Woman who died climbing Everest wanted to prove vegans are not ‘weak’

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith
·2-min read
Maria Strydom and her husband were determined to complete the seven summits challenge (Monash University )
Maria Strydom and her husband were determined to complete the seven summits challenge (Monash University )

An Australian woman who died after reaching the summit of Mount Everest had wanted to prove that “vegans can do anything”.

Dr Maria Strydom, 34, from Melbourne, Australia, died of apparent altitude sickness while descending the summit of Mount Everest on Saturday.

Her husband, Robert Gropel, who was part of the climbing team, suffered a high altitude pulmonary oedema while descending the mountain but survived the journey.

Both Dr Strydom and her husband were experienced climbers and had made the decision to climb the seven summits – the highest peaks of the seven continents – in a bid to prove that “vegans can do anything”.

In an interview conducted by Monash University’s Business School where Dr Strydom was a finance lecturer, she said the couple had been inspired to climb the seven summits after following repeated questions about whether they had iron or protein deficiencies.

“It seems that people have this warped idea of being malnourished and weak,” she said. “By climbing the seven summits we want to prove that vegans can do anything and more.”

A Dutch man who was part of the same expedition died just hours before Dr Strydom of apparent altitude sickness.

Eric Arnold, 35, had enough bottled oxygen with him, as well as climbing partners, but he complained of getting weak and died on Friday night near South Col before he was able to get to a lower altitude. In a local television interview earlier this year he had said conquering Everest was a childhood dream.

The deaths of Dr Strydom and Mr Arnold were the first confirmed this year on Everest. A third man, Subash Paul, 43, from India, has since died after reaching the mountain’s summit, reportedly from exhaustion.

Aletta Newman, Dr Strydom’s sister, told the Australian Associated Press that Mr Gropel is able to speak but is “absolutely distraught - he’s absolutely broken”.

“He’s very determined not to leave Nepal without his wife.”

The deaths were reported after the first climbers since 2014 were reported to have reached the top of Mount Everest following a series of natural disasters that stopped climbers from scaling the mountain. A deadly earthquake in 2015 and a fatal avalanche the year before had forced climbers to retreat, with last year's climbing season completely abandoned.

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