Risk of Everest traffic jam with record number of climbers

The body of Swiss climber Ueli Steck being taken to hospital in Kathmandu on Sunday. The experienced alpinist died after falling during a training run on a mountain in Nepal.
The body of Swiss climber Ueli Steck being taken to hospital in Kathmandu on Sunday. The experienced alpinist died after falling during a training run on a mountain in Nepal.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

KATHMANDU • British mountaineer Tim Mosedale was descending Mount Everest's treacherous Khumbu Icefall after a recent acclimatisation run when he came across a large group of inexperienced climbers struggling with their gear.

One even had his crampons on the wrong feet.

Such large groups, along with climbers trying to work without supplemental oxygen, add up to a potential "toxic mix" on the world's highest peak this year, wrote Mr Mosedale, a veteran who has ascended Everest five times, in a Facebook post last Thursday.

Nepal is bracing itself for a busy and potentially dangerous season on Mount Everest after the government issued a record number of permits to foreign climbers this year - 371, the most since 1953. Add to that the number of Sherpa mountain guides, and the number soars to 800.

Officials said they expect traffic jam-like conditions on the icy slopes as the mountain's formidable winds subside a little in the middle of this month, giving climbers a narrow window to push to the top of the 8,848m summit.

"On average, every climbing season, there are about three to four good days with appropriate weather conditions to allow a safe summit climb," said Mr Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association. With 800 climbers attempting to summit within those few days, things could get problematic, he said.

Meanwhile, Everest Base Camp - the tent city where climbers stay for several weeks to acclimatise themselves to the altitude - has continued to grow, with more trekkers and tourists flying in by helicopter for day trips, and some even indulging in champagne breakfasts with a view.

Safety is a constant topic in the camp, which is also home to more than 1,500 volunteer medics, staff and mountaineers.

"We are of course worried about the high numbers," said Nepali guide Mingma Tenzi Sherpa, who has reached the summit of Everest six times and is now leading a team. "Our discussions around base camp are often focused on the same issue - what to do if traffic-related problems occur."

Already, one climber this season has died - the Swiss rock climber and mountaineer Ueli Steck fell during a training run on a nearby peak on Sunday.

Mr Dan Richards, chief executive of Global Rescue, a travel risk management firm, has seen a 50 per cent rise in the number of rescues they have done this year of climbers suffering acute mountain sickness - 35 total compared with just 20 by the same time last year.

He believes climbers rushing to beat the crowds before they are acclimatised may be exacerbating the problem.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2017, with the headline 'Risk of Everest traffic jam with record number of climbers'. Print Edition | Subscribe