Dr Maria Strydom and Robert Gropel had trained for 12 months for Mount Everest. (AAP/ Monash University)
Dr Maria Strydom and Robert Gropel had trained for 12 months for Mount Everest. (AAP/ Monash University)

Mt Everest climber blames himself for wife's death

THE husband of an Australian university lecturer who died climbing Mount Everest has said he "blames [himself]" after leaving her behind to press on to the summit.

Maria Strydom, 34, was forced to turn back just 15 minutes from the top of Everest when she fell ill with altitude sickness. On her way back down the mountain she started struggling to speak or walk before she collapsed and could not be revived.

She died in the arms of her husband, Robert Gropel, who told Australia's Seven Network he "still can't look at any pictures of her because it breaks my heart".

"I asked, 'Do you mind if I go on,' and she said, 'Yes, you go on, I'll wait for you here,'" said Mr Gropel, who himself suffered attitude sickness and later had to be airlifted to Kathmandu.  "From that position the summit didn't look that far, 15 minutes away.

"When I made it to the summit of Everest it wasn't special to me, because I didn't have her there," he said.

"I just ran up and down and it didn't mean anything to me."

Mr Gropel said his thought processes were hampered by his own sickness when he returned to Ms Strydom after reaching the summit.

"It took a while for me to register that I had medication, and so as soon as I realised I gave her a dexamethasone injection," he said.

Sherpas brought more oxygen and, with that and the medication, Ms Strydom's condition began to improve. But it did not last, and she died at an altitude of around 8,000 metres last Saturday.

Mr Gropel said: "I'm her husband, it's my job to protect my wife and get her home and it's just natural for me to blame myself."

Mr Gropel, a vet, and his wife were both vegans and determined to climb the world's highest peaks "to prove that vegans can do anything and more", Ms Strydom said in March.

Everest officials said on Friday that the body of an Indian climber had been found above the South Col (7,900 metres), bringing the death toll since the mountain was re-opened this spring to four.

Everest has been climbed by more than 7,300 people since 1953 when Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary made their pioneering ascent. In that time and including this week's deaths, at least 283 people have died trying to make the expedition.