Krisli Melesk became the first Estonian woman to reach the summit of Mount Everst (8,848.86m) on May 23, 2021. With this achievement, Melesk also became the fourth Estonian to reach the world’s highest peak. On May 22, 2003, Alar Sikk was the first Estonian to climb Mount Everest, Tanel Tuuleveski and Andras Kaasik did the same in 2011.
Another Estonian, Katrin Merisalu, was also part of the summit team but stopped her ascent after reaching Camp C4 at 7,900m above sea level. The 53-year-old is one of Estonia’s most successful mountaineers, being the first Estonian woman to climb a peak of over 8,000 meters, reaching the summit of Manaslu in the Nepalese Himalayas.
She began serious mountain climbing in 2010 and has reached the top of several of the world’s most famous mountains. After reaching the top of Manaslu, the next logical step for the woman was to reach the top of the highest mountain in the world – Mount Everest.
The Estonian was part of an international group made up of climbers from Romania, India, the United States, Montenegro, Japan, El Salvador and the United Kingdom. The group met in Kathmandu on March 30, where all climbers were tested for the coronavirus. The group then headed for base camp, where they acclimatized and waited for the good weather.
The ascent of Mount Everest is an important source of income for Nepal. While the climbing season was canceled in Chomolungma in 2020 due to the coronavirus, 408 climbers around the world have applied for a summit permit this year.
“Although this is extreme tourism, it is also possible to conquer Mount Everest in five star conditions,” noted Merisalu, adding that the most luxurious packages can cost up to € 160,000, but its budget was € 28,000. Among other things, this meant that she did not use the help of a sherpa. “You can choose the more modest option, where a client lives in a small tent. That’s what I chose.”
Merisalu’s husband, Aivar, is not just a fan, but a coordinator and advisor. He is in constant communication with his partner via satellite and advises the woman from their home in Viimsi.
Although Mount Everest is not the most technically difficult climb, its harsh and volatile conditions, extreme winds, altitude sickness and avalanches have claimed the lives of over 300 climbers.
Part of conquering the high peaks is waiting to get used to the conditions. Simply put, mountaineers live in camps, in which they practice rock climbing until the body, weather and other conditions are suitable for a higher ascent. There are four camps on Mount Everest.
In retrospect, mountaineers suspect the coronavirus has reached the camps through local sherpas, who help climbers with equipment. “We had done our first acclimatization summit, had returned to camp and one of our strongest and happiest sherpas, the heart of our camp, struggled,” Merisalu said, adding that the sherpa had returned to the camp in poor condition.
From that point on, other Sherpas also started showing symptoms of the coronavirus and had to be brought back down the mountain. “At that time, we were told there were cases of coronavirus at the camp,” the climber said.
Merisalu added that the sherpas had started to treat their coughs with homemade medicine. “A sherpa had some kind of oil to inhale with him, that oil was then poured into a bowl, you put a towel over your head and that was all we knew how to do,” said the climber.
The Estonian eventually developed a high fever and was completely helpless. “There wasn’t a long story, I understood that was it and it couldn’t be worse,” Merisalu said, adding that it had indeed gotten worse.
She spoke to her husband who posted an update on social media, but did not disclose much about her condition. “She consciously toned it down so that I’m not worried here at home and that she can make her own decisions,” Aivar Merisalu said, adding that he would immediately have told his wife to pack her bags and leave. go home if he knew what really happened. pass.
Around mid-May, the Estonian mountaineer experienced chest pain, which forced her to leave a camp about 5,000 m above sea level to the town of Lukla, in some 2,800 m above sea level. As the health of members of her group deteriorated and some had to be transported to Kathmandu hospital by helicopter, Katrin felt better.
She struggled for a month and a half, but managed to reach Camp C4 at an altitude of 7900 m. Climbers typically spend a few hours there overnight and begin their final ascent, which typically lasts around ten hours and covers a climb of 848m. The Merisalu group had collapsed with all the first Sherpas hospitalized and replaced by less experienced ones.
As a big storm was brewing, the situation did not seem to be improving anytime soon. “I can’t imagine the wind speed of this storm, but I’ve been in all kinds of mountain situations and I’ve never seen a storm like this,” said the climber.
She added that her health had started to deteriorate as the storm arrived. “I had chest pains again and understood that if I didn’t come down soon, I could stay here for good,” Merisalu noted.
The Estonian attempted to summon a helicopter from a camp some 6500m above sea level, but the helicopters were not flying that day due to weather conditions. The remaining members of her group eventually caught up with her on the way down after the summit, but the atmosphere was more sad than happy, Merisalu said.
Krisli Melesk ended up reaching the top on May 23 as part of another exhibition, becoming the first Estonian woman to reach the top of the world.
Merisalu arrived at Kathmandu hospital a day after returning from the mountain, where she was diagnosed with coronavirus, along with bilateral pneumonia. After more than two months away from home, the Estonian arrived in Estonia on June 1 10 kg lighter and traumatized.
However, the climber said she would return to Mount Everest. “I take this as a lesson,” she said, adding that she did not see the trip as a failure.