Climber Dead on Makalu

Posted on: May 26, 2011


Newsflash: Alpinist.com will post more information on Joelle Brupbacher's death as it becomes available.

Joelle Brupbacher of Switzerland died at Camp 3 (7400m) on Makalu (8481m) in the night of May 22 following a successful summit. A report from Explorersweb.com states that on the morning of May 22, "she became unable to move in camp 3." Martin Ramos, who shared a permit with Brupbacher, reports on his blog that by 3pm they radioed for help seeking someone to bring oxygen to the camp at 7400m. Ramos writes "Dawa Sherpa offers to come up with oxygen to C3, but the head of Jagged Globe, a man named Robert [Anderson] denied permission." [Translated from Spanish via Google Translate.] Instead a cook from Ramos' expedition attempted to bring oxygen to C3 but was turned back above C2. Brupbacher died at 11:30 pm that night. Climbers Steve House and Marko Prezelj attempted to carry oxygen up an hour later, but turned back when they met climbers descending who informed them that it was too late.

Brupbacher started sport climbing but soon turned to larger mountains. Before her death she had climbed several other 8000m peaks including Dhaulagiri (8167m) in 2007. She was 33.

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Alpinist.com contacted Jagged Globe for comment regarding the statements on Ramos' blog and Explorersweb.com. Jagged Globe's Director Tom Briggs told Alpinist.com"The rumors online are just not true. Dawa Shepa was sick at the time which is unusual for him. Also Robert was in communication with their doctor and C3. It would have taken 2 days for a climber to bring oxygen, or 12 hours for a sherpa, and it was determined that either way they would not be able to offer any useful assistance. She had already been out for over twenty-four hours without oxygen."

Sources: Tom Briggs, Martinramos.es, Explorersweb.com

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Comments
James N

I was a member of the Jagged Globe team on Makalu this year. I would like to reinforce Tom's comments.

My understanding of what occured in base camp during this incident is quite different from the original news flash. Robert was able to provide the other expedition with the benefit of his experience and gave advice as to an appropriate course of action. I will leave it to Robert to detail his advice and the reasoning behind it if he wishes. His advice was consistent with my understanding of the situation and I entirley support his actions. Joelle's expedition chose to take a different course of action - I will not speculate as to whether this changed the outcome.

This incident highlights the contrast between large, fully supported expeditions and small, fast and light trips. Both have their merrits and climbers involved in either should carefully consider the inherent risks attributable to both styles.

Joelle seemed like a lovely person who would have fully understood the risks involved in an expedition to a mountain like Makalu. My thoughts go out to her family and friends.

James

2011-07-07 12:00:59
Mark Horrell

No, that's very true, I don't believe anyone is saying nature ran its course - there are very few accidents on mountains that aren't preventable. But to imply blame for tragedy on other climbers on the mountain when facts are difficult to establish is wrong.

2011-06-07 01:41:56
NMMTNDOC

I'm an academic Emergency Physician who spends a lot of time in the Himalaya, and I've worked for the Himalayan Rescue Association, so I feel a need to comment on some of what's been said here. I can't second guess the capabilities and intent of potential rescuers who were on the mountain when Brupbacher died. I don't doubt that those who were in a position to try to help did what they could. However, I must comment on the odd notion that bringing oxygen to a climber suffering from severe altitude illness (cerebral or pulmonary edema) is unlikely to be helpful. These conditions are caused by hypoxemia and are reversed by supplemental oxygen. It's always a good idea to have oxygen available at camps at extreme elevation, and if none is available, it is perfectly reasonable for other climbers in the vicinity to extend themselves to try to get oxygen to people who are in need (Brupbacher was apparently in dire need). Let's not beat ourselves up over this incident, but let's not try to placate ourselves over the fact that there was nothing that could have been done (ie, that oxygen would not have helped anyway), and that it's fitting that nature + her lifestyle wishes simply ran their course.

2011-06-02 13:38:47
Mark Horrell

I would like to back up Tom's comment. I was a paying client on the

2010 Jagged Globe Cho Oyu expedition he refers to, led by Robert

Anderson. On two occasions the Jagged Globe team assisted in getting

injured climbers to safety after avalanches very high on the

mountain. Without their help there may well have been fatalities, and

in both cases Robert was instrumental in facilitating, and didn't

hesitate to put our own plans on hold while the team could assist.

In the first case our Sherpa team happened to be high on the mountain

at the time and were able to assist in helping the injured climbers

back to base camp. This point is important, because when distances

are reported in metres, as they are in both your and the ExplorersWeb

article, it is difficult for those who are not mountaineers to

appreciate the huge effort involved in covering the ground at

extremely high altitudes. It is pure speculation that a long

exhausting climb up the mountain with an oxygen bottle will have done

anything to avert this tragedy.

In times of tragedy there is always a temptation for friends, family

and those involved to point the finger of blame. Before climbing

Makalu Joelle Brupbacher had already climbed four of the world's

8000m peaks, which means she was not only extremely experienced but

among the elite. She will have pushed herself on the margins of

exhaustion many times before, and will have known better than most

climbers where her limits were. If your reports are accurate then

other climbers on summit day tried to persuade her to turn back, but

she chose to continue. That decision was hers alone. I don't believe

she would have wanted any of those climbers blamed for her death, any

more than other climbers further down the mountain. She died doing

the sport she loved, and it is better to let her rest in peace than

make a controversy out of her death.

I think alpinist.com has a responsibility to clarify this story. I

first learned of it when an angry comment was posted in Spanish to my own blog describing Robert Anderson as a cabrón, which I believe is Spanish for b*stard. In publishing an article which implies blame for a tragedy while containing a great deal of rumour, as both yours and ExplorersWeb article do, you serve to drum up hatred based on ignorance, while providing little benefit to the family of the deceased or the mountaineering community in general.

2011-05-29 15:48:42
Tom R Briggs

I have spoken to Robert Anderson today. If our team had been in a position to help, they would have done. We helped Tibetan climbers on Cho Oyu last autumn (Robert was leading this exped) - see dispatch on 19 Sept www.jagged-globe.co.uk/news/despatches_list.html?id=35 and Everest this spring (the Spanish climbers off Lhotse - see dispatch 23 May www.jagged-globe.co.uk/news/despatches_list.html?id=36

We'll help if we can. Very sadly, in this case, it was too late for Robert and our team to assist. Our thoughts are with Joelle's family and friends.

Tom Briggs, Jagged Globe

2011-05-25 23:08:54
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