Maria “Marisa” Strydom had many goals in mind when she set out to climb Mount Everest, and one of them was to show that vegans were not weak. The 34-year-old university lecturer from Australia announced her intent to climb the notoriously dangerous mountain – which had claimed 22 lives last year – in part to prove that vegans can be world-class climbers even with their dietary restrictions. Unfortunately, the leader of her expedition announced this week that three climbers, including Strydom, had perished while on the mountain over the weekend.
The following is a statement from Arnold Coster, the director of Arnold Coster Expeditions:
“Marisa was doing well until the ‘Balcony’, but became very slow after this and decided to turn around on the South Summit at 8 a.m. in the morning. Normally this would give her enough time to descent safely, but her condition deteriorated rapidly. 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 2 a.m. that night, after spending 31 hours above the camp. We managed to stabilize her that night with medicine and oxygen and Marisa 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 2 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.”
It is believed that both Strydom and her husband, Robert Gropel, began suffering from pulmonary edema, which caused fluid to build up in the brain. Two other climbers from the same expedition also died, including Rick Arnold and Phurba Sherpa. Robert Gropel was successfully rescued off the mountain and is now in stable condition.
“Physically he’s OK, we think,” Heinz Gropel, Robert’s father, told the Australian. “Mentally he is a mess. He’s just lost his wife. These guys were not amateurs, they were experienced climbers.”
Both Strydom and Gropel were vegan. In a blog post before starting the climb, Strydom said she was inspired to tackle the mountain because she was always questioned about possible iron deficiencies from her diet.
“It seems that people have this warped idea of vegans being malnourished and weak,” Strydom wrote. “By climbing the seven summits we want to prove that vegans can do anything and more.”
Some experts say that because vegans omit meat and other foods from their diet, they can miss out on critical nutrients that build muscle and endurance.
“You can [be vegan] and you can be a serious elite athlete,” Dr. Frankie Phillips, a dietician with the British Dietetic Association, told the BBC. “You can do it, but it’s more difficult.”
Everest is already a daunting goal for the world’s most elite climbers, but that does not count out vegans entirely. Two days before Strydom and Gropel attempted their climb, another vegan, Kuntal Joisher, claimed to have successfully reached Everest’s summit.