest, were utilizing an industry standard supplemental oxygen system during their summit push. When multiple of the team’s oxygen bottle regulators malfunctioned, the team made the difficult decision to stop their summit push and return to lower elevation.
“Since this time, it has become apparent that a defective batch of oxygen bottle regulators was released. Multiple teams using the same device have experienced similar oxygen system failures. There are no reported injuries at this time.”