Delays on the mountain caused by the influx of climbers — many of whom are inexperienced — have led to exhaustion, dehydration, and now, death.
It was only a week ago that we reported on Kami Rita Sherpa climbing Mount Everest twice in one week for a total record of 24 ascents. With a cleanup campaign underway and a staggering amount of climbers eager to scale the summit, Everest is more popular — and dangerous — than ever.
According to The New York Times, Nepalese officials have described the human traffic jams now resulting at the mountaintop as “a zoo.” With this year’s death toll of 11 already surpassing last year’s body count of five, Everest authorities are now officially considering changing their rules around summiting the mountain.
“It’s time to review all the old laws,” said Yagya Raj Sunuwar, a member of Parliament.
While regulations have essentially allowed anyone willing to climb Everest to do so after obtaining an easily accessible permit, this has obviously led to a fair amount of chaos. Indeed, according to The Independent, eight people died in one week this month alone.
The previously Laissez-faire endeavor of scaling the world’s highest mountain might soon change for good as the number of climbers steadily increases.
In 2016, Nepal issued 289 permits for expeditions up the mountain. In 2018, it was 365. This year, that number has already reached 380. One hundred and twenty climbers scaled the mountain earlier this month, with many caught in traffic so dangerous that it led to exhaustion, dehydration, and death for some. Two women and one man from India died of exhaustion, for instance, after descending from the 29,000-foot peak.
One of them was “stuck in traffic for more than 12 hours and was exhausted,” a tour organizer explained. On top of that, the already harsh climate at the peaks has been particularly inhospitable this season. “The winds have returned, plus the routes are extremely crowded on both sides, due to feet summit weather windows this spring,” explained Everest blogger Alan Arnette.
Other Everest experts and climbers recently described the situation at the top of the mountain as “Lord of the Flies.” Masses of people in big winter coats push, shove, and capture selfies at all costs. The deaths this year have been dubbed needless, and novice climbers are endangering those around them.
Indeed, “the issue of inexperienced climbers” was raised at a recent meeting between government officials in Kathmandu.
— Everest Today (@EverestToday) April 24, 2019
Officials in Kathmandu are reviewing the situation as a preliminary step toward changing the requirements to climb the mountain. As it stands, they’re strongly considering mandatory proof of good health and mountaineering experience before issuing permits.
“Certainly there will be some change in the expedition sector,” said Mira Acharya, a senior official with Nepal’s tourism board. “We are discussing reforming some issues including setting criteria for every Everest hopeful.”
Two out of 300 climbers approaching from Everest’s Chinese side died this year, while nine out of 800 climbing from the Nepalese side died. The paths to the summit are narrow and steep and require the utmost attention — something that should presumably exclude taking selfies.
Carrying oxygen tanks up the mountain is standard practice for a huge swath of climbers, yet some of them died regardless of that advantage. The mob of people was simply causing delays too long for the supply to last as expected.
Some climbers painted a free-for-all picture of the scene, with mountaineers refusing to share water or oxygen with others and selfishly forging ahead. Countless climbers were stranded in this traffic for hours — at over 28,000 feet — while oxygen supplies were depleted, and their energy crashed.
President of the safety commission at the International Mountaineering Federation, Amit Chowdhury, said regulations on other mountains allow guides to deny climbers their wishes. If someone seems inexperienced or too emotional, they’re not shepherded up.
But “at Everest, it is not the same,” he said. “You can hire a Sherpa on the streets of Kathmandu, or your travel agent says, ‘Here is you’re Sherpa,’ that’s it. There is no way to know whether that Sherpa can judge and determine the capability of the person who is climbing.”
Unfortunately, those in the know have suggested that the primary motivation to keep a steady stream of tourists, no matter their skill level, is profit. A government investigation even found that owners of local teahouses drop contaminants in climbers’ food to make them sick while scaling the mountain — so that helicopter evacuation services need to rescue them and thus justify the costly insurance companies in charge.
A foreign climber needs to pay $11,000 for the permit alone. After paying guides, renting the equipment, securing housing and food for the six-week endeavor — they easily contribute $50,000 to the local economy.
“It would be great if inexperienced climbers were not allowed to climb Everest,” said Lakpa Dendi Sherpa, a seasoned Nepalese guide. “But who will do this? The government? I don’t think so. They can’t even remove the garbage from Everest. They do nothing other than collect revenue.”
To his point, countless other Sherpas have complained about both novice climbers and the government in Nepal. In their mind, the state has utterly failed to police and protect the country’s landmark mountain. The officers sent to base camp often abandon their posts, forcing Sherpas to do their jobs for them.
“If you look at the way Everest is climbed at the moment, it’s nothing but a guided trip up the mountain,” said Chowdhury. “It is like you see people rafting in Colorado, or the Ganges in India — it’s the guide who does the rafting, the rest of the people are just passengers who are sitting there.”
Fortunately, Nepalese officials said that the climbing season has concluded as scheduled. Hopefully, some lifesaving amendments to these seemingly disastrous rules can be instated before 2020 wreaks more unnecessary havoc.
Next up, take a look at these 22 mindblowing photos of Mount Roraima. Then, learn about Green Boots: the story of Tsewang Paljor, Mount Everest’s most famous dead body.