Arizonans who scaled Mount Everest speak as death toll mounts on the mountain

PHOENIX (FOX 10/AP) -- A Colorado climber died shortly after getting to the top of Mount Everest and achieving his dream of scaling the highest peaks on each of the seven continents, his brother said Monday.

Christopher Kulish, a 62-year-old Boulder attorney, died Monday at a camp below the summit during his descent. The cause isn't yet known, said his brother, Mark Kulish of Denver.

Christopher Kulish had just reached the top of Everest with a small group after crowds of hundreds of climbers congested the 29,035-foot (8,850-meter) peak last week, his brother said.

"He saw his last sunrise from the highest peak on Earth. At that instant, he became a member of the '7 Summit Club,' having scaled the highest peak on each continent," Mark Kulish said in a statement.

He described his brother as an attorney in his "day job" who was "an inveterate climber of peaks in Colorado, the West and the world over."

"He passed away doing what he loved, after returning to the next camp below the peak," Mark Kulish said.

About half a dozen climbers died on Everest last week, including Don Cash of Utah, who also had fulfilled his dream of climbing the highest mountains on each continent. Most of them died while descending from the summit during only a few windows of good weather each May.

Most are believed to have suffered from altitude sickness, which is caused by low amounts of oxygen at high elevation and can cause headaches, vomiting, shortness of breath and mental confusion.

Recent photos taken at Mount Everest show large crowds trying to make it to the summit. 29,000 feet up is no place to mess around, and it used to be reserved for only the most experienced mountaineers. Nowadays, however, many more people can take a selfie up there as well, provided they have the time and money.

"Unbelievable. I can't even imagine being up there with that many people," said Phoenix real estate exec Greg Sapp, who has scared the mountain twice starting in the 1980s. He says nowadays, it looks more like a ride at Disneyland.

"The problem is there are too many people too high, too late in the day," said Sapp. "You need to summit by noon, or one or you may not get down."

Experienced climbers said reaching the highest peak in the world used to take training and discipline. Now, it can be conquered with an experienced guide and good gear, at the right price. Tom Whittaker of Prescott became the first disabled person to climb Mount Everest, over 20 years ago.

"These guys are paying $100,000 to stand in line, like a doorbuster on Black Friday," said Whittaker, in a phone interview. "They are making Mount Everest a ludicrous situation because people will die."

There also appears to be no shortage of people willing to plop down piles of cash to pay for the death-defying trip to the top of the world, and Nepal, one of the poorest countries on Earth, is happy to take their money.

"I think something is going to be done," said Sapp. "They don't want 10 to 15 deaths. That's not going to help their tourism either."

It's still not clear if the wait times contributed to any of the recent deaths, but two local experts said every second is critical, as oxygen is in short supply, often leading to bad decisions.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.