Inglorious sights on Everest

The photo of climbers on Everest that said it all from May 22, taken and released by climber...
The photo of climbers on Everest that said it all from May 22, taken and released by climber Nirmal Purja’s Project Possible. PHOTO: NIRMAL PURJA/@NIMSDAI PROJECT POSSIBLE
The sights and stories from Mt Everest this past climbing season are sad. The world's highest mountain has been marred by queues of climbers and by all too frequent death.

This is not glory. This often comes close to sacrilege.

In this pre-monsoon climbing season, in a short May weather window, 11 climbers died, nine on the Nepal side and two on the climb from Tibet. Those high on the mountain tell of having to walk over dead bodies.

Contributing to the death were those queues. In the "death zone'' above 8000m, speed is important. Oxygen runs out, the cold numbs the senses and the brain loses its ability to compute logically. Pulmonary edema becomes likely.

Blamed also are the cut-price packages. Potential climbers can now, with a Nepali guide who may or may not check climbing credentials and fitness, buy a package - including the $US11,000 ($NZ16,500) peak fee to the Government - for less than $US30,000. It will be double that or more for the fully organised and supported teams.

This year about 700 people reached the summit, and the numbers have been climbing rapidly.

Nepal is desperately poor, and aims to raise its tourist income rapidly. It has an incentive to increase numbers not just for the direct fee it receives but also for all the jobs and flow-on income created. It earns about $US300million a year from climbing expeditions and does not cap the number of Everest attempts or their timing.

Ironically, all the attention to Everest, even though it is poor publicity, might not all be bad for Nepali tourism, because of the raised profile. The allure of climbing to the highest point on Earth will remain for those achievement-focused personalities who have the money and are prepared to take the risks. All the attention, meanwhile, could also spin off into other climbing and trekking options.

The Nepalese authorities need to bring in more controls and rules for climbing Everest. The Chinese have done this, and the death toll on the other main route is lower. As well, the experience itself is better.

Given the short season, some sort of rationing is going to be needed. Climbing Everest is already the preserve of the well-off. It might have to be even more so. Balloting for places is another option. Some will simply have to miss out on what might be their life-long ambition.

More than 300 people have been killed on Everest, and it not known how many bodies are still on the mountain. Most years, some of the rubbish and some of the bodies are brought down.

The overcrowding is nothing new. The tragedies of 1996, which included New Zealand guide Rob Hall, were blamed in part on that issue.

Mt Everest in Nepali is known as Sagamartha, or "Goddess of the Sky''. It is called Chomolungma, "Holy Mother'', in Tibetan.

The Goddess and the Holy Mother must be troubled by what is happening on the roof of the world.


She might call it desecration.