Mt Everest, Nuptse
Credit: © Whitworth Images/Getty Images

No one said climbing Mount Everest was easy. In fact, tackling the world’s tallest mountain is specifically used as a metaphor for something that is nearly impossible. Still, it came as a shock to many to hear that four people had died trying to scale the mountain over the past four days.

Of course, no one climbs Everest without trying to prove something, but for Maria Strydom the reasoning went beyond the classic “because it’s there” justification. The 34-year-old who was a strict vegan, and lecturer at Monash Business School in Melbourne, Australia, was dedicating her climb to vegans everywhere. “It seems that people have this warped idea of vegans being malnourished and weak,” she was quoted as saying in an interview. “By climbing the seven summits we want to prove that vegans can do anything and more.”

With her husband, Robert Gropel, who is also a vegan, Stydom did tackle many of the world’s tallest mountains. In fact, they had reached the top of three of the seven summits already—Denali, Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua. But on Saturday, she sadly was unable to complete her ascent to the top of the world. She reportedly reached the final camp before the summit, Camp 4, a mere 3,000 feet below her goal, when high-altitude pulmonary edema caused fluid to build up in her brain, eventually causing her death.

Her husband, who was also suffering from altitude issues after reaching Camp 4, was taken to a Nepal hospital where he was treated and survived. “Physically he’s OK, we think,” his father was quoted as saying. “Mentally he is a mess. He’s just lost his wife. These guys were not amateurs, they were experienced climbers.”

Sadly, this story doesn’t come with any sort of definable moral. Her veganism likely didn’t contribute to her death, nor was it likely a help in conquering the summits she did climb. But perhaps that means she was at least partly successful in her quest to prove that being a vegan does not make her different from anyone else. She accomplished many impressive feats. Everest though, remains an unpredictable place, often tragically so.