A 34-year-old woman from Melbourne, Australia who wanted to prove that “vegans can do anything” tragically died due to high-altitude sickness while climbing Mount Everest on Saturday.
Dr. Maria Strydom, a finance lecturer at Monash University, and her husband, Dr. Robert Gropel, a veterinarian at Ivanhoe East Veterinary Hospital, were passionate vegan campaigners. They embarked on the journey to Everest to “challenge the diet’s stereotypes,” The Sydney Morning Herald reports.
For the past eight years, they had successfully climbed Denali in Alaska, Aconcagua in Argentina, Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey, and Kilimanjaro in Africa.
Strydom told the university’s blog:
“It seems that people have this warped idea of vegans being malnourished and weak,” Strydom said. “By climbing the seven summits, we want to prove that vegans can do anything and more.”
Dr. Strydom and her husband were able to reach the final camp before the summit; however, they both began to suffer from high-altitude pulmonary edema. Dr. Gropel survived and was taken to a hospital in Nepal. Unfortunately, his wife didn’t make it.
Arnold Coster Expeditions, the company that led the trek, confirmed that Dr. Strydom wasn’t able to reach the mountain’s peak.
“Halfway between the South Summit and Balcony she was hardly able to move and became very confused.”Her husband and several Sherpas struggled all night to bring her down, and miraculously she made it back to the South Col 2am that night, after spending 31 hours above the camp.
“We managed to stabilize her that night with medicine & oxygen, and Marisa (Dr. Strydom) was able to walk out of the tent herself the next morning. Helicopter rescue is only possible from Camp 3, so we continued our descent the next morning.
“Marisa was able to walk herself, but two hours out of camp she collapsed on the ‘Geneva Spur’. Her husband tried to retrieve her, but this was not possible anymore. Rob was evacuated by helicopter from Camp 2 the next day and is in Kathmandu now.”
In an interview with The Australian, Heinz Gropel, Robert’s father said,:
“Physically he’s OK, we think.
“Mentally he is a mess. He’s just lost his wife. These guys were not amateurs, they were experienced climbers.”
Dr. Gropel’s uncle, Kurt, said the couple underwent intense training, and both were extremely fit before the climb. But “Everest is a killer,” he said.
“There are 200 corpses up there that decorate the path. They are all people who thought they could go up and down.”
Two other people who were a part of the expedition, 36-year-old Eric Arnold, and 25-year-old Phurba Sherpa, also perished on the mountain. The Associated Press reported that at least 30 climbers have gotten ill, frostbitten or both, near the peak.
Meanwhile, Dr. Strydom’s relatives have yet to hear from the expedition company on whether they could recover the doctor’s remains.
Aletta Newman, Dr. Strydom’s sister said, “[Dr. Gropel] doesn’t want to leave without her.
“Given that she is 8000 meters up a mountain, we feel that there is nothing that we can really do. We can’t really go and see her and get her down ourselves.”
She said the family “really, really hopes” they can recover her sister’s body. They said they wouldn’t organize a funeral or memorial service until they knew for sure.
“It just wouldn’t feel right leaving her up there alone. It will make it so much harder”.
Climbing Everest is not an easy feat. To date, hundreds of bodies of hikers who died while trying to reach the summit still remain there.
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