Gridlock on Mount Everest: Overcrowding, greed and lack of facilities mean charging up highest peak more dangerous than ever

A traffic jam on Mount Everest is unbelievable and yet the route to the summit looks like a queue for a bus, snaking down the final ridge. The tragedy of 52-year-old Kalpana Dash dying because she had to wait at that height for half a day to find a place to descend is further compounded by the fact that 2019 has seen so many deaths of climbers trying to scale Everest. Another Indian, Nihal Bhagwan, also died on the way down, slowed by others blocking his path. The same went for Anjali Kulkarni, who had to wait and then wait some more.

In contrast, on 29 May, 1953 Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hilary forged history by going where no man had gone. And because of the intensity of the cold they stayed on the summit only a few minutes. Compare that to hanging around for 12 hours because someone is blocking the way.

 Gridlock on Mount Everest: Overcrowding, greed and lack of facilities mean charging up highest peak more dangerous than ever

File image of Mount Everest. Reuters

The two main reasons for this human gridlock besides the huge number of people thronging the summit is the narrow window of opportunity often made narrower by the caprice of the weather and cloud cover. The rush on a good day makes for dangerous waits at that altitude and the threat of frostbite and pulmonary oedema become very real. Despite knowing that this jam has taken lives solely because of delay and not accident during the climb, the Nepal government has made no effort to control the chaos that now exists on the roof of the world.

This year, as the weather closes in and there are a maximum of 48 hours left before the season, closes the government had issued 381 climbing permits at a cost of $11,000 each thereby underscoring its complicity in compromising safety for profit. It has never been this bad and the 'descent deaths' as they are being labelled are largely the cause of the crowded last couple of hundred metres.

Not so long ago, Everest was in the news for the amount of trash left behind by teams making it the highest garbage heap in the world. This is unsurprising since most of the camps on the way up are in the same spot or close to discarded bottles, cans, foodstuffs, equipment, plastic and even human excreta. This mounts up and over three tonnes of it were removed by a volunteer team.

And then there is the bleak fact that there are an estimated 200 bodies under the ice now being exposed by global warming as the ice formations melt and change. Apart from altitude sickness, the most common reason for accidents is a fall into a crevice and the impossibility of rescue.

But this year, adding to the inherent danger of taking on Nature is the absurdity of having a waiting room only situation at the summit path. Carry on like this and you will have to post police to direct the mob. And it is not frivolous when the ticking of the turnstile ends in death.

In contrast, K2, lower in height by 300 metres than Everest, is still pristine and the reason for that is it is a lot more difficult to ascend to the summit. According to mountaineer George Bell, K2 is "a savage mountain that tries to kill you".

As does hanging around Everest where there is no space to even jump the queue.

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Updated Date: May 27, 2019 18:38:32 IST