by Natalie Paris, The Daily Telegraph, May 8, 2017
Climbing Mount Everest is one of man’s greatest achievements. But the ascent has arguably become too accessible, with experts warning that the mountain has become dangerously overcrowded.
This spring, there have been more climbing permits issued in a single season than there has been since 1953 - 373. Together with Sherpa mountain guides, the total figure of climbers is likely to touch 800.
In addition, there are concerns that too many novices are being allowed to tackle the 29,000ft (8,850 metre) summit, which more than 250 people have died trying to conquer.
“Each year, several hundred people arrive at Everest, intent on reaching the summit of the world,” said The Telegraph’s Paul Hart, a mountaineering and climbing expert.
“Many are hardened climbers who have made the progression from rock climbing to mountaineering through years of developing their skills. However, there has been a steady increase in the number of people who have simply purchased a ticket to get them to the top.”
Tim Mosedale, a British mountaineer, last month complained on Facebook about the potentially dangerous activity of large groups of inexperienced climbers he had witnessed while walking not far from Everest Base Camp.
On his Everest Expedition page, he said he saw “people not adhering to some fairly basic safety principles and by inference endangering themselves, their staff and everyone around them.”
He went on to say: “We saw clients having their harnesses being put on for them by their Sherpa staff and crampons being applied for the first ever time (or in one case crampons being removed to then be put on the right feet).
“When you overlay this with the knowledge that of a team of 14, 10 are trying to summit without oxygen it all adds up to a potentially toxic mix.”
He also spoke out about the risks involved in climbing without oxygen, which he said he saw seemingly inexperienced people doing. “Without Os, and without immediate access to Os, there is no realistic Plan B.”
To illustrate his concerns he also posted a photograph of a climber who he said was snapped halfway up the Lhotse Face of the mountain, without a helmet, with things spilling out of his rucksack and with his crampons on the wrong feet. He said that novices who don’t take the mountain seriously put his own team at risk also.
Everest was not scaled for two years after an avalanche in 2014 led to the deaths of 16 guides.
Last May, three climbers died on the mountain in a week, with experts concluding that overcrowding and bottlenecks on the route may have been to blame for one of the deaths.
Ang Tshering, of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, has warned that a traffic jam on the slopes this year was possible, due in part to a backlog caused by the previous disasters.
“ It will depend on the weather,” he told the Kathmandu Post . “If the weather does not behave well, all climbers could scramble to climb the peak during a short weather window causing a traffic jam.”
He told AFP also, however, that if too many climbers do attempt to set out on the same date, the authorities will try to distribute them so as not to cause any congestion.
Mingma Tenzi Sherpa, a Nepali guide, told the Washington Post that his clients were delayed for four hours on their way to the summit last year and that two of them eventually lost toes in the chill.
“We are of course worried about the high numbers,” he told the Post. “Our discussions around base camp are often focused on the same issue: what to do if traffic-related problems occur.”
A total of 42 expedition teams received permission to climb Everest this year from Nepal's Department of Tourism, according to senior government officer Durga Dutta Dhakal, who spoke to Deutsche Presse Agentur. Last year, 34 groups with 289 members were granted permission.
"Most of them had to abandon their attempt after the earthquake in 2015,” he added. “We had extended the validity of the permits for five years. So they came to take advantage of that.”
In 2015, plans to limit the number of novices on the mountain were discussed, along with proposals to ban disabled and elderly climbers from the mountain.
It appeared that such talks have yet to be resolved, as Nepali officials told the AP news agency that they are still contemplating introducing an age limit for climbing Everest following the death of 85-year-old Min Bahadur Sherchan, who attempted an ascent this weekend.
Such plans are likely to provoke accusations of discrimination against Nepalese officials, and could also have a negative impact on a major source of revenue for the impoverished country, which generates millions of dollars through selling climbing permits .