For Japan's Nobukazu Kuriki, it wasn't the weather or the treacherous footing or a lack of oxygen that derailed his climb to the top of Mount Everest, the world's highest mountain at 8,848 meters.
In Kuriki's case, it was something much more mundane and bothersome―he was forced to abandon his final ascent because pesky crows had gotten into his food supply.
Kuriki, 29, who has climbed some of the world's highest mountains, found out the hard way this month that crows will go to great heights to get what they want. The Sapporo native was surprised to discover on Oct. 12 that the food he had buried in the snow some 10 days earlier at the 7,800-meter point during a practice climb on Everest had been dug up and eaten by crows.
The worst part of it, however, was that the fuel tank for an outdoor burner he had buried so he could melt snow into drinking water was also missing.
That was life-threatening for a climber. At an altitude of over 8,000 meters, where there is only about one-third of the oxygen compared with sea level, climbers need to consume a lot of water to prevent altitude sickness. The lack of drinking water made it impossible for Kuriki to attempt his final ascent. Reluctantly, he informed his base camp by radio of his decision to give up the climb.
"The weather was good and it was the final stage," Kuriki said of that fateful moment. "I never thought I'd be derailed by crows."
The crow problem near the Everest summit is actually well-known among climbers. A party of Nihon University climbers, who started their ascent from the Chinese side of Mount Everest in spring 1995, also had their food eaten by crows at their camp at an altitude of about 7,200 meters.
"Crows pecked their way through the tent and ate our sausages and other food," recalled Kiyoshi Furuno, 50, who was one of the climbers in the party.
According to Yutaka Kanai, 55, chief researcher at the Wild Bird Society of Japan who has studied cranes in the Himalayas, the 7,800-meter area where Kuriki's food was buried is usually not a habitat for crows because there is typically no food at such a high altitude. But mainly in the spring, with almost 1,000 climbers, including local guides, ascending Mount Everest in recent years, crows have been seen at higher altitudes in search of the climbers' food.
"Preparing to deal with the crows is now common sense for Everest climbers," pointed out Gota Miura, 42, who reached the summit of Mount Everest in 2003. "Climbers should wrap their food and other supplies really well."
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