If a picture is worth a thousand words then the hundreds of climbers that lined up below the summit of Mount Everest, have presented a hysterical view of the overcrowding issue on the highest peak of the world.
The photograph clicked by the seasoned climber Nirmal Purja has dismayed the social media by showing the line of brightly dressed climbers on 28,000- foot Cornice Traverse, a knife-edge ridge. Earlier climbing the mountain was much less attempted but today at any given time we can witness many climbers reaching the summit when the weather is favourable. Mount Everest is at 29,000 feet above sea level. The area between Camp Four at 26,240 feet and the summit is called the ‘Death zone.’ The oxygen level is so low in the ‘Death zone’ that the climbers cannot wait for long before finishing their summit and descending after that. The lack of oxygen supply proves to be a fatal condition for the climbers.
At least 11 people have died on Mount Everest this season, the highest since 2015 as the government of Nepal has increased the number of permits to climbers. Nepal is one of the poorest countries of the world that fetches a large part of its revenue from the climbing industry. It earns around $300 million annually from the climbing industry. One permit costs $11,000, and it has issued 381 permits this year exacerbating the situation of the limited number of climbers that climb every year. It does not require proof of climbing experience for those climbing Everest. The experienced climbers have blamed the government for increasing the number of climbers by granting the permit to newbies who only brought money to the mountain and not relevant experience. Alan Arnette, who has climbed the mountain four times said that Nepal issued a record number of permits to foreigners this year. “Because each one of them requires a Sherpa guide, there are about 800 people trying to climb from the Nepalese side. So you have 800 people trying to squeeze through a very small window. A limited number of days, too many people, too many inexperienced, inadequate support – those all things all came together and that’s where we saw most of the deaths”, she explained. The consequences of overcrowding prove to be very severe because the supply of oxygen is limited, so there are only a few numbers of hours within which the body can survive. The weather conditions have been relatively poor this year, so climbers have only a few days to attempt to reach the summit of Everest. Long queues of climbers at high altitude have made standstills and, on the off chance that one gets caught in the traffic jam over 26,000 feet, at that point the bodies begin closing down.
“Once you get above about 25,000 feet, your body just can’t metabolise the oxygen,” Grayson Schaffer, editor of Outside magazine, told NPR. “Your muscles start to break down. You start to have fluid that builds up around your lungs and your brain. Your brain starts to swell. You start to lose cognition. Your decision making starts to become slow. And you start to make bad decisions.” According to Business Insider, there has been an increase in the thefts of oxygen bottles. There are other factors as well that account for an increase in Everest deaths. Luanne Freer who founded Everest ER to serve climbers on the mountain claimed that altitude is of the primary reasons for the death because the climbers are literally racing against time at an altitude above 24,000 feet and will die if they don’t descend. Hence, while waiting for their turn, they waste their precious time and oxygen. Because of more people climbing the Everest, it is likely that the statistical likelihood of people with unknown heart conditions is aggravating. The deteriorating ecological environment is also a major concern. Despite several clean-up efforts, tons of garbage including the empty oxygen bottle and the abandoned gear remain scattered on the peak. Human faeces have accumulated in the snow given the lack of an efficient solid waste management system. Another disturbing view on the route is of the corpses that have not been removed and have been lying on the same spot for decades. As per The Associated Press, the Nepalese government evacuated more than 24,000 pounds of trash from Mount Everest. During their cleanup of the world’s most astounding mountain, cleaners additionally revealed four dead bodies.
The number of climbers has not stopped soaring. There has been a greater need to cater to the needs of the increasing crowd which results in an increase in rubbish, deforestation due to lodges’ construction, and erosion of mountain paths. The Sherpas have always advised the climbers to descend if their body is doubtful because the Everest will always be there, but the body will start shutting down once the oxygen level is low. Kami Rita Sherpa who has broken his record not just once, but twice after summiting Everest for the 24th time says that overcrowding is not a new problem, but the number of inexperienced climbers who are taken by the tour companies is a major concern. Everest is not easy and, the expeditions are not always as planned before owing to the oscillating weather conditions. It is imperative for the climbers to understand that climbing Everest is extremely risky. They need to accept that a Sherpa ( experienced mountain guide) cannot get them out of trouble all the time because even a strong Sherpa cannot arrange for extra oxygen at an altitude of 8,400 m.t at a moment’s notice. Even the GPS devices, rescue policies and helicopters have their limits.
The Everest is a place of worship for the Sherpas who have been born and brought up in the nearby villages. They believe that intense mental and physical preparation is the forgotten key to success at Everest. Thus, climbers should self-evaluate before climbing the mountain as they pose a threat to themselves and others. It is also advisable to open the mountains during the fall because of the favourable weather conditions along with technological advancements in weather predictions making the summit more feasible. Mount Everest is a major moneymaker for the government, and thus the country has little incentive to change the rules and regulations. A decrease in the number of visitors can be a blow to the economy of Nepal. There has to be an implementation of long term sustainable and coordinated policies in the interest of increasing expeditions and enforcement of mountain tourism regulation. It is evident that the Everest has gained popularity in recent years, which results in its degradation. A powerful method to help secure the Everest may be to quit exaggerating the significance of its summit and the supposed brilliance that leaves this undertaking.
Samridhi is public policy enthusiast who believes in one step at a time approach for sustainable development. She is a graduate in Economics honours from Daulat Ram College, Delhi University and currently a Post Graduate Diploma student of Economics at the Meghnad Desai Academy of Economics, Mumbai. She was Editor-in-Chief ......