Rachel Burke, a 28 years old Naval worker hailing from Orpington, Kent (UK) succumbed to death in the Spring 2011 while trekking in the Gokyo valley in Khumbu (Everest) region of Nepal. She died of a condition, possibly, altitude sickness or AMS.
Q.1 Is Gokyo (Everest) a Valley of Death??
Nope, “Valley of death” is a vague expression given to Khumbu valley due to its extreme altitude/weather and the tough trek conditions one has to endure during the trek.
Falling prey to altitude sickness and altitude related illness in a trail which is located above 3,000 meters (9,843 ft) is very common, however, trek guides and Sherpas ensure precautions every time possible. They suggest you to take a Diamox (Anti-AMS pill) before ascending the threatening altitude, and also recommend you to concede the trek if in case your health condition deteriorates. Almost, everyone trekking in Everest region of Nepal is insured for an emergency relief; helicopter lift-off or such, therefore, immediate help is available at anytime.
There has been least instances of trekkers dying in Everest due to lack of health assistance. The Everest base camp trail has developed in terms of accessibility, availability and technology over the time, therefore, immediate reliefs are available, thus minimizing the chances of death to 1.0%.
Q.2 Is the Trek Company a main Culprit in the case of Burke?
According to the News and the Coroner Andrew Harris, the Trek company is suggested to have ‘neglected their duty’.
Rachel was in no condition to walk and was experiencing all sorts of illness. The trek leader suggested her to descend to the nearest village with a porter. She reached the nearest village with great difficulties but died afterwards.
Next morning, on the day she died, Rachel said she was OK. But in fact she was exhausted and couldn’t pack her own bag […] She lacked the hand-eye co-ordination to be able to tie her own shoelaces.
Coroner said the trek leader failed to fully recognize the symptoms of her sickness, and also failed in providing an immediate health relief by taking her to the nearest health post 15 minutes away, causing her conditions to deteriorate and die eventually.
Q.3 What must Trekkers do to prevent it?
Read complete Trek FAQs
Trekking in high altitude trails, such as; Everest base camp, Makalu and Kanchenjunga etc, is always full of risk. The chances of accidents due to weather, temperature or other natural conditions is always higher than usual.
Trekker must ensure that the trek company and group leader are complying with safer trek itinerary and sharing enough information about the place and circumstances every time. One must also check with the insurance provider regarding emergency rescue or Helicopter lift off options, as it sometimes tend to create confusions too.
If planned and prepared well, any trek is fun and non-life threatening. Keeping check with locales, proper diet, walking procedure, rest and altitude etc can minimize chances of accidents to scarce.